There is more great music in any five minutes of “The Gondoliers” than in all of “Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Miz” combined. Why, this being so, must we languish so long between magical encounters with the glory of Gilbert and Sullivan, while the cultural kibble of today’s musical theater sprays out its crumbs  from all sides?
A brief respite from latter-day horrors was in order this past weekend, when Richard Sheldon’s Opera a la Carte touched down at Ambassador Auditorium with its  marvelous “Gondoliers,” done straight as written — perpetrators of the current Long Beach Opera offering kindly take note — and done with great comedic high style. Sheldon founded the company nearly 20 years ago, and has obviously been its principal nourishing force; in this production he was the stage director and also took on the main patter role of the Duke of Plaza-Toro, both on a level of skill to gladden hearts of the most devout Savoyard.
There aren’t many companies like this any more. An attempt to revive London’s defunct d’Oyly Carte troupe has now failed. There’s the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players,  a first-rate full-time company that does two or three productions a year at Manhattan’s Symphony Space; San Francisco has its Lamplighters; we have Opera a la Carte which, now that I think of it, is quite a meaningful title. In this age when some stage directors take fiendish pleasure in tarting up the Gilbert and Sullivan repertory — sometimes even successfully, as with the Music Center Opera’s “Mikado” — it’s significant that those other above-named companies are dedicated to maintaining the d’Oyly Carte performing rubrics that go back to the time of the creators who, after all, usually knew best.
Like Saint Paul to the Romans, the  d’Oyly Carte veteran Donald Adams came into this “Gondoliers” company as guest artist, to recreate his sumptuously resonant, rubber-jowled, oversized Grand Inquisitor. It was a glorious performance, as it always has been, but it wasn’t just a star turn among mere mortals. The company managed a consistent performance level worthy of its distinguished guest: Sheldon’s Duke, Eugenia Hamilton, in a hilarious hoopskirt roughly the size of a jet hangar, as his Duchess, Alison England (a living doll if ever there was) as their daughter Casilda, Laurance [cq] Fee and Mark Beckwith as the enthroned Gondoliers, Kris Kennedy and Kathryn Stewart as their brides — the most appealing female roles in the entire Gilbert and Sullivan canon.
David Barber’s brightly colored cutout set designs were adequate if little more; Frank Fetta’s conducting was adequate if at times a little sleepy. The chorus — even if their numbers didn’t quite measure up to the “four and twenty” girls of Gilbert’s playscript — was well-drilled in both music and movement.
All we have to do now is to find a way to nail down Richard Sheldon and his company in our midst on a 52-weel basis — if only to allow the still-pointed satire in both the words and music of the G&S repertory to mirror the realities of today’s world, (There’s quite a lot in “The Gondoliers,” about political profiteering and influence-peddling in high places, that the Messrs. Bradley in City Hall and Wright in Washington might take to heart.)  More than ever now, when overpriced mediocrity is all we can expect from our living practitioners of musical theater, it’s time for a wholesale Gilbert and Sullivan restoration. Those old boys knew all the answers. So do the folks of Opera a la Carte, inheritors of the spirit.