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Posted on Fri, Nov 27, 2009 : 5:16 a.m.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s "Patience" pokes fun at followers of fads

By Roger LeLievre

Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera “Patience” may have been written over 100 years ago, but that doesn’t mean its focus on the obsession of the English and the aesthetic/poetic movement of the day is dated.

“Basically what it really comes down to is it’s a show about the need to be part of a fad, and the fad in England in the late 1800s was aesthetic poetry,” explained Diana Colleen Herstein, director for the upcoming production by the University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society. “It’s a very kind of overly incomprehensible, very gothic poetry — Lord Byron or Keats, or the more lighthearted aesthetic poetry of people like Oscar Wilde.

“It’s not uncommon to how we would treat celebrities or pop singers,” Herstein said of the idolatry the poets received. “Those poet figures became the idols of their day and people would flock around them like teenagers now flock to the Jonas Brothers.”


Patience (Samantha Winter) and Ella (Tanya Roberts) vie for the attentions of Grosvenor (Robby Griswold) in the University of Michigan's Gilbert and Sullivan Society's production of "Patience."

In “Patience,” a pair of rival poets attract the attention of the young ladies of a village, who had previously been engaged to the members of a cavalry regiment. But the poets are both in love with Patience, the village milkmaid, who has little use for poetry and is also confused by the meaning of love.

“The show focuses on Patience, who’s this one person that doesn’t really follow the aestheticism but who is desperately trying to be a good person and to find love,” Herstein said. “She’s surrounded by people who have these overblown statements of what love is based on — these aesthetic poems. She’s torn between these two men — Bunthorne, who she doesn’t love but feels she’s supposed to love because that’s the generous thing to do, and Grosvenor, who she does love but she feels it would be selfish to love someone who loves her back.

“Meanwhile, the women’s chorus is also drifting between the two poets, based on which one’s available. And then you’ve got the male chorus, which is the Dragoon guard, that represents the only completely normal people in the show and they are just trying to figure out why the women are completely obsessed with these poets.”

The cast of 26 is comprised of a mix of University of Michigan School of Music students, plus Gilbert and Sullivan Society veterans and newcomers, including a couple of high school students. The main cast members include Samantha Winter (Patience), Richard Harper (Bunthorne), Robby Griswold (Grosvenor), David Andrews (Colonel Calverly), Tanya Roberts (Lady Ella), Stephanie Rose (Lady Jane) and Ali Kahn (Lady Saphir). Avlana Eisenberg is the music director.

Herstein, a master’s student earning her degree in vocal performance at the University of Michigan, has been involved in other Gilbert & Sullivan productions, but this is her directing debut.

The score includes “The soldiers of our Queen,” the patter song “If you want a receipt for that popular mystery” and the soprano aria “Love is a plaintive song,” sung by Patience.

“Patience,” the 6th operatic collaboration of 14 between Gilbert and Sullivan, was last produced by UMGASS in 2005.

Although “Patience” is not one of the better-known Gilbert and Sullivan shows, like “H.M.S. Pinafore” or “The Mikado,” Herstein said it was one of the duo’s most successful when it premiered in England in 1881. “It spoke the most directly to what was actually happening in London at the time. It was the most direct satire that Gilbert and Sullivan ever produced,” she observed.

PREVIEW ‘Patience” Who: University of Michigan Gilbert & Sullivan Society. What: Comic opera satirizes the aesthetic craze of the 1870s-1880s, when the work of poets, composers, painters and designers was prolific, but also often empty and self-indulgent. Where: Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, 911 North University Avenue. When: December 3-6. 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 2 & 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. How much: $20 (seniors, $18; students in advance and with ID, $10). Tickets available at the door one hour before each performance at the Mendelssohn box office. Order by phone at 800-838-3006. Purchase tickets online at Brown Paper Tickets. Details: 734-647-8436.

Roger LeLievre is a free-lance writer for