On this day…….

….in 1889 The Gondoliers opened at the Savoy Theatre in London for the first of a very successful 554 night run.  In fact, the Gondoliers earned more in its opening run than any other Gilbert and Sullivan work.

Gondoliers

The Gondoliers was the next collaboration of Gilbert and Sullivan following The Yeomen of the Guard and Sullivan was very open in his desire to move away from their usual form into something more ambitious.  Gilbert however was of the opinion that they should remain with the formulaic style of their previous successes.  A series of wrangling letters ensued until ultimately a compromise was reach that Sullivan would right a light opera for the Savoy and then a more grand opera for a new theatre built for that purpose.

The opening number of The Gondoliers is certainly the longest in the Gilbert and Sullivan canon with a massive 15 minutes of continuous music before any libretto is spoken.  The style of the music with its flavours from Venice and Spain is set for the rest of the operetta in this opening passage.

The Gondoliers was received to critical acclaim by theatre goers and on 6th March 1891 was performed as a Royal Command Performance for Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle – the first of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works to achieve such heights.

The Gondoliers is certainly not a show for the faint-hearted to produce – requiring sumptuous costumes, impressive scenery and a massive cast – indeed if a company stays true to the opening number, “four-and-twenty” maidens are required simply for the female chorus not to mention a host of gondolieri and various lead roles.

On a personal note, The Gondoliers is my absolute favourite in the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire because of its amusing storyline and the absolutely glorious melodies and foot-tapping music that Sullivan produced.

Bingley Gilbert and Sullivan Society has performed The Gondoliers on 7 occasions, the most recent being 2008 and I very much look forward to being involved with another fine production at The Arts Centre in the near future.

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On this day…….

In 1882 Iolanthe, or The Peer and the Peri, opening at London’s Savoy Theatre.  In a first for any play, Iolanthe opened simultaneously in London and New York and two casts rehearsed alongside one another in the run up top opening night.

Iolanthe

W.S Gilbert first had his idea for a storyline similar to Iolanthe in one of his Bab Ballads entitled “The Fairy Curate” where a fairy marries a mortal.

In true Gilbert and Sullivan fashion, Iolanthe is a satire poking fun at supposedly ineffectual and over-privileged House of Lords.  Iolanthe is often famed for its sumptuous costume and effects to make the fairy world ever more realistic.  In fact advances in technology meant that even in the very first shows, the fairies had headdresses of fairy lights powered by small batteries.

The absurdity of the show is not lost with all members of the House of Lords in love with the heroine Phyllis and Strephon in charge of the entire Parliament.  Upon opening, the operetta received rave reviews and critical acclaim.

Iolanthe was the first of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works to be performed by a non-D’Oyle Carte company when it was produced by the Sadler’s Wells Opera in January 1962.

One of the lines from the play “this comes of women interfering in politics” was oft-quoted when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister.  One of the most iconic songs in Gilbert and Sullivan’s canon – and certainly one of my favourites – the March of the Peers comes from Iolanthe and sounds utterly sublime when well performed by a good male voice.

Bingley Gilbert and Sullivan have performed Iolanthe on six occasions and of course our 2017 production will be Iolanthe, for which tickets are already on sale.

Iolanthe Flyer

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On this day…..

…….in 1877 Gilbert and Sullivan presented their operetta The Sorcerer to a packed house at the Opera Comique.

Image of John Wellington Wells

The Sorcerer was Gilbert and Sullivan’s third collaboration and was based on a short story by W.S Gilbert entitled The Elixir of Love.  The story centres on Alexis Pointdextre and his belief that love levels all rank, so strong a belief that he enlists the help of a sorcerer to provide him with a love potion.  Naturally things don’t quite go accordingly to plan and hilarity ensues when an entire village falls in love with the first person they, not to mention some marked confusion between a “filter” and a “philtre”.

The Sorcerer received good reviews initially but quickly fell out of favour and remains one of the less well known Savoy Operas, being overshadowed by the later successes.  The Sorcerer, unlike some of the more popular works, draws largely on satire of social convention and pastoral opera and loses some of the humour in translation for modern audiences.

The Sorcerer did however lay out the standard for later Gilbert and Sullivan productions in terms of appearance of regular roles; a comic baritone with a patter song, a tenor and soprano as lovers, and comic roles for a bass-baritone and a contralto.

Whilst less regularly performed than some of the more famous works, The Sorcerer has strong libretto and some wonderful songs, not least the fantastic “My Name is John Wellington Wells” performed by the ultimately doomed sorcerer.  Nevertheless, Isaac Asimov wrote an homage to The Sorcerer in his short story The Up to Date Sorcerer.

As with all Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, the impact on popular culture is marked.  Opera Della Luna veered from tradition with their 2009 performance of The Sorcerer when rather than Aline falling for Dr Daly, it is the male lead Alexis who sees the curate Dr Daly and falls madly in love thanks not in part to his own meddling!

Bingley Gilbert and Sullivan have performed The Sorcerer on five occasions, most recently in 2011 which marked Richard Thompson’s last performance with Bingley Gilbert and Sullivan Society as the Sorcerer himself.

 

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On This Day……..

…..in 1888 The Yeomen of the Guard premiered in London’s Savoy Theatre.  The eleventh collaboration between W.S.Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, it ran for 423 performances.

Tower Of London

The only one of the Gilbert and Sullivan canon to be set in an actual place, the opera takes place in the Tower of London during the 16th Century.  Unlike many of the operettas, The Yeomen of the Guard takes on a more sinister and much darker undertone.  Although there are the usual comic moments and witty one-liners, the operetta remains more subdued than others by the duo.  The libretto particularly is of a more unusually complex style, being early-modern English in nature.

The overture of The Yeomen of the Guard is unusual in that it takes a sonata form, rather than being a mix of other songs from the production.  Again, perhaps most unusually for the work of Gilbert and Sullivan, Yeomen does not finish with the traditional “guy gets girl” happy ending, rather with Jack Point finishing the operetta heartbroken, amidst two very reluctant engagements.  The first Jack Point was of course the incomparable George Grossmith, a stalwart of Gilbert and Sullivan’s work.  In fact Jack Point’s finale ballad “I Have a Song to Sing O” probably remains one of the best loved – and most shocking – pieces.

George Grossmith

In perhaps a nod to the more serious nature of The Yeomen of the Guard, Arthur Sullivan’s memorial in The Victoria Embankment Gardens carries the quote “Is life a boon? If so, it must befall that Death, whene’er he call, must call too soon”.

The Yeomen of the Guard remains one of the more ambitious productions for amateur societies to put on owing to its substantial cast and the requirement for authentic looking uniforms and weaponry for the Tower Warders.  Very difficult musically from principal parts to chorus, Yeomen remains truly rewarding to take part in.

Bingley Gilbert and Sullivan Society have performed The Yeomen of the Guard on 7 occasions, the most recent being 2014 to which we received a delightful response from our audiences.

 

 

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