Gilbert and Sullivan are definitely like Marmite – you love them or hate them but you never feel indifferent about them. Probably in my circle of friends and acquaintances there are more that hate, than like, Gilbert and Sullivan; of course, in my humble opinion,, if you hate them then you just haven’t been exposed to them enough. You need to give it more time. Jai likes them, Steve hates them, Jenny loves them, Fee hates them, Liz likes them, Gwyn and Pete love them, John used to love them, my parents hated them.
When you think Gilbert and Sullivan are wonderful, it is very difficult to understand why other people wouldn’t like them. I can vouch for the fact that it hasn’t got anything to do with being a singer or just being part of an amateur dramatic/operatic group or being exposed to them at school because none of that applies to me. I have already written (see Theatre Royal, Nottingham Blog) about how I was introduced to Gilbert and Sullivan – it was about going with a friend to see some amateur dramatics and just loved it. I then was introduced to the D’Oyley Carte at the Theatre Royal and the rest is history – no stopping me. If you can’t see a live performance there is nothing quite like the Pirates of Penzance on the ipod. However, that memory is not entirely correct because it has come to me that the first person who introduced me to Gilbert and Sullivan was in fact Mr Mullard; Mr Mullard worked with me at Mountsorrel Day Centre in 1974. He was unmarried and a bit of a loner but had a voice to die for. He was an active member of various operatic societies and in the process of ‘taking m under his wing’ invited me to see the Pirates of Penzaance in which he was appearing. I loved his voice, became his greatest fan, great memories. To divert, the best memory was of him singing “Some Enchanted Evening” at Pakefield Holiday Camp, brilliant.
So who were Gilbert and Sullivan? Arthur Sullivan was a composer and WS Gilbert wrote the words for 14 comic operas created between 1871 and 1896: the Mikado, Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, the Gondaliers, Patience, Iolanthe, Ruddigore, Yeoman of the Guard, Trial by Jury, Princess Ida, The Sorcerer, Cox and Box, Utopia Unlimited and the Grand Duke. The stories are fanciful, from a ‘topsy-turvey’ world. Most of the operas can be, and are, tweaked to include political references of the current day which was what John Reed, one of the most famous performers of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works, was excellent at. Each opera has at least one, if not more, ‘patter’ songs – fast, rhyming songs which are played faster and faster as encores. Gilbert and Sullivan operas always have a large chorus and are usually performed in a very tradtional manner.
In 1881, Richard D’Oyley Carte, who was a huge fan of the comic operas, built the Savoy Theatre in London as a venue for the operas and founded the D’Oyley Carte Opera Company which performed and promoted Gilbert and Sullivan’s works for over a century. Although the D’Oyley Carte Opera Company closed in 1982, Gilbert and Sullivan prove to be still very popular, especially the most well-known works and are still regularly performed by amateur dramatic societies. One of the things that amateur societies are famous for is their inclusive approach to cast members and they are not ‘hung up’ on getting the appropriate ages for cast members; the ages of the chorus members of Major Stanley’s daughters (Pirates of Penzance) is often notoriously high.
In 1994, a three week long International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival was held for the first time in Buxton and has become an annual event (although it’s venue has now moved to Harrogate); there are some two dozen or more performances plus a ‘fringe’; companies come from all over the British Isles but also from father afield. Both professional and amatuer groups attend. “The appeal of Gilbert and Sullivan’s special blend of silliness and gentle satire seems immune to fashion”.
Jai was one of the youngest members of Leicester Operatic Society (her performance as one of the three Little Maids from the Mikado was impressive) and in August 1999 they all went to Buxton for the International Festival. Knowing my love of Gilbert and Sullivan, Jai brought me back this tea towel back as a birthday present. The tea towel is delightful, 50% cotton, 50% linen, cream with a black ink sketch. The two sketches of Gilbert and Sullivan with the names of their operas draped around them brings back memories of the productions I have seen (and haven’t already seen) and the music I enjoy listening to. Iolanthe will always be my favourite because I think that seeing John Reed as the Lord Chancellor was a fantastic experience: he was called on to do so many encores by the Nottingham Theatre Royal audiences. I have not seen Utopia Unlimited but I continue to search out productions of this opera; it is rarely performed. I haven’t yet been to the International Festival but it is on my list of things to do. I remember Steve’s brave attempt at coming with me to see the Pirates of Penzance and the clear look of disbelief that someone could actually really like this stuff. To be fair, he saw an amateur production; my hope would be that with a professional production he might feel differently but I think that experience has put him off forever. However, Fee’s disbelief was equally dramatic and I took her to a professional production. I trust their tastes will improve, like good wine, with age.
For discerning tea towel Blog readers, you may notice that subtle pink hue to the tea towel. This is actually dye that ran from my red sweat shirt that mistakenly found it’s way into my washing, although I do think that it gives the tea towel an extra glow.
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