Prom 35: Gilbert & Sullivan's Patience

Butteriss, Stafford-Allen, Palmer, BBC Concert Orchestra/Mackerras

Royal Albert Hall, 13 August 2009 4 stars

Charles MackerrasIn the excellent programme notes (which includes the full libretto for Patience) produced for Prom 35, Andrew Achenbach reports that 'Sir Charles Mackerras returns to Patience nearly 33 years after giving the Proms premiere of the complete score at the helm of the English National Opera Chorus and Orchestra and a highly acclaimed cast which included Derek Hammond-Stroud as Bunthorpe, Terry Jenkins as the Duke of Dunstable, the late lamented Anne Collins as Lady Jane and Sandra Dugdale in the title-role.'

For me, comparison between that Proms premiere (where I played the cello in the orchestra) and tonight's performance is hard to avoid. Indeed, during the run of those 1970s performances of Patience in the Coliseum (by then the home of the English National Opera), I came to identify the characters of Gilbert's plot with the cast.

Sir Charles Mackerras, now back as all those years ago, treats Sullivan's music with respect, loving care and enthusiasm. The score is witty, tender and jubilant as is Sir Charles' treatment of it. Sullivan's rendering of Gilbert's funny and at times bitter-sweet lines fits like gloves. Those three giants – Gilbert, Sullivan and Mackerras – made for a wonderful evening.

In spite of limited space for stage action, director Martin Duncan and assistant director/choreographer Steve Elias presented Gilbert's witty libretto (that is, a parody on Oscar Wilde and his Aesthetic movement) with imagination, taste and gentle humour. The appropriate and delightful costumes (some of which seemed to have come from ENO wardrobes) enhanced the committed and stylish performance.

I am afraid I was disappointed in Rebecca Bottone's somewhat pantomime-like performance in the title role. Sandra Dugdale as Patience used to be innocence personified which surely is the point among all those anxious, pretentious characters of the plot. Of course, Sandra Dugdale had great many performances to practice on, while doing a first (and, presumably, only) performance in front of a Prom audience (including millions of radio listeners) must have been a daunting task for Bottone. She has a lovely voice and good stage presence but I can’t help feeling that she might be doing too many roles at this early stage of her career.

Simon Butteriss (Bunthorne) was outstanding: agile, tragicomic (as he should be) and he delivered his role with an astonishing variety of vocal shades. Toby Stafford-Allen (Grosvenor) was the perfect counter-part to Butteriss' Bunthorne. Indeed, one could have been forgiven for thinking that they were one and the same person with different facets. Their double act in their extended dialogue/duet in Act 2 was almost mesmerising.

Bonaventura Bottone (The Duke of Dunstable) was not as aristocratic as the tall and lean Terry Jenkins but he sang beautifully. Donald Maxwell (Colonel Calverley) could have been giving a master class in diction: his was crystal-clear to perfection. Pamela Helen Stephen, Elena Xanthoudakis and Sophie-Louise Dann (the three ladies more than ready to be hitched) delivered their roles with understanding and élan. The chorus of the English National Opera was magnificent, while the BBC Concert Orchestra was pretty much on home ground.

Anne Collins as the indomitable Lady Jane is a very hard act to follow. It is a measure of Felicity Palmer's integrity and artistic resources that, even in comparison, she was magnificent in the role. Her rendering of Jane's unaccompanied solo ('In a doleful train') filled the Albert Hall with immense, heart-stopping beauty.

Perhaps this performance of Patience should have been dedicated to Anne Collins who died less than a month ago. I am dedicating my review to her.

By Agnes Kory

The Guardian's obituary for Anne Collins

Photo: Felicity Palmer


Related articles:

Concert review: Birtwistle celebrations and multiple pianos at this year's Proms
Concert review: 800 years of Cambridge University celebrated at this year's Proms
Concert review: Purcell's The Fairy Queen at this year's Proms
Concert review: The First Night of the 2009 Proms