The land of opera and operetta is a great place to look for buried treasure. In the past ten years, the Comic Opera Guild has uncovered over 50 shows that had lain out of sight for a much as a century and a half, and recorded them so that they would not suffer the same fate again.
Edward Jakobowski’s ERMINIE opened in London in 1885, and after a successful run came to the United States and Australia in 1886. It continued to be produced professionally for over 30 years, with new Broadway runs in 1893, 1899, 1903 and 1921 that featured many of the original performers. Then, as the new style of shows by Kern and others came about, it vanished from the boards. Although it was revived in San Jose in 2008, no recording is available. The Guild’s production in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Towsley Auditorium delivered the first complete recording of the show.
The show is famous for the pair of robbers it introduced, Ravannes (a dashing outlaw) and Cadeaux (his bumbling accomplice), which may remind some of the Cisco Kid and Pancho. Harry Paulton, the original Cadeaux, made a career of the role, and DeWolf Hopper, a star for many years on Broadway, played Ravannes for more than 20 years.
The Guild assembled an exceptional cast to present the show in concert style at Washtenaw Community College’s Towsley Auditorium. Ravannes was sung by Richard Knapp, who recently appeared as Germont in Arbor Opera’s La Traviata. Cadeaux was David Andrews, well known for his comedic roles with the U of M Gilbert and Sullivan Society, Ann Arbor Civic Theater and other local Ann Arbor companies. Soprano Elizabeth Cedroni is featured as Erminie, tenor David Troiano is Erminie’s lover Eugene, and they are joined by soprano Natalie Emptage (Cerise), baritone Thomas Petiet (Marquis de Pontvert) James Wessel Walker (Chevalier) Elaina Robbins (Marie), Fiona Linn (Javotte), Robert Douglas (Simon), Patricia Petiet (Princess), Randy Gilchrist (Captain DeLaunay), James Cavalcoli (Ernest) Nicole Stevens (DuFois) and a chorus of 18. International singing star Nada Radakovich led the ensemble and pianist Seo Hee Kang.
Erminie is a romantic comedy with a large cast of characters. The title character Erminie is the daughter of the Marquis de Pontvert, who has betrothed her to a Vicomte she has never seen. She instead loves Eugene, secretary to the Marquis. The Marquis and guests have come to meet the Vicomte at a Festival he has provided, but that unhappy gentleman has been waylaid by Ravannes, who then claims his identity, and Cadeaux, who takes on the persona of a fictitious baron in order to con the wealthy. When the real Vicomte staggers in, dressed in the rags he was left with, he is arrested as Ravannes.
Ravannes and Cadeaux, especially, can’t quite pull off their new identities, and suspicions arise. Ultimately, their deception is discovered. Cadeaux, as he is wont to do, claims this is his “fust offence,” but he and Ravannes are led off as rejoicing ends the opera.
The production was made possible by a collaboration between the Comic Opera Guild and Washtenaw Community College. This unique initiative will be expanded next season, as the Guild will tour to universities and performing arts centers in Michigan in 2016.
The CD recording of Erminie is now available either as music-only or complete with dialog, and a DVD is also avaiIable on the Comic Opera guild web site. The recording is a continuation of the mission of the Guild to bring to life the history of the musical theater.