The 90th Anniversary of the first G&S Society Convention was a lovely event to be part of. Friends in the British Music Hall Society would have named it the ‘Green Beans and Carrots’ Convention, as luckily, my personal vegetable love meant I was happy eating these on the three days. The food was fine, and the Alma Lodge Hotel close to Stockport once again provided a spacious environment for socialising, listening to talks and concerts.
The first concert featured Matthew Siveter, a young singer with an enormous ability to take Gilbert & Sullivan to new generations of fans. He sang a variety of songs, many from G&S, which showcased his gift for comedy, and also his fine baritone voice. Many amusing anecdotes, including a demonstration of his skill in Irish dancing, made for a hugely enjoyable concert by a singer with a bright future and a wonderful personality. He was accompanied by Martin Yates who had predicted Matthew’s skill in G&S from an early age. The following day, Matthew was interviewed by Chairman, David Walton about his life and career. Matthew’s fan base will have increased this weekend.
Saturday morning saw Martin Yates look at influences in the composition of ‘The Mikado’, with explanation of the pentatonic scale and other musical devices: and also how Sullivan’s use of influences went on to influence Puccini’s ‘Madam Butterfly’ and ‘Turandot’. Hearing the music explained in this way made it sound even fresher and and more vibrant than usual.
Deborah Lea, who is Eleanor Evans’ great-niece, presented an illustrated history of Darrell Fancourt, Eleanor’s husband, looking at his life and his career in D’Oyly Carte where he remained for over three decades and over 10,000 performances. Deborah illustrated her talk with several recordings of Darrell’s singing which demonstrated his exemplary diction and ability to infuse his singing with character. Deborah also described Eleanor’s career with the company, initially as a singer, and latterly as Stage Director. There was also a display of many interesting items connected to Darrell. This talk was a direct result of Deborah’s friend, the singer and teacher Sandra Dugdale, recommending that Deborah approach the Society, and we were very pleased to present the talk as part of this weekend. The Society’s ‘Fancourt Trophy’, which in the 1950s Manchester society members could compete for by singing numbers from the operas, was presented to Deborah after her talk: a fitting gesture.
In the afternoon, Paul Taylor presented a condensed version of his talk about the events leading up to the first night of ‘Iolanthe’, both in the theatre and in the wider world. As usual, Paul used many unfamiliar illustrations in his talk, meticulously researched as usual. I was pleased to play the Lancers arrangement of ‘Iolanthe’ by Charles d’Albert as part of this talk.
A Celebrity Concert with Leon Berger, Joanna Gamble, Rachel Harland, Russell Painter and pianist, Tim Smith was very enjoyable, blending familiar and unfamiliar Sullivan and G&S items. Dialogue was included between some items, which showed the artistes’ ease with this material. Apparently more than one singer was having throat problems, but this didn’t detract from what was a successful concert.
On the final morning, John Balls and Arthur Barrett from the Norwich society, presented a fascinating hour, blending excerpts from recordings of both the Boer War Te Deum and the Festival Te Deum, several hymns with Sullivan’s music accompanied by David Mackie with his customary skill, and a couple of hilarious letters written by Gilbert to a cousin about his adventures as a new driver in 1902. It seems fitting, knowing the character of Gilbert, that he denied causing any of the three accidents he had been involved in within months of each other, luckily not causing too much damage or injury.
A final concert by Scottish soprano, Juliet Montgomery and baritone Nathan Bellis, accompanied by David Mackie was excellent. Half was G&S sung by their beautiful young voices, and half was music theatre, just as enjoyable. Here again, it was reassuring to know that G&S is in the safe hands of the next generation of singers. Maybe they are denied the training ground which D’Oyly Carte provided to many singers before them, but it was a lovely hour of music, skilfully and characterfully sung and accompanied.
After lunch, our 48 hours, certainly a pudding crammed full of plums, came to an end and it was time to leave. Thank you to those within Manchester G&S Society: Jean Dufty, Paul Taylor, Ray Walker and David Walton, who worked so hard to ensure the Twenty-Second Convention was successful.