William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan would enjoy attending a rehearsal of their opera “Patience” — which opens tonight — on Bryant Street.
It’s the home of Lamplighters, the venerable San Francisco institution nearing the end of its sixth decade dispersing musical theater.
The scene is right out of the quaint, offbeat, fertile brains of the Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan. It’s a combination office, costume-storage space and rehearsal studio, jam-packed with shelves of hats, Victorian gowns and uniforms, an orchestra, chorus and soloists.
Presiding over the rehearsal are music director Baker Peoples and stage director Jane Erwin Hammett. They and the crowd of singers, musicians and backstage personnel bounce along with Sullivan’s effervescent, melodic music, reminiscent of Viennese operetta and Strauss waltzes.
In the title role of Patience, “an unpretentious milkmaid,” is one of the area’s finest, most vibrant young sopranos: Jennifer Ashworth.
She enters after the opening chorus, “Twenty lovesick maidens we,” to proclaim “I cannot tell what this love may be.”
Of the 20 maidens, Cary Ann Rosko and Rebecca Krouner (making a promising Lamplighters debut) lead the way as Lady Angela and Lady Ella, respectively.
Leading men are F. Lawrence Ewing as Reginald Bunthorne — the vacuous, excessively popular poet — and Chris Uzelac as Archibald Grosvenor, Patience’s “handsome childhood love.”
Also on tap: The entire 35th Dragoon Guards, formerly dear to the hearts of maidens all, now neglected in favor of poets precious.
Here’s an example of their versification:
“Gentle Jane was as good as gold,
“She always did as she was told;
“She never spoke when her mouth was full, Or caught bluebottles their legs to pull, Or vivisected her last new doll, Or fostered a passion for alcohol.”
How will the ladies and gentlemen pair off by the finale?
We are not here to spoil the suspense, but can say, with conviction, that “Patience,” with is generous use of Victorian parlance, is something very good.
Contemporaries of Gilbert and Sullivan realized what they had in “Patience” immediately. When it opened in a small theater in London in 1881, it instantly was popular, prompting the producers to move it to a newer, larger venue.
That was the Savoy — the world’s first theater lit by electricity — and the place giving its name to the Savoy-ards, performers and fans of Gilbert and Sullivan. “Patience” went on to 578 performances in the Savoy, an unusual accomplishment in those pre-Broadway blockbuster days.
Presented by the Lamplighters
Where: Novellus Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Tickets: $12 to $45
Contact: (415) 978-2787, www.lamplighters.org
Note: Performances also are Jan. 29 to 31 at Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.