It’s fair (stereotypical but fair) to say that soap operas can have the tendency to be a little histrionic, both in their plot lines and acting quality. Opera is another such melodramatic medium, yet often the plot lines in opera are actually genuinely intensely emotional and therefore warrant an extremely expressive acting style. It is a very interesting idea then, to take a soap opera, with commercial interruptions (advertising soap!) to boot, and portray it in the form of a one act opera. Yes - Douglas Moore’s concept is extremely thoughtful and intriguing. But is Gallantry an entertaining production?
To start the show, we are shown a series of black and white adverts from the past, including commercials for Lyril Soap, Brylcreem and Mazda Lamps. As the adverts keep coming, it is noticeable that there is more and more singing in them, perhaps more than we see in commercials today. This leads quite nicely into the cast entering the space in front of the screen to start their performance with their own sung advert, before they begin this particular episode of Gallantry.
The subject matter, combined with this style of operatic singing, makes for quite an eccentric piece of theatre, but it definitely has the capacity to be very amusing. This four strong cast are undoubtedly highly skilled singers, providing some positively gorgeous sounds at times, but sadly, there are too many downfalls to this production to suggest that it is a true success.
In order to make this an enjoyable parody, the acting would need to have some clear direction; either hammy (which would suit the concept well) or perhaps dead-pan - at least some strong feel. In this production, however, it is generally quite wooden. Most of the performances do not breathe enough at all, almost joining the dots at times. There is the odd moment of characterful flourish, but overall the show plateaus on a rather bland level which is neither here nor there.
Occasionally, it is hard to comprehend some of the words, which can be quite common in opera, but when the entire performance is less than one hour long it is even more important that we can understand as much as possible in order to follow the story. Having said that, we are able to follow the fairly standard soap opera plot that unravels relatively easily. There are at least some appreciative audience reactions, particularly towards the end of this short piece, but one could estimate that these are based on the beautiful vocals we are treated to. As far as singing is concerned, the cast have happily filled the criteria.
In an opera, singing is, of course, of paramount importance, but even the most flawless vocal performance will not captivate or entertain in the same way that it could with the acting behind it. If a portrayal is emotionless, lack-lustre or wooden, an audience will not care for, or enjoy it. This show is also intended to be a comedy, but the wooden interpretations do not achieve the comical results this piece is worthy of.
In brief, had this performance been on the radio, it would have been a delight to behold. As it stands, the performances need much stronger directions and freer energies if we are to truly enjoy this opera.