I am very excited about my forthcoming show on Kennet Radio which is about Gilbert and Sullivan operas. My guest is Cathal Gavey, musical director of the Newbury Choral Society who on 20th June are putting on a concert of songs taken from the most popular of Gilbert and Sullivan operas - The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore to name but a few. I went to a rehearsal last night and it is going to be a fantastic concert, this morning I have woken up singing 'Tink a tank" . Newbury Choral Society are clearly very lucky to have Cathal as their musical director as to date he has had a very distinguished musical career and amongst other things he is currently chorus master with Grange Park Opera. I am looking forward to having him on the show.
I had forgotten what great music Gilbert and Sullivan wrote. Actually it is Arthur Sullivan who wrote the music and the name Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the theatrical partnership of librettist WS Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan and to the works they jointly created of which there were some 14 operas. Richard D'Oyly Carte bought the two together and nurtured their collaboration for which he built the Savoy Theatre in 1881 to present their operas. He founded the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company to perform and promote their works which it did for over a century.
Gilbert created the fanciful topsy turvy worlds for these operas - fairies rub shoulders with British Lords, flirting is a capital offence and Gondoliers ascend to the monarch. In general they poke fun at authority. Sullivan six years Gilberts junior composed music which includes many memorable melodies full of pathos and humour.
It is strange to think that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote their operas at the same time that Verdi wrote his - late 19th century and yet they couldn't be more different. Infact Gilbert and Sullivan operas are really operettas which are the forerunners to the modern musical. Sullivan had a brother called Fred who became a star by singing the role of the Judge in Trial by Jury, he was a natural comic and a very good musician. He then became the model for the comic baritone which is present in all the later Gilbert and Sullivan operas. All the operas were enormous hits when they were first produced and enjoyed huge success both here in the UK as well as all other English speaking nations.
The English National Opera is currently putting on The Pirates of Penzance which is a Mike Leigh production. A live performance was broadcast to cinemas throughout the UK on the 19th May which took £600,000 at the box office, reaching an audience of over 40,000 people. This has been the most popular screening to date, beating New York's Metropolitan Opera's broadcast of Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow.
If you are new to opera, Gilbert and Sullivan is a fun way to start. It is great sing-along stuff, sung in English, full of humour and lots of choruses. The two operas I recommend are the Pirates of Penzance (I am the very model of a modern Major-General) and the Mikado which is possibly the best known.
The Mikado has a Japanese theme because Japanese arts and culture was very popular in England at the time, also they could satire British politics by giving them Japanese characters without causing offence. (If you want to know who we are). The story focuses on the 'cheap tailor' Koko who has been promoted to position of Lord High Executioner of Titipu (baritone character).(Behold the Lord High Executioner). Koko loves his ward Yum Yum (Three little maids from school are we) but she loves a musician who is really the son of the Emperor of Japan (The Mikado) who is in disguise to avoid the amorous intentions of the elderly Katisha. (A Wandering Minstrel I). The Mikado has decreed that executions must resume with immediate effect and unfortunately for Koko he decides to come to Titipu to check that he is obeying orders. Too timid to execute anything, Koko decides to misdirect the Mikado which of course goes horribly wrong. So to save his own head, he has to persuade Katisha to marry him.(Tit Willow).
I thoroughly recommend these or any Gilbert and Sullivan operas. As shown by the English National Opera, when they are revived and performed well they continue to be a huge hit and capture the public's imagination.
Do listen to my show on Kennet Radio on Friday 12th June from 6-7pm to learn more about these wonderful Gilbert and Sullivan Operas.