The Orchestra

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 Conn Theater, 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 equipment has been continually upgraded and improved over the years.

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 twenty, 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.

This distribution of responsibilities has proven to be an effective, successful arrangement.

The Members of the Orchestra for Utopia, Limited, Spring 2024

Conductor                Dr. Randal A. Buikema
Orchestra Manager /Librarian Lorine Menzhuber
Violin Victoria Athmann (Concertmaster),
Roxanne Cornell, Maya Gitch, Beth Henningsen, Betsy Lofgren, Karen Kozak, Jill Lestina-Warnest, Amy Letson, Lorine Menzhuber, Karen Neinstadt, Derick Rehurek
Viola Laura Bidgood, Ann Bur, Theresa Major, Aija Ronis, Daniel Sadoff
Cello Aaron Barrett, David Downing, Nathan Hertz, Karin Holmberg Kimble
Bass Jason Anderson, Benjamin Kitt
Flute  Suzanne Benson, Nancy Hagfors, Nancy Wucherpfennig, Joe Wpych
Clarinet Ken Gellerman, Barb Hovey, John Orbison, Barb Sabal
Oboe Donna Votino, Meg Schlukebier
Bassoon Alice Anderson, Elizabeth Brandt, Cassandra Roache, Gene Scholtens
Horn Michael Engh, Bob Olson, Christina Werling
Trumpet Andy Padula, Bob Zobal
Trombone John Herman, Matt Schlukebier, Charles Watt
Percussion  Kat Felicis Ioco, Charley Rich
Keyboard  Brian Chan, Jean Orbison Van Heel


The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company Music Directors

Utopia, Limited Spring 2024   Dr. Randal A. Buikema
H.M.S. Pinafore Fall 2023   Dr. Randal A. Buikema
The Sorcerer Spring 2023   Dr. Randal A. Buikema
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
 Patience  2012   Marina Liadova
 The Pirates of Penzance 2011   Marina Liadova
 The Sorcerer
2010   Courtney Lewis
 Ruddigore 2009   Lee Fuchs
 Utopia, Limited 2008   Marina Liadova
 The Mikado  2007   Roderick Phipps-Kettlewell 
 Princess Ida 2006   Roderick Phipps-Kettlewell
 The Gondoliers 2005   Jeffrey Stirling
 Iolanthe 2004   James Straka
 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
1997   Becky Swanson
 Trial by Jury / The Zoo  Fall 1996   Becky Swanson
 The Mikado                   Spring 1996   Carolyn Davies
 Ruddigore 1995   Carolyn Davies
 The Gondoliers 1994   Carolyn Davies
 Princess Ida 1993   Carolyn Davies
 Iolanthe 1992   Carolyn Davies 
 The Grand Duke 1991   Carolyn Davies
 Patience   1990   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
 Ruddigore 1983   Tim Rolek
 Princess Ida 1982   Tim Rolek
 Iolanthe 1981   Jim Hart
 Patience 1980   Jim Hart 
 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.”

—Yum-Yum and Pitti-Sing
The Mikado