The Gilbert & Sullivan Society Convention
David Jones reports on the events of
20th to 22nd April, at the Alma Lodge Hotel, Stockport
The eighteenth Gilbert & Sullivan Society Convention,
which was hosted jointly by the Manchester and Norwich Societies, was held at
the Alma Lodge Hotel, Stockport, and was attended by over eighty delegates.
There were members from the
and Norwich Societies, as well as performers and guests who had travelled from
three who travelled from the
During the course of the Convention, Jean Dufty, Manchester Society Secretary, told us that after the
2007 convention, which was held in Stockport, one of the letters received from
a member was very congratulatory but complained that the weather had been ‘far
too good and sunny’ to be kept indoors for the whole weekend at a convention,
and requested that Manchester arrange for it to be cold and wet next time. Jean
pointed out that the committee had done that, although she thought we might
have ‘overdone it a little’. During the daytime on Friday, we had wind,
torrential rain, sleet, hailstones and even thunder. Things moderated somewhat
during the course of the weekend, but it was still dull, showery and rather chilly.
Well done the Convention Committee!
“Now to the banquet we press”
At 7.30 pm on Friday, the convention opened with a
four-course Celebration Dinner which also marked the eightieth anniversary of
the Manchester Society. The well-designed A4-sheet menu, which was adorned with
several attractive graphical illustrations, announced that it was also the
seventy-seventh anniversary dinner.
click for larger image
Below the heading, Menu, came the quotation: “learn your appetites to subdue”.
Well, with mouth-watering dishes such as: Fan of Melon Yum Yum; McCranky’s Scottish Smoked Salmon; Cream of Asparagus
in May Soup; Yeomen Medallions of Beef; Utopian Lemon Sole Mornay; Titipu Vegetable Pancakes (and all the main courses accompanied
by Bunthorne’s Market Vegetables - “a bashful young
potato, or a not-too-French French bean!”) as well as a choice selection of
delicious sweets or a cheese and biscuits platter to follow, there was no chance
at all of us following that instruction!
After dinner, Manchester Society
Chairman, David Walton, welcomed us all and after a short opening speech,
proposed the Toast ‘The Queen, The Duke of Lancaster”. He then invited
Manchester Society President, Royston Nash, to address us. Royston began by
reminding us that David Walton had been our Manchester Society Chairman for twenty
years, and thanked him for his dedicated service to the Society during this
During the warm and friendly speech which followed,Royston
recounted that his first visit to
as Music Director of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, was
to conduct a performance of Yeomen of The
Guard, and that it was scheduled to be performed on a Good Friday. He
remembered that to give the performance on that day, it had been necessary to seek
permission from the Manchester Watch Committee (who ‘policed’ such matters at
that time) and, perhaps because it was one of the more serious G&S operas, permission
was granted to go ahead. Royston also told us that he had calculated recently
that if William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan had both been born on 29th February, in a leap year (as Frederic had been) then, calculated by the actual birthdays
which they would by now have had, they would have been 43 and 41 years of age
respectively and, perhaps, still alive and well and able to attend the
convention! He then proposed the Toast “The Immortal Memory and Manchester
G&S Society”. We were also delighted to welcome Royston’s wife, Lois, as a
“Strictly Victorian Entertainment”
click here for video
We then transferred to an adjacent area for some ‘strictly
Victorian entertainment’ which utilised arrangements of Sullivan’s music. David
Norris first played piano arrangements of various pieces from the Savoy Operas and,
later, the “Pirates Gallop” arranged
by Charles D’Albert. Then, to the strains of a march
from Utopia Limited, eight of the Manchester
Society members entered and were all very elegantly attired in Victorian
evening dress. They danced for us the “Sorcerer
Quadrille”, again arranged by Charles D’Albert,
and they all responded well to instruction from the ‘caller’, Jean Dufty, who was also attired in Victorian costume. After
that, members of the audience were invited to join in, and several did so, with
great enthusiasm. Afterwards, we listened to a pot-pourri of instrumental music containing ‘all the best-known tunes from the operettas’.
We heard the “Mikado Quadrille” which
was played by the London Salon Ensemble - on a CD recording supplied by Paul
And so a very enjoyable evening came to a close, and we made
our way home (or simply, upstairs) to bed.
“Hark the hour of ten is sounding”
At ten o’clock on Saturday morning, Manchester Society
Chairman, David Walton, made a short speech and welcomed the assembled
delegates. He then introduced the speaker for the first lecture/recital of the
“I’ll teach you all, ere long” - A lecture/recital by Oliver White (tenor)
Sir Arthur Sullivan: “Performing the music of Sullivan; breaking
Oliver informed us that, as he was performing professionally
on stage in
Liverpool that evening, he wished
to limit the amount of singing during his lecture/recital and would illustrate
his talk mainly by use of the piano.
He began by discussing Sullivan’s writing for the tenor
voice in the Savoy Operas, and he thought that in the earlier operas (The Sorcerer, HMS Pinafore and The Pirates
of Penzance), the pieces written for the tenor roles of Alexis, Ralph and
Frederic, were, perhaps, not as sympathetically written by Sullivan as in the
later operas - but that things improved as time went by and the series
progressed. Oliver explained that in order to reach and execute the high notes in
the tenor range, it is necessary to relax the voice in order to achieve the
desired effect, and that this can be influenced by the way in which a composer
constructs the piece. He thought that Sullivan’s sympathy for the tenor voice
and his technical expertise in writing for it, improved during the series of
Having said that, Oliver expressed his admiration for
Sullivan’s genius in writing for the voice and the subtlety with which he
achieved his aims. Demonstrating this with frequent short bursts of the voice,
or on the piano, he showed how Sullivan would change the meaning or mood of a
particular passage by the subtle use of chromatic colouration, harmonic
suspension, discordant passing notes, or discrete changes of rhythm or tempo.
He also explained how Sullivan would sometimes use a gentle and sustained
accompaniment in the instrumental line of a score to accompany the vocal line
in such a way as to allow the singer some artistic freedom in interpreting a
passage by change of rhythm or emphasis in much the same way as one would do in
the course of conversation.
Oliver delivered his whole presentation with such verve and
enthusiasm, that we were all held spellbound by it.
He also made me realise that there is much more to the
interpretation of these roles than just singing and acting.
“I’ve tea and I’ve coffee” [or fruit-juice, plain iced-water, or
‘comfort’, or both!] during a short break before:
“I can teach you with a quip, if I’ve a mind” - A lecture/recital by Martin
Sir William S Gilbert: “Entirely New and Original Comic Opera: W S Gilbert
Martin began by playing an extended excerpt from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore and
then explained that this had been the inspiration for one of Gilbert’s earliest
or The Little Duck and the Great Quack – his first solo stage success, which was, in fact, a musical burlesque of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore. They were both, in turn, the
source of inspiration for Gilbert’s collaboration with Sullivan in writing The Sorcerer.
Martin explained that John Wellington Wells is a ‘stage
cousin’ of Dr. Dulcamara, but that Gilbert’s
characters are, in general, much more
equivocal and unpleasant than those invented by the librettist for Donizetti’s
operas and those of his contemporaries. He explained how Gilbert also used
puns, jokes, and other devices to change the mood in his operettas, and how he also
developed a metatheatrical aspect to heighten the
drama and tension.
He showed how Gilbert developed much more depth in his
characters and introduced ‘a comedy of manners’, and how ‘class differences’
became a big feature in the Savoy Operas. Martin explained that The Sorcerer had, at first, confounded
the critics as a genre - because it was quite radically different from what had
been produced before it. He also showed how, in the operas of Donizetti and the
other composers of that time, set pieces (arias) were used to carry the
narrative forward, whereas Gilbert wrote ballads, but not arias, and that
Gilbert’s words and Sullivan’s music were used in combination to carry the
story forward in The Sorcerer and in
all subsequent Savoy Operas. Gilbert and Sullivan were in general writing for
‘actors who could sing’ rather than ‘singers who could act’ and they frequently
developed roles for specific artists which had a marked influence on the course
of development of the Savoy Operas. Sullivan wrote for ‘Gilbert and Sullivan
singers’ not ‘opera singers’ and he frequently scaled down the orchestral
accompaniment accordingly. Martin quoted pieces written for George Grossmith as an example to illustrate this point. He explained
that the world of opera and the people in it were changed forever by Gilbert’s
writing. He also explained how the unique combination of Gilbert’s words and
Sullivan’s music work well in delineating the characters and that working
together, as equals, they secured the success of the
Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas. He concluded by paying tribute to the
innovative approach of Richard D’Oyly Carte who
‘experimented’ with many modernising aspects of theatre design and management.
“Merrily ring the luncheon bell” [at 12.45 pm - for a three-course
After an excellent and very substantial lunch, I felt
inclined to go for a ‘nap’, but decided instead to opt for:
“Basingstoke it is”- an
audiovisual presentation by Arthur Barrett (
Ruddigore (appropriate for the 125th anniversary of Ruddigore on 22nd January 2012)
This presentation was dedicated by Arthur to the memory of
Bernard Sharpe who, unfortunately, died last year.
Arthur used video equipment and a TV screen, as well as
audio equipment, to present a series of excerpts from performances of Ruddigore which
had taken place over an extended period of time: some historic, some recent,
some in black and white, some in
colour. Other items were played in sound
only. They were all from Arthur’s unique and extensive collection of videos,
LPs, EPs, audio-cassette tapes and CDs, and he certainly used them to excellent
effect to provide a most stimulating and rewarding audio-visual experience
centred on Ruddigore.
We began with a few shots of
taken by Arthur’s daughter, and of Mossley Light Railway (another of Arthur’s
interests.) We, later, saw excerpts from the 1966 cartoon film, and from St.
Mary’s School, as well as Thomas Round dancing the hornpipe. There were other
visual excerpts from the Brent Walker videos, and excerpts (in colour) of ‘
Basingstoke’ from Charles Mackerras’s production with Sadler’s Wells of “Pineapple
Poll”. There were numerous audio excerpts from a range of artists: Philip
Potter, Julia Goss, Kenneth Sandford, Peggy Ann
Jones, Margaret Howard, Vincent Price, Charlotte Page, George Baker and the
Ohio Light Opera Company. There may have been others, but of the huge profusion
of artists, those are the ones I can remember.
“High Art” –– presented by Joy
A collection of images suggested by references in Patience
her presentation with a short visual exploration of some styles of architecture
including Early English and Gothic. We then moved on to look at the huge influence
(from 1848) of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood on buildings, furniture,
furnishings, paintings and poetry, and noted Gilbert’s reference in Patience to the “inner brotherhood”. Joy
went on to discuss and show examples of the work of three individual
pre-Raphaelite artists: William Holman Hunt, John Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti,
and how the movement had developed out of ‘a rejection of the materialism of
the age of machinery’; and she showed how they had sought and followed ‘the
dream’ through their art and poetry. Examples were shown of the later
development of these themes, by other artists, such as: William Morris and
Edward Burne-Jones; and all this was contrasted with the work of Gustav and his famous painting
of a bleak industrial scene in
Joy went on to discuss the development of medievalism in
Florence and showed some examples of the
paintings of Botticelli, Henry Holiday and others.
She also discussed the development of the ‘aesthetic
movement’ and showed how all of this had an influence on the writings of
Gilbert and many of the references in Patience in particular. Rossetti’s collection of old musical instruments was even to
have an influence on Gilbert’s stage settings; and his painting, The Blessed Damozel,
was reflected in Bunthorne’s dialogue as well as in his
carrying of a lily on stage; and the painting, The Water Willow, became a symbol of ‘undying love’, another theme developed
in Patience. There were also
connections with the
Gilbert’s use of the phrase, “I do not care for dirty greens by any means”, is
a direct reference to Edward Burne-Jones use of these colours in his paintings.
Fred Lewis’s painting, Lilium Auratum,
could have been another source of inspiration for Gilbert ‘s use of: “ If you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in your medieval hand”. Joy also
explained that Bunthorne and Grosvenor are composite
pictures derived from several people, e.g., Whistler, Walter Crane, Oscar Wilde
and Swinburne. Gilbert’s use of the poetic devise, alliteration, may well have
come directly from Swinburne’s use of it in his poem Nephelidia.
Joy concluded by telling us that which started off as a small handful of
references, just simply ‘grew and grew’.
After another fifteen-minute break for fluid refreshment, etc., we moved
on to the final afternoon presentation.
“Changing scenes” –
a visual presentation by Raymond Walker (
A history of the
changing patterns of D’Oyly Carte staging over 130
years – images from Society archives
Ray began by bemoaning the fact that, nowadays, scenery and
stage-settings are often simple, functional and rather un-romantic, whereas the
Victorians liked picturesque settings with romantic associations. Ray was of
the opinion that romantic music definitely does need romantic scenery and costumes.
He then showed us an outline plan of a theatre stage dating back to 1675 and
showed how little the basic plan had changed since then:
from back to front, a
Cyclorama (back-cloth), ground-rows, wings (for entry/exit), and tabs at the
Looking to the earliest staging of the D’Oyly Carte productions, Ray commented on how little information there was on this
subject. Engravings from books were used to depict some of the early
productions - but with varying degrees of accuracy. Photographs of theatres
only began to appear from around 1900. Richard D’Oyly Carte employed a series of good scenery painters for the Gilbert and Sullivan
operas. These included: Henry Hawes Craven [Green] (1837-1910) who was brought
in for Pinafore. The scenic designers
who worked with the D’Oyly Carte Company were: Henry
Hawes Craven Green, Gordon Harford, John O’Connor and
Henry Emden. There appear to be scant records of the scenery painters employed
by the D’Oyly Carte Company. Henry Hawes Craven was
responsible for the scenery for the 1885 production of The Mikado and his scenery for the 1888 production of Yeomen of The Guard was probably the
first to be photographed in 1902. For the 1915-1921 London revivals, Richard D’Oyly Carte put William Bridges-Adams in charge of the
scenery for: Iolanthe, Patience, The Sorcerer, Princess Ida, Yeomen of The Guard and Ruddigore. William Bridges-Adams was definitely
brought back, in 1936, to redesign the settings for Princess Ida in readiness
for a tour in the
George Sheringham (1884-1937) worked alongside William Bridges-Adams on the costumes and scenery. For the productions in the 1920’s and
1930’s of HMS Pinafore, Patience and The Pirates of Penzance, the scenery was much blander. ‘Forty-Foot
Art’, a British Pathé film, gives a rare glimpse of
Joseph Harker at work in his stage painting studio.
The early painters were landscape artist in their own right, but from Ricketts
onwards, they had a leaning to graphic art. Charles Ricketts was the first artist
in the 1920’s productions of The Mikado and Gondoliers to provide a bolder approach.
A rather bland scenery painting technique was used (but this was generally
invisible from the audience) and was enhanced by incorporating emblems to add
some highlight and detail. Ray then showed a four-minute film of the production
of The Mikado in 1926 (courtesy of
Peter Parker) which served to highlight Charles Ricketts’ costumes and scenery
for the production at the Princes Theatre. Peter Goffin,
a friend of Bridget D’Oyly Carte from
was in charge of the stage designs from 1939 to 1961, and this included the
productions of Yeomen of The Guard (1940) and Ruddigore (1949). During a wartime blitz on
much of the scenery for four of the major D’Oyly Carte productions was destroyed.
A leaning towards a graphic design style (in
general) was developed in the 1950’s: for example, that used in the 1951
Festival of Britain. Similar designs can be seen in advertising literature and
scenery for the productions of the G&S operas. In 1975, the concept of Unit
Sets was introduced, utilising ‘variations on a basic theme’ for the repertoire
of productions. This method included the use of grey wings - on which various
different panels were stuck. James Wade was brought in for a new production of Princess Ida in 1957. He produced a
‘fantasy Gothic setting’. The 1978 D’Oyly Carte Company
sometimes toured with poor lighting and scenery incorrectly set, as one slide
showed. Ray then commented that he thought that the recent Opera North
production of Ruddigore improved matters by introducing more stage props, even if Act 1 looked bland.
He concluded by restating his opinion that, in general, modern scenery is
functional and un-romantic and doesn’t fulfil an audience’s needs.
“Many kinds of food” After an hour’s break, we indulged ourselves again in a Hot (and Cold)
Buffet High Tea.
“All the corners of
the earth ring with music sweetly played” – A Professional Celebrity Concert
Songs of the Savoy –
a concert given by:
Victoria Byron (mezzo-soprano), Pauline Birchall (mezzo), Stephen Brown (tenor), Ian Belsey (baritone), Martin Lamb(bass-baritone) and David Mackie (piano).
The concert began at 8.00 pm, and lasted for two hours - with a short
interval at about the mid point. It was a highly entertaining and polished
performance throughout, and all the participating artists excelled themselves.
There were solos from all the vocal artists, as well as duets, trios and
ensembles. The works we heard were from the G&S operas: The Sorcerer, Patience, The Grand Duke, Princess Ida, The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, Utopia
Limited, Ruddigore and Iolanthe. In addition, we heard two items from Messager’s Mirette and Edward German’s Merrie England. It was all highly enjoyable and very entertaining. As the
entire concert was accompanied by David Mackie at the piano, it almost goes
without saying that the accompaniment was also highly polished and
entertaining. After each of the artists was presented with a small gift in
token of our appreciation, they gave us a rousing encore, very appropriate in
the Queen’s Jubilee year: God Save
Elizabeth! from Edward German’s Merrie England.
“Now for the strawberry jam !”
After the concert finished, at
around 10.00 pm, some of us just retired to bed.
Others indulged themselves with Danish pastries, scones and jam, washed down by tea or coffee,
There was not much self restraint there then, and “learn your appetites to subdue” was long forgotten!
“In fair phrases, hymn their praises”
An Act of Worship
using some of Sullivan’s sacred music, led by David Walton
At 9.40 am promptly, on Sunday morning, a significant proportion of the
delegates gathered, as requested by David Walton, the previous evening, to
rehearse (some of it in four-part harmony) several of Sullivan’s hymns which
were to be sung in the Act of Worship which was to commence at 10.00 am. This
was introduced and led by David Walton, Chairman of the Manchester Society, who
is also a Methodist lay-preacher. David,
who led this Act of Worship, had designed it so that it was centred round two
highly significant events: the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, and the
Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Year. He succeeded in weaving these two rather
contrasting ‘themes’ into the service in splendid fashion, and the informality
of his approach meant that even those delegates who were not particularly
‘religious’ or at home with the formality of ‘an act of worship’ could not fail
to be impressed and interested in what he had to say, and to be carried along by
the meaning of it all.
There were also prayers, two appropriate readings (well executed), and no
less than seven hymns sung to music composed by Sir Arthur Sullivan, They were: Alleluyia! Alleluyia!
Hearts to heaven and voices raise (Lux Eoi),
Let us with a gladsome mind (Ever Faithful), Nearer, my God, to Thee (Propior Deo) My spirit on Thy
care (In Memoriam), Safe home, safe
home in port! (Safe Home), Oh King of Kings, whose reign of old (Bishopgarth)
and [of course!] Onward Christian
soldiers (St Gertrude). The latter sung as a rousing finale to the
Following another break for coffee, etc., we were invited to attend the
final presentation of the convention.
with instruction” – Entertainment by Patrick Dawson (baritone)
Patrick talked about his experiences in performing in the Gilbert and
Sullivan operas, and particularly as a ‘patter man’ in a variety of productions
and events, and in various places, including Buxton,
Derby and Grim’s Dyke (the latter over the course of the last ten years.) His anecdotes and
vocal illustrations were wide-ranging and highly entertaining and were
introduced by a good deal of additional ‘patter’ of his own making. Some of the
most memorable items had us all ‘in stitches’. I particularly liked and remember
his caricature of ‘Prince Charles’ talking about and ‘singing’ “When I was a lad I served a term” from HMS Pinafore, in which, quite apart from
the excellent mimicking of the voice and mannerisms, he convulsed us at the end
of the song by changing the words from “That now I am the Ruler of the Queen’s Navee!” to: “That now
I am the Ruler of Mummy’s Navee”. He also produced his own up-to-date ‘little
list’ for The Mikado which contained
references to Meerkats and ‘Go Compare’; and an
oblique but thinly-disguised reference to David Walton, in poking fun at
Methodist lay-preachers. All very amusing stuff and very well executed by
Patrick. He also did some excellent impersonations (vocal and actions) of Bunthorne, King Garma and the
Learned Judge. He encouraged David Walton to join him, on stage, for a ‘spoof
duet’ which involved some vocalisation as well as dancing; and gave us a couple
of amusing anecdotes regarding rehearsing with the late Patricia Leonard, who
managed to throw him across a piano; and Jill Pert, who rather forcibly twanged
the braces on the trousers of his evening dress.
Patrick told us about the time that he was performing as the Lord
Chancellor in a production of Iolanthe at the Inns of Court, and how he was dressed
in a borrowed, genuine, horse-hair wig and robes, but when he crossed the
courtyard, in full costume, none of the many passers-by even noticed that he
was there. He then concluded with a splendid and quite rapidly executed rendition
of the Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare Song from Iolanthe.
(Not forgetting our very own "little list")
David Walton then formally closed the convention, in the main function
room, thanking everyone who had taken part in the planning, organisation,
lectures, entertainment, and catering - during the entire convention.
Jean Dufty, Manchester Society Secretary, who
had played a major role in organising the convention, was presented with a bouquet
of flowers; and a Californian baseball cap from
Los Angeles delegate John Welch!
“We’ll crown our rapture with another feast” –
Sunday Lunch – another four-course feast of a meal
We had become used to indulging ourselves with the liberal helpings of
food served at all the formal meal breaks during the course of the three days
over which the convention has been held. This was no exception.
After lunch, and much convivial conversation, we all dispersed “most
reluctantly” as the programme stated.
Driving home, my wife and I were discussing how excellent the whole
convention had been, and how much wholesome food we had consumed during the
course of it. We both quite independently agreed that we were:
“Stouter than I used to be”