The 5th Great G&S Sing-Out

This Labor Day weekend, while one option would admittedly have been to go to the 71st World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, TX… I instead chose to geek out with a different kind of fandom at the 5th Great Gilbert & Sullivan Sing-Out, organized by the Victorian Lyric Opera Company in Rockville, Maryland.

The premise of the Sing-Out is to sing through all 13 extant Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, more or less in their entirety (though without the dialogue), in one weekend. (I was told that the first Sing-Out was done all in one day, 8am to 2am. I am, on the whole, delighted that they’ve moved toward pacing it out over 3 days.)

Longtime readers may be aware that I first got into Gilbert & Sullivan in the fall of 1999, when I did my first show with the MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players: Iolanthe. In that time, I’ve performed in fully staged productions of 10 of the 13 operettas (Patience, Mikado and Ruddigore being the remaining exceptions), and numerous additional concert performances. Somewhere along the way, I crossed over that line (as many a G&S fan knows) from “I’ve been in some of the shows” to “I know MOST of the shows well enough that it’s fun to actually go sing a bunch of them in a row with fellow aficionados.” So I’ve also attended marathons at Brown University in April 2011 and with the New England Gilbert & Sullivan Society in June 2011. But the Rockville Sing-Out only happens once every five years (making this the 20th anniversary… if you go by birthdays), and by now I’m hooked enough to actually travel out of state for this sort of thing.

The Sing-Out is truly more of a community singalong than a performance; all are welcome to come and sing chorus, with the option of sitting in the risers on the stage, or to simply watch and sing from the audience. However, the organizers do cast all the solos in advance (by application rather than by audition), and I had the honor of singing Dame Hannah in Ruddigore on Saturday afternoon, as well as one of the chorus leads (Olga) in The Grand Duke on Sunday morning. (Everyone thinks Mad Margaret is the plum women’s role in Ruddigore, and maybe it is, but I’d rather sing Hannah any day. You get the awesome exposition song at the beginning, a feature in the gorgeous madrigal in the Act 1 finale, and — spoiler alert — your own out-of-nowhere love plot with adorable duet at the end.)

Hearing/singing all the shows in one big binge definitely lends some new perspective; for instance, I am assembling some new lists of favorite duets and other bits, which I will attempt to post in future. But mostly it feels oddly like coming home to places I haven’t been since I first (or most recently) inhabited them: Ploverleigh, Pfennig-Halbpfennig, Tremorden Castle, Titipu, Utopia… and of course the House of Lords and the Tower of London. As I posted to Facebook after I got home last night: “Is it sick that I immediately wanted to do it all over again singing different parts?” :-)

And, needless to say, another big part of what made the weekend so awesome was catching up with old friends (from MITG&SP to the G&S Society of New York)… and meeting new ones. Many thanks to all the organizing committee, staff, and volunteers — particularly the accompanists! — who made this magical weekend possible.

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