The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company performs with a full orchestra. While a number of theater companies in the Twin Cities region perform with orchestras, few but the most professional productions do so with an orchestra of comparable size and quality. The orchestra covers all instrumental parts, performing Sullivan’s music in its fully orchestrated form, not a reduced version. Some instrumentalists return, year after year, while others are new to a given production.
The Orchestra’s Humble Beginnings
Like most musical theater companies, The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company first performed with only a piano. As there is no orchestra pit in the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center, in which the Company performs, the piano was placed in the house, in front and off to the left of the stage. In the years that followed, however, the Company began to add instruments to what became a small orchestra. In a couple of the first productions, one of the chorus members would actually slip down into the improvised pit to add his string bass to the solo and duet numbers. By the company’s seventh staged production, The Mikado, in the spring of 1985, the orchestra had grown to more than a dozen instruments. It became necessary to remove seats in the theater to make room for the added musicians at a time when the company’s growing popularity led to sold-out performances. In addition, the orchestra was interfering with audience sightlines and sometimes overwhelming the voices on stage. Something had to be done.
A “Double Decker” Orchestra
Yale Marshall, the stage director for our fall 1985 production of The Sorcerer, was the one who suggested moving the orchestra backstage. The following year, Dean Laurance, one of the company’s founding members, built a platform, backstage right, to make up for limited wing space. The platform could accommodate six musicians above, with room for another six below. The rest of the orchestra fanned out in front of the platform, immediately off stage right.
In order for the actors to see the conductor, who was now backstage with the orchestra, Dean created a system of monitors and video cameras. One video camera was placed to view the conductor, with the conductor’s image cabled to three monitors in the theater, visible only to the cast members on stage. Another video camera was placed in the light booth to view the stage, providing the conductor with an image of the actors, through a monitor. The company’s audio / visual specialist, Bob Johanneck, has continued to refine and improve the system.
The arrangement was an immediate success. With the orchestra backstage the company was able to sell tickets to the entire house just in time to accommodate the growing audiences. The three monitors, placed house right, center and left, allowed the actors to see the Conductor in three different locations. Most importantly, being backstage made it possible for the orchestra to play with a wider range of dynamics, as it was no longer necessary always to play softly, as it had been when the orchestra was actually in the audience.
Growth Through the Years
Every year the orchestra seems to grow as Music Directors call for more violins, additional woodwinds, or even a “second trombone.” The orchestra now numbers over thirty for each performance, drawn from a pool of about sixty. As to the quality, many actors say that they’ve never had the opportunity to sing with such a fine orchestra and consider it a privilege to do so. Audience members have shared that, as wonderful as the productions are, the orchestra alone is “worth the price of admission.” Occasionally, other audience members, not realizing that we are performing with a live orchestra, have asked where we found such a fine recording of the orchestration!
The very much “live” Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company orchestra remains an essential part of making attending one of the company productions such a delightful experience.
If you are interested in becoming a member of the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company orchestra, you can learn more on our Get Involved: Orchestra page.
The Orchestra’s Leadership
The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company’s Music Director is also the production’s Conductor. This allows the Music Director, who is responsible for developing the musical interpretation, to be able to realize that concept throughout the entire run of the production.
The orchestra and its interests are represented on the company’s Board of Directors by an Orchestra Representative.
The company engages one of the musicians to serve as Orchestra Manager, who is responsible for recruiting instrumentalists, arranging rehearsal schedules, making the schedule for performances, and so on.
The Members of the Orchestra for The Pirates of Penzance, Fall 2022
|Conductor||Dr. Randal A. Buikema|
|Orchestra Manager /Librarian||Lorine Menzhuber|
|Violin||Victoria Athmann (Concertmaster), Maya Gitch, Beth Henningsen, Karen Kozak, Betsy Lofgren, Lorine Menzhuber, Karen Neinstadt, Derick Rehurek|
|Viola||Laura Bidgood, Ann Bur|
|Cello||Karin Holmberg Kimble, Nathan Hertz|
|Bass||Benjamin Kitt, Jack Litzau|
|Flute||Suzanne Benson, Nancy Hagfors|
|Clarinet||Barb Hovey, Barb Sabal|
|Oboe||Steve Schellenberg, Donna Votino|
|Bassoon||Alice Anderson, Devin Dolquist|
|Horn||Chris Hahn, Christina Werling|
|Trumpet||Pat Gefre, Andy Padula|
|Trombone||Ross Fugl, Charles Watt|
|Percussion||Matthew Clark, Charley Rich|
|Keyboard||Jean Orbison Van Heel|
The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company Music Directors
|The Pirates of Penzance||Fall 2022||Dr. Randal A. Buikema|
|Ruddigore||Spring 2022||Dr. Randal A. Buikema|
|Ruddigore||2020||Dr. Randal A. Buikema|
|The Mikado||2019||Dr. Randal A. Buikema|
|Princess Ida||2018||Dr. Randal A. Buikema|
|Orpheus in the Underworld||Fall 2017||Marina Liadova|
|The Gondoliers||Spring 2017||Dr. Randal A. Buikema|
|Iolanthe||2016||Dr. Randal A. Buikema|
|Trial by Jury||Summer 2015||Marina Liadova|
|H.M.S. Pinafore||Spring 2015||Dr. Randal A. Buikema|
|The Grand Duke||2014||Lori Maxwell|
|The Yeomen of the Guard||2013||Marina Liadova|
|The Pirates of Penzance||2011||Marina Liadova|
| The Sorcerer
|Utopia, Limited||2008||Marina Liadova|
|The Mikado||2007||Roderick Phipps-Kettlewell|
|Princess Ida||2006||Roderick Phipps-Kettlewell|
|The Gondoliers||2005||Jeffrey Stirling|
|The Grand Duke||2003||James Straka|
|Patience||2002||Steven Michael Utzig|
| H.M.S. Pinafore
||2001||Steven Michael Utzig|
|Orpheus in the Underworld||2000||Steven Michael Utzig|
|The Yeomen of the Guard||1999||Steven Michael Utzig|
|The Pirates of Penzance||1998||Steven Michael Utzig|
| The Sorcerer
|Trial by Jury / The Zoo||Fall 1996||Becky Swanson|
|The Mikado||Spring 1996||Carolyn Davies|
|The Gondoliers||1994||Carolyn Davies|
|Princess Ida||1993||Carolyn Davies|
|The Grand Duke||1991||Carolyn Davies|
|H.M.S. Pinafore||1989||Carolyn Davies|
|Utopia, Limited||1988||Carolyn Davies|
|The Yeomen of the Guard||1987||Carolyn Davies|
|The Pirates of Penzance||1986||Carolyn Davies|
|The Sorcerer||Fall 1985||Carolyn Davies|
|The Mikado||Spring 1985||Carolyn Davies|
|The Gondoliers||1984||Tim Rolek|
|Princess Ida||1982||Tim Rolek|
|Trial by Jury||1979||Jim Hart|
“Oh, if you please, he’s the gentleman who used to play so beautifully on the … on the …”
“On the Marine Parade.”
“Yes, I think that was the name of the instrument.”