The battle of the sexes will break out into open warfare when the Gilbert & Sullivan Light Opera Company of Long Island brings its 2023 production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s classic Princess Ida to the Great Neck Library on April 16 at 2 p.m.
Princess Ida—which debuted in 1884 at London’s Savoy opera, with book and lyrics by W.S. Gilbert and music by Arthur Sullivan—is a favorite with Gilbert & Sullivan aficionados, with its score in particular regarded as perhaps Sullivan’s greatest. The current production is the Light Opera Company’s first since 2007.
More dramatic in tone than any other Gilbert & Sullivan work, the opera is set in Eastern Europe during the 15th century, and its story concerns the dynastic rivalry of two neighboring kings—notably King Gama of Hungary, whose daughter (the title character) has fled an arranged marriage to the son of King Hildebrand and instead set up a college for women, where she teaches the then-unthinkable principles of women’s rights and equality for all, regardless of rank, gender, wealth or nationality. In the end the story boils down to whether the opera’s young people are doomed to grow into their parents, repeating all their mistakes, or if they can escape the machinations of their parents, move beyond hatred and violence, and forge a new future for themselves.
In the new production of the opera, Kara Vertucci of Lindenhurst plays Princess Ida and Joseph Anthony Smith of Freeport plays Prince Hilarion, with Chris Jurak of Brightwaters as King Gama and Ben Salers of Northport as King Hildebrand. Lady Psyche is played by Patricia Gallagher of West Hempstead, and Lady Blanche by Delaney R. Page of Lynbrook; Jordan Breslow of Bellmore plays Florian and Richard Risi of Locust Valley plays Cyril. Ida’s brothers, the formidable Warriors Three, are played by Henry Horstmann of Lindenhurst (Arac), John Benvenuto of Floral Park (Guron) and Marc Eliot Stein of Brooklyn (Scynthius). Tamara Shyngle of Brentwood plays Sacharissa, Claudia Arroyo of Port Washington is Chloe, and Hanna Roth of Upper Brookville plays Ada. The director is Gayden Wren, and the music director is Leonard Lehrman.
“Princess Ida is unlike any other Gilbert & Sullivan opera,” said Wren, a longtime member of the company and also the author of an acclaimed book about Gilbert & Sullivan. “It’s Shakespearean in its scope, and its humor—which combines farce, slapstick, satire and burlesque—is in the service of a story of unique emotional power. Ida and Hilarion are two sides of the same coin, young aristocrats who’ve been pawns in their fathers’ rivalry almost since they were born. The story pits them as enemies, but as the opera progresses they begin to see something of themselves in each other, and to sense the outlines of a future different from the one they’ve always been told awaits them.
“Ultimately this is a story of generational conflict, of young people trying to get past the mistakes and hatreds of their parents, trying to forge a new world they might actually live in together.” Wren concluded. “When people ask me what it’s about, I say it’s about a prince, a princess and an arranged marriage … but also about climate change, racial and ethnic rivalries, inequality, social justice and pretty much anything else that’s going on in the world today. It’s funny, it’s beautiful, but there’s no Gilbert & Sullivan story that’s more directly relevant to the world of today.”
Princess Ida will be presented on April 16, at 2 p.m. at the Great Neck Library, 159 Bayview Ave. in Great Neck. Admission is free. For further information, call (516) 466-8055 or visit the library’s website.