The ‘joyously seditious’ Gilbert & Sullivan

Writing for The Guardian, the British actor Michael Simkins credits his addiction to the comic operettas of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan for “my love of classical music in general and grand opera in particular.”

“Gilbert’s barbed satire and Sullivan’s glorious pastiches have always been joyously seditious,” Simkins writes. “The blinkered certainties of the class system are deftly lampooned . . . the absurdities of cultural and political trends are revealed in all their transient folly . . . the aspirations of Great Britain as a global superpower [have] never been more deftly skewered . . . . If the operas illuminate how we still like to see ourselves, it’s in a distinctly bilious yellow.”

As to their influence on songwriting and musical theater, “No less a lyricist than the great Johnny Mercer once wrote ‘We all come from Gilbert,’ while Sullivan’s influence has been acknowledged by composers from Noël Coward and Ivor Novello through to Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber.”

For all that, Simkins writes, “I still find myself occasionally having to defend their reputation. ‘All that tiddle-om-pom-pom stuff,’ say sneering detractors of this very English art form; a classical music professional – and choral specialist – admitted to me recently that he’d ‘never really considered them.’ That’s his loss.”

Virginia Opera is staging “The Pirates of Penzance,” one of the best-loved Gilbert & Sullivan shows, Nov. 4-6 at Harrison Opera House in Norfolk, Nov. 12-13 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in Fairfax and Nov. 18 and 20 at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center in Richmond. Details:

Stradivari’s good chemistry

Writing for the online magazine Ludwig van Toronto, Anya Wassenberg summarizes research by an Italian team into the coating and varnish applied to the classic violins made by Antonio Stradivari. The treatment of wood that produces the remarkable sound of these instruments has been one of music’s enduring mysteries.

Chemically analyzing samples from two Stradivari instruments, the Toscano of 1690 and the San Lorenzo of 1718, the researchers identified a layer of protein coating, perhaps an animal-based glue, between the wood and an exterior layer of varnish. The coating and varnish mixed with each other and with the wood after application.

“The system of applying the coatings was complex, and involved extremely thin layers of a few micrometers each,” Wassenberg writes.

Her article, with a link to the study, published by the American Chemical Society:

THE SCOOP | Italian Researchers May Have Solved Stradivarius’ Secret To Exemplary Sound