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Subject: Inkle and Yarico, BAC 18Aug98
From: "H.E.Elsom" <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 20 Aug 1998 00:29:28 +0000

text/plain (86 lines)

Inkle and Yarico (1787), music by Samuel Arnold, play by George Colman the

Inkle     Andrew Robert Thody
Trudge    Stephen Matthews
Yarico    Maureen Braithwaite
Wowski    Tameka Empson
Curry     Jonathan Newth
Narcissa  Tiffany Edwards
Patty     Madeleine Worrall
Campley   Gus Brown
Medium    Mike Shannon
Sailors, Planters
          David Forest, Jonathan Dryden Taylor

Director  Simon Godwin
Conductor Peter Tregear


Inkle and Yarico was a substantial success in London and other
English-speaking cities in from its first appearance in 1787 until the
early years of the ninteenth century. It is a combination of ballad opera
and sentimental comedy, based on an older story of a merchant who falls in
love with the American Indian princess who saves his life but is then
tempted to sell her into slavery for profit.

This version is an explicit statement against slavery: the merchant Inkle
is shown as a money-grabbing scumbag, while the princess Yarico is entirely
noble. Both Inkle's manservant Trudge, who falls unshakably in love with
Yarico's maid Wowski, and Sir Christopher Curry, the governor of Barbados,
comment forcefully on the evils of slavery, and Inkle is converted in the
end by Yarico's love (as well as the loss of his intended, Curry's
daughter, to a much more honorable man). It has something in common in
theme and decor with Gay's Polly, which also has noble savages, mercenary
planters and country dances. I found it a fascinating play, both for its
committed position on slavery and for the way it interweaves operatic
conventions and comic drama. This production, part of the BAC Opera season,
gave it a fair presentation with limited resources.

The programme is a bit defensive about performing the text unadapted. (A
production in Barbados last year had Yarico ditch Inkle and marry a
Barbadian soldier.) It's true that there are some "hottypot" and cannibal
jokes, and Wowski in particular is a crude parody, speaking semi-gibberish

But the performers brought it off in style, taking full advantage of the
fact that the only evil people are Inkle and the slave-dealing planters.
Maureen Braithwaite was naughty but dignified as Yarico, making the most of
her sentimental arias in the Italian style. Tameka Empson was positively
wicked as Wowski, delivering a comic tour-de-force that made the character
extroverted and affectionate.

Stephen Matthews as her partner Trudge also created a totally sympathetic
character from a stereotype Cockney with some good lines ("Don't let anyone
steal your pineapple, Wows, you're among Christians now."), and did a
couple of fine song-and-dance numbers. Jonathan Newth in the mainly
speaking role of Curry was good and peppery, and also made him more than a

The real problem in producing Inkle and Yarico is that it goes on far too
long, and doesn't have a high enough proportion of music for the words. The
"operatic" characters, Inkle, Yarico, Narcissa, who is Inkle's intended,
and Campley, the man she really loves, all have formal arias that require
moderately substantial singers, and far too many sententious words which
they can't do much with as the comic characters can. Except for Yarico,
whose suffering and nobility is the focus of the play, it's difficult to
care much about them or find much interest in them. Both Andrew Robert
Thody as Inkle and Gus Brown as Campley (the name is meant to evoke
military valour) had decent baritone voices but were otherwise wooden, to
the extent that Inkle's appalling litany of financial calculation didn't
have any impact at all. You couldn't even be bothered to hiss him.
Similarly with Madeleine Worrall as Patty Prink, Narcissa's comic Irish
maid, who has a couples of arias but not much point.

The music, reconstructed by Peter Tregear from a piano score which is all
that survives of the original, came off about as well as the singers who
sang it. The small orchestra was often ragged, and the jolly dances fared
the best. The production was basic, using curtains for Yarico's cave, and
the odd chair, but the characters were well thought out and the action
moved smoothly if not swiftly.

H.E. Elsom
[log in to unmask]

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