Thanks to the authoritative direction of Savoyard Richard Sheldon, the Valley Master Chorale was able to mount a semi-staged budget production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Trial by Jury" that at least looked stylish, Saturday at Burroughs High School in Burbank.
But its sound was dreadfully disappointing.
Placed in two groups flanking the stage and dressed in period costume, the chorale members enacted traditional comic interplay with lively, well-drilled precision. But their singing was weak and undifferentiated.
The principal actors and jurymen ranged fluidly over the stage--credit Sheldon for that, too--yet no one matched the standard he set for sonorous, committed, clear-voiced singing as the court usher.
Veteran stage and television actor Macdonald Carey conveyed a commanding presence as the judge, but sang flat--insofar as he can be said to have sung at all--and muffed some of Gilbert's wonderful patter lines.
Mark Mendenhall looked fittingly youthful and callow as the defendant Edwin, but sang with cottonmouth diction. Pamela Hall brought an appealing charm and, unfortunately, a wearying little-girl voice to the role of the jilted Angelina. Ralph Mauriello seemed to fade in and out vocally as the plaintiff's counsel.
Inexplicably, there were only five bridesmaids and 11 jurymen, though the chorale numbered close to 100.
Dwight Elrich provided bright piano accompaniment; Gerald Eskelin conducted briskly.
Before getting to the Gilbert and Sullivan, however, one had to suffer through Eskelin's dull, mechanical conducting and the chorale's spineless singing of Orff's "Carmina Burana." The performance was further marred by thunderous accompaniment of the six-member Vera Daehlin Percussion Ensemble and pianists Priscilla Taylor and Elrich.
Soprano Nona Ring brought vocal beauty to her solo responsibilities, but tenor Richard Wells and baritone Thomas Enders seemed undone by the cruel falsetto demands of their parts, and Enders simply lacked stamina in the long run. Choreography for the gratuitous, insipid dancing (by three members of the Interim Dance Theatre) was credited to Elise Orzeck and Jenny Onsgard-Quezada.