here's a thing.....do you think Gilbert and Sullivan would have survived through to today without D'Oyly Carte. I find it hard to believe that they had the same regimented productions and business for decades. I can't help feeling Gilbert, such an innovator in theatrical terms, would have wanted his productions re-invented alongside theatrical developments. Towards the end it was as if looking at museum pieces, but then Les Miserables and Phantom have been going over three decades with the same, admittedly bigger and flashier, production. Without D'Oyly Carte we might not have had G&S today but then without the company the operas might have had a better reputation.
I never saw a D’Oyly Carte production but it’s an interesting thought.
I understood Gilbert to be fanatical about the actors following direction so I’m not so sure he’d agree with the updates. Opera seemed to be late to the 20C theatrical revolution in staging and by the end D’Oyly Carte must have seemed terribly old hat, redeemed only by the quality of singers it had who can be found on CD’s e.g. Valerie Masterson. These singers probably kept it going when the umpteenth revival had otherwise lost all its verve. But the company and their productions were such a part of being British, like going to a Panto, that it survived until 1982!
In the 60s there was an audience for nostalgia e.g. Oh What a Lovely War or the old Players Theatre (Which I visited several times) nightly performing Music Hall and Variety in the old styles and costumes – or rather a pastiche as currently seen on BBC 4 reviving The Good Old Days. When they were shown first time I hated them and wasn’t attracted to G&S at all. IN Absolute Beginners by Colin McCinnes, the lead character goes to an annual Savoy production as a sort of contrast to the modern London all around him. He had one foot in both camps the old and the new. That was the late 50’s and during the 60’s I think they were seen as part of what Rock! was rebelling against. During my coming of age decade, the 70’s, I saw them as irrelevant to the young. Frankly I was a little surprised to check that final date of 1982.
However, things have since looked up and G&S’s future seems relatively secure to me, as Directors reinvent them e.g. The Mikado and Pirates at the ENO. Those two and Pinafore will continue to be revived and I think all the others will become curios. I doubt an ‘original’ production could find an audience today.
(One doomy note is how long will The ENO continue. It does seem like the new London home for these.)
Long may they continue to entertain and be performed.
I do love G&S but never warmed to D'Oyly Carte. The best production of recent years was Sasha Regan's all male Pinafore, which was surprisingly one of the most honest and truthful productions, the most tender, and the most joyous....and the most inventive. The satire came across loud and clear and it was beautifully sung by the men.
And the worst, by any standard, was ENO's recent Pirates. Simply dull and lifeless and flat. How could that happen with their track record with inventive hits like Patience and Mikado.
I think AmDram is as much to thank for G+S continuing to be well known as anything else. I was never a big fan of D'Oyly Carte productions, despite Valerie Masterson singing beautifully. But most cities seem to still have G+S societies and some AmDram groups are doing more G+S - as costs of mounting even amateur productions rise, G+S are an increasingly popular choice as there are no royalties to pay, so breaking even becomes more do-able.
What I've found really interesting over the last decade is how G+S have begun to be performed more by companies known for musicals, in the style of musicals, rather than by opera companies so much. Some of the acting by D'Oyly Carte was shocking, and musical theatre actors have been able, for me, to draw far more from the characters and to make the productions more rounded.
There have been fringe productions (Union, Tabard, Rosemary Branch, Finborough, Charnig Cross, Wilton's spring to mind) of many G+S shows over the last few years, many of which were excellent. I believed the characters more than ever before, and the productions were such fun. Its been a real joy hearing some lovely voices sing the songs too Without such vibrato as the opera productions use. Kevin Kyle (I think he was in the Mikado), Rebecca Caine as Katisha and whoever was at Wilton's in pirates spring to mind. Kevin Kyle has a lovely CD out which is well worth a listen.