Gilbert, Sullivan and Farrell.
By Sue Langenberg
It was an evening with musician Scott Farrell at the First Presbyterian Church in Winnebago on Friday. The event was a recital of sorts featuring the director of Rockford Operetta Party as the area’s tried-and-true light opera figure.
The recital date was intended as a production event but after various set-backs, morphed into a solo featuring some 16 selections from Farrell’s repertoire in the last 13 years with humorous and handy comments before each piece.
Farrell seems to have fallen from the musical womb straight toward operetta, and seems to have hit the ground running since. From his earliest education, he dabbled with drama, choir and various parts in plays including “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” “The Fantasticks” and “The Pirates of Penzance” among some 18 characters that include lead parts as well as villagers. Along the way, he became enthralled with the English opera buffa style that features light humor and happy endings with much spicy satire in between. The Savoy Theatre in London featuring works of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan is Farrell’s yearning and area of expertise. In the process of his musical development, Farrell’s own humor seems to parallel his extensive research since he makes no bones about failures along the way.
If Farrell seems to spend his passion within the light opera area, he also is determined to create that which is not there. That would include some eleven shows that he has written upon inspirations swirling around his voracious appetite for the genre, often in enthusiastic collaboration with John Spartan. His own shows include “The Vampyre’s Curse,” “The Sapphire Necklace” and “Popocateptyl” (with Spartan) with many suspicious and light-hearted, merry characters pitted against scorned lovers and other intrigues that beset the trappings of life and dreams. Moreover, in addition to expending the energy to write and produce a work, he often found himself as a main character. In his own “The Princess’ Lament,” he was the Prince, in “The Sapphire Necklace,” he was Falstaff as well as major parts in other shows including Thespis in “Thespis.”
“His compositions have reached beyond light opera with a Symphonic Poem, the second movement of which was included in the recital. He also included a contemporary piece, “So Far Away,” by Brian Haner, breaking his general rule of having a low opinion of modern music.
About creating that which is not there, he told the story that he couldn’t resist doing his own version of the Sergeant of Police in a production of “The Pirates of Penzance,” to questionable success because the director never commented, he noted.
But Farrell is undaunted in his determination to bring light opera works to light. He is unapologetic about resurrecting obscure and often failed English operas from the 19th century to “give it second chance,” he explains in his most formal and articulate manner. He notes that perhaps in another time, another century, some of these works will find their way in a new day. In the end, only the audience and a new set of critics will determine his hunches about dusty scores in libraries. Meantime, he enjoys much satisfaction in the research and development.
One such example, “Jane Annie” was misunderstood and only ran for 50 performances after the “critics ripped it to shreds,” in 1893, he said. Indeed, the work can hardly be found in ordinary and available information and barely exists. Farrell nevertheless resurrected the work by Ernest Ford and gave it a North American premier in 2007 to earn area recognition. Farrell, therefore, performed song, “The Time of Thistledown” Friday evening and plans to do a full length in the 2012 season in Rockford.
Farrell seeks a new venue and more permanent home for his operatic brainstorms and is ready and able to take on all that matters to become the area’s main keeper of an important era of opera buffa because passion and energy will see him through. Watch for Rockford Operetta Party in the future.