A group of women dressed in glittery gowns swoon, sigh and shout. “Twenty lovesick maidens” they are, hopeless romantics lamenting over poet Reginald Bunthorne. They fall to the ground in sweeping flourishes that, to the audience, look like dramatic thrashing. Each holds a single red rose.
So begins “Patience,” the comic opera in two acts with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. This weekend, the Opera Theatre of Yale College — OTYC — will present “Patience” in the Off-Broadway Theater on Feb. 20 and 21 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 22 at 2 p.m. The production features an 11-person cast, chorus and pit orchestra.
“You could bring your five-year-old cousin to this, and they would crack up,” said Isobel Anthony ’20, who plays the character Patience. Anthony is OTYC’s artistic director emeritus and has been involved in almost 10 OTYC productions. “Absolutely anybody would have something to laugh about in this opera.”
“Patience,” the sixth collaboration between Gilbert and Sullivan, satirizes romantic love and the 19th-century British aesthetic movement by portraying it as empty, excessive and self-indulgent. The movement — which inspired the phrase “art for art’s sake” — favored artistic aestheticism over morality. The opera’s plot focuses on the pragmatic milkmaid Patience, who foils the opera’s two aesthetic poets, Bunthorne and Archibald Grosvenor. The poet characters are based on Oscar Wilde and his contemporaries. Members of the British military and several swooning ladies must also confront the aesthetic movement’s rise.
Anthony described Patience as “the clear outsider of the whole show” because she is not overtaken by aestheticism. Despite her pragmatic disposition, she is the object of most of the opera’s attention and romantic desire.
OTYC’s production sets the 19th-century opera in modern time. Patience is a janitor instead of a milkmaid. The ladies and military officials dress as if they are contestants in “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette” — including the reality show’s characteristic roses.
“Everyone’s going after everyone, and allegiances switch at the drop of a hat,” Anthony said.
Director Lisl Wangermann ’21 and musical director Emery Kerekes ’21 pitched “Patience” to the OTYC board last year. According to Kerekes, “Patience” provides a refreshing contrast to the darker and more “niche” works OTYC has presented in the last few seasons.
Wangermann, OTYC’s managing director emeritus, and Kerekes, OTYC’s artistic director, also rewrote several of the opera’s outdated cultural references, rendering them relevant to their intended audience of Yale students.
According to Wangermann, Gilbert and Sullivan worried that “Patience” would not age well because it ridiculed a group of people who comprised an ephemeral cultural phenomenon.
Yet 200 years later, Wangermann said that a similar group of people, who “think they’re cooler than the rest,” still exist.
Anthony described the 21st-century equivalent of an aesthetic as a “sadboi” — which she described as someone characterized by romantic dissatisfaction from unrequited love who “wants to have deep conversations but is not great at listening and more interested in saying interesting things.”
Wangermann and Kerekes hope that the humorous tone of “Patience” will expand the group of people who do — or want to do — opera on campus.
“There’s this common misconception that Gilbert and Sullivan shows are not serious enough for opera companies,” Kerekes said. Anthony agreed, noting that although she does not want to deny opera’s exclusivity, “Patience” breaks down barriers-to-entry in a serious way.
In addition to being a lighter opera, “Patience” straddles the line between opera and musical theatre. Traditionally, operas are sung-through, but “Patience” features several extended passages with exclusively spoken dialogue. OTYC held auditions for “Patience” in conjunction with the Yale Drama Coalition. As a result, the production also involves cast members trained primarily in musical theatre.
“It’s nothing serious and shouldn’t be seen as high art,” Wangermann said. “We’re having fun and hope the audience does too.”
The Off-Broadway Theater is located at 41 Broadway.
Phoebe Liu | firstname.lastname@example.org