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Comic opera The Gondoliers comes to Surrey stage

Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society present their latest musical.
Reginald Pillay (Luiz)

The role of the duchess, described as “the Duke’s formidable wife” in a note to the score Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Goldoliers, is no stranger to Jacqollyne Keath.

The singer and actress has lent her sought-after mezzo-soprano voice to the role before, for the North Shore Light Opera Society, for which she has also played Lady Jane in Patience and the Fairy Queen in Iolanthe.

“She’s pretty brazen,” Keath says of the role. “She gets away with a lot of stuff and she’s very clever. At the same time she loves her family a lot. I’m thrilled to be cast again in this role.”

Indeed, Keath is taking on the part again, this time in Fraser Valley Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s (FVGSS) production, which opened this week at the Surrey Arts Centre.

She and FVGSS regular Roger Hussen play the Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro, Spanish aristocrats who have travelled to Venice at the insistence of the Grand Inquisitor of Spain, Don Alhambra del Bolero (Robert Newcombe), to locate the rightful heir to the throne of Barataria.

Noting Gilbert and Sullivan’s fondness for poking fun at aristocratic couples, Keath said the Duke and Duchess typify their pattern of depicting “the guy as spineless and the woman wearing the pants.

“But in this particular production I’m also playing across from a very talented Duke – Roger (Hussen),” she said. “And the two characters are really nothing without the other.”

Keath, who has trained in opera with Heidi Klassen and Lars Kaario and in musical theatre with Debra Da Vaughn, has also played Ruth in the Pirates of Penzance for FVGSS, as well as Inez in an earlier society production of The Gondoliers.

“I really know the score well – it’s beautiful music,” she said. “Of the Gilbert and Sullivan shows, this probably ranks up there in my top two favourites – the other one being The Pirates of Penzance, which everybody loves.”

Other recent roles for Keath include the inaugural performance of Carmen for the Vancouver Concert Opera Cooperative this January and Applause! Musicals In Concert’s Follies, in which she played Christine Donovan and the Young Maggie.

In The Gondoliers – in one of the typically convoluted and absurd plots for which librettist W.S. Gilbert was renowned – the aristocratic couple’s daughter Casilda (Laura Luongo) was married in infancy to the royal heir of Barataria – who, it now appears, has been raised as one of a pair of Venetian gondolier brothers, Marco (Russell Robson) and Giuseppe (Dann Wilhelm).

Complicating the situation more than a trifle is the fact the brothers have just taken new brides, Tessa and Gianetta (Katie Collins and Tamara Wilhelm).

To add to the chaos, Casilda secretly loves Luiz (producer Reginald Pillay), drummer boy to the Duke and Duchess.

Also among the popular company favourites and promising newcomers gathered by artistic director Christina Wells Campbell, music director Vashti Fairbairn and choreographer Carol Seitz for the show are Clive Ramroop (Giorgio), Croy Jenkins (Annibale), Jackie Block (Vittoria), Samantha Andrews (Giulia), Mila Yee-Hafer, Natalie Dickson, Jake Hildebrand, Chris Roberts, Sabrielle McCurdy-Foreman and Jerret Schwartz.

The Gondoliers runs until May 21, with evening shows and weekend matinées. Tickets are available from the Surrey Arts Centre box office (604-501-5566) or online at For more information, visit the FVGSS website:

About the Author: Alex Browne

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