The Yeomen of the Guard, Light Opera Works, at Northwestern University, Cahn Auditorium. Strangely dark and emotionally ambivalent, this 1888 operetta by William S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan veers far from the comic formulas of the same team’s H.M.S. Pinafore and The Mikado. Set in the time of Henry VIII, it concerns a condemned prisoner who escapes from the Tower of London by wooing two women: the daughter of a tower guard (or yeoman), whom he finally dumps, and the betrothed of a traveling jester. (The jester’s mistreatment by his unexpected rival gives ironic meaning to the subtitle “The Merryman and His Maid.”) Gilbert’s libretto weds Victorian and Elizabethan idioms; the clownish wordplay between the jester, Jack Point, and the “assistant tormentor,” Wilfred Shadbolt, could have come straight from lesser Shakespeare.

Philip A. Kraus’s solid if somewhat stodgy staging gives appropriate emphasis to these two characters, delightfully played by veteran G & S patter singer Henry Michael Odum and Fred Gwynne-like baritone Peter Pohlhammer. Strong if unexceptional voices in the other roles, a decent orchestra under the baton of Harold Bauer, and visually pleasing, appropriate sets by Angela Weber Miller and costumes by Shifra Werch help preserve Yeomen’s intriguing balance of humor and pathos. As always, Light Opera Works’ trump card is that it offers admirers of the genre a competent, professional rendition when they must generally settle for amateur or student productions.

–Albert Williams