Princess Ida [1982]

One of the more obscure Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, Princess Ida is a satire of higher education for women. Modern audiences may find this premise hard to stomach, but the mockery is more silly than harsh. If you can get over the predictable absurdities (hint: the man-hating heroine ends up marrying the tenor), it's lighthearted fun, with emphasis on the "light." The action is set in a more or less Arthurian kingdom, where Prince Hilarion and Princess Ida have been betrothed since infancy. Now they are to marry, but the bride-to-be has established a university for women and disdains men. The score is delicious. From an evolution lesson that depicts a man as "only a monkey shaved" to a drunken song performed by one of Hilarion's friends in maidenly drag, it's a terrific surprise for those who know only G&S's more standard works. This version is part of the Opera World series, which produced 12 G&S operettas for British television in the 1980s. The series is of uneven quality. Here the costumes are tacky and not all the actors are equal to Gilbert's mock-solemn script, written in iambic pentameter. But as the obnoxious King Gama ("I can tell a woman's age in half a minute--and I do"), Frank Gorshin gives a full-tilt vaudeville performance. And Anne Collins, a mainstay of this series as a procession of unloved older women, is delectable as Lady Blanche, with her precise contralto and her willingness to be the Margaret Dumont of Gilbert and Sullivan. --David Olivenbaum

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