Toronto Operetta Theatre
Chapman, Geoff, Opera Canada
Leo, the Royal Cadet was first performed at Martin's Opera House in Kingston, Ont., in July 1889. It would be nice to note that this was the start of a lengthy run that established the work by Oscar Telgmann and young lyricist George Cameron as a benchmark musical achievement in national history, but it was not to be. Despite enthusiastic early reviews and more than 1,700 performances over a 30-year span, Leo languished on library shelves after a 1925 fire destroyed sets, costumes and orchestra parts until 2001. That was when Guillermo Silva-Marin, Toronto Operetta Theatre's General Director, resurrected it for a modern staging with a grand finale, a reconstructed score by John Greer and book and lyrics he edited along with dramaturge Virginia Reh.
TOT reawakened Leo for its silver anniversary season with four performances this February, with Silva-Marin describing it as Canada's "first musical comedy." It certainly has pleasing tunes, spirited choral numbers, a heart-rending ballad for female lead Nellie (soprano Kristen Galer in appealing form in her TOT debut) and a deeply felt anthem praising the virtues of pumpkin pie, as well as hymns, marches, love duets and bittersweet farewells.
The story line has Leo (the versatile and attractive tenor, Cory O'Brien), a cadet at Kingston's Royal Military College, dispatched by Colonel Hewett, the College commandant (baritone and TOT favorite Roberto Longo, powerfully convincing as ever), to fight the expanding Zulu empire in Natal. …