The Gilbert & Sullivan Light Opera Company of Long Island Since 1954
Remembering Bob Tartell D. November 27, 2013 ﷯Another giant of Long Island’s community-theater scene passed from the scene on Nov. 27 when Bob Tartell died at 87. In civilian life a Valley Stream-based dentist and longtime resident of West Hempstead, Tartell joined the Gilbert & Sullivan Light Opera Company of Long Island—then known as the Gilbert & Sullivan Workshop of Long Island—in 1956 and quickly established himself as a mainstay of the company, particularly known for his performances as Captain Corcoran in H.M.S. Pinafore, the Sergeant in The Pirates of Penzance and Pooh-Bah in The Mikado. As the years passed, Tartell became increasingly active in the administration of the company, serving at various times as its president and as treasurer. He and his longtime friend Elaine Lerner served as the company’s business managers for many years. In the late 1970s Tartell was one of the prime movers in what began as a branch of the company performing Gilbert & Sullivan in Yiddish, creating the role of Der Capitan in the company’s production of Miriam Walowitz’s Der Shirtz (a Yiddish Pinafore, later expanded by Tartell and Al Grand into Der Yiddisher Pinafore) and later appearing in Walowitz’s Der Yiddisher Mikado (adapted by Grand and Tartell) and Grand’s own Di Yam Gazlonim (a Yiddish Pirates of Penzance). Tartell performed less often with the Light Opera Company in the 1980s, putting his formidable energies primarily into the Yiddish company, which was spun off as the Gilbert & Sullivan Yiddish Light Opera Company in the mid-1980s. With Tartell as producer, the company toured nationally with its Yiddish productions and took them to Canada and England as well. Its success in propagating and sustaining this unique aspect of Jewish culture was among Tartell’s greatest satisfactions, reflecting as it did his lifelong commitment to Judaism and his Jewish heritage. He continued to appear occasionally in English productions throughout his 70s, reprising his role as Captain Corcoran in the Long Island premiere production of Utopia Limited in 2001 and performing one of his favorite songs, Iolanthe’s “When Britain Really Ruled the Waves” in the company’s 50th-anniversary production of Very Truly Yours, Gilbert & Sullivan in 2004. His last appearance with the company came in 2007, as a reader in two complete readings of Tennyson’s epic poem The Princess in conjunction with the company’s production of Princess Ida, which is based on Tennyson’s poem. Tartell was nothing if not a man of diverse talents. In addition to singing and acting Gilbert & Sullivan in both English and Yiddish, he was a passionate devotee of Schubert, hosting regular musicales at which he and his friends would perform art music by a variety of composers. He was a voracious reader, a self-taught financial expert, a talented artist and for many years a regular participant in the New York City Marathon. Most of all Tartell was an aficionado, a man who devoted his life to doing the things that were important to him, and doing them with passion and zeal. No one who saw him perform ever got anything less than the best he had to offer. “Bob was an excellent singer and a funny, funny actor,” said Gayden Wren, who first joined the company in 1974 and performed with and/or directed Tartell on numerous occasions for the next 30 years. “There are better singers and better actors, but I never knew one who brought more joy to his work than Bob Tartell. In English or in Yiddish, he always had a great time, and his audiences did too.”
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