Comic Opera Guild’s spring production was a hilarious pastiche by COG founder Tom Petiet, with music by the father of operetta Jacques Offenbach. Not content to have produced many of the composer’s greatest hits, including La Belle Helene, La Vie Parisienne, and, most recently, The Grand Duchess, the company offered a completely new work. It is based on the one-act L’Ile de Tulipatan, adding music from several Offenbach operettas only rarely heard in the States. It is a satire on sexual orientation and expectations, set in the improbable past.
Although the music was written over a century ago, it was rewoven to form a new show. The product of a nearly a year’s research and writing, Her Highness the Prince was created over 20 years ago, waiting for an opportunity to hit the boards. Various financial concerns continued to delay its opening until this year, the 41st for the Comic Opera Guild. Its style recalls the halcyon years of Broadway, when musicals were truly comedies. Offenbach was one of the few composers who was able to make the music humorous in its own right, independent of the lyrics, and it adds another level to the cleverness of the book.
The show kept the audiences laughing throughout. The clever lyrics and script were matched by winning performances by all the principals. Kiersten Birondo, making her operetta debut as Prince Leander, displayed a brilliant voice and confident stage presence, especially in the second act aria, sung while changing from a man’s uniform into a glamorous gown. Her counterpart, Aaron McCoy Jacobs as the all-too-masculine Bella, was delightfully offhand in his dialogue, while employing his abundant and ringing tenor voice in song.
Bella’s parents, portrayed by Patricia Petiet and Jeffrey Willets, made a convincing couple, arguing about practically everything while keeping guilty secrets, and were hilarious, especially in the scene with the King, played by Thomas Petiet (the author and director of the show), in which the confusion in confessing their secrets reaches a buffo climax.
Mr. Petiet’s King, appropriately pompous and blundering, eventually winds up in the arms of the tomboy Obnoxia, played by Cynthian Knight, who, in her attempt to go from crude stablehand to debutante, brought the house down in her aria “In Days Gone By.”
Music Director Nada Radakovich seamlessly kept the ensemble, consisting of principals, staged chorus, seated chorus, piano and percussion, together. The simple set unit, which was a platform for the seated chorus, provided a decorative and effective background for the action, and the costumes, by Diane Larue, were sumptious and added considerably to the look of the show.
Although the show had a short run in Ann Arbor, it will be marketed to opera and operetta companies in the US and abroad as an inexpensive production that can make audiences wet their seats from laughing too hard.