The partnership of W S Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan began in 1871. The manager of the Gaiety Theatre asked Sullivan to compose music for a Christmas piece by Gilbert; the result was Thespis. After a respectable run for 63 performances the two went their separate ways.
Richard D’Oyly Carte was the manager of the Royalty Theatre in Soho and he remembered the work of G&S and in 1875 he brought the two together again to provide him with a curtain raiser for Offenbach’s La Perichole. They wrote the one act drama Trial by Jury, which soon became a huge success.
This left D’Oyly Carte in no doubt that the collaboration of these two men could serve to realise his own ambition, to present good English comic opera on the London stage.
The opposing temperaments of composer and author contributed to what was a continually productive partnership for over a quarter of a century. His first commission was The Sorcerer in 1877. This was followed immediately by HMS Pinafore a year later and following its success Richard D’Oyly Carte formed Mr D’Oyly Carte’s Opera Company.
Over the next couple of decades the duo wrote a succession of operas, all of which are as famous now as they were then – The Pirates of Penzance, Patience, Iolanthe, Princess Ida, The Mikado,Ruddigore, The Yeomen of the Guard, The Gondoliers, Utopia, Limited and The Grand Duke.
The success of the operas enabled them to build the Savoy Theatre and later on the Savoy Hotel.
Sullivan died in 1900, and Gilbert retreated to his private estate, where he spent the rest of his life until he died in 1911.
Richard D’Oyly Carte died in 1901 and his widow, Helen, became responsible for the company and for keeping the Savoy tradition alive.
On the death of Helen D’Oyly Carte in 1913, the family business passed to their son Rupert and it was under his control that the company continued during the two world wars.
There were American tours and the start of a long association with Sadler’s Wells until he died in 1948. His daughter Bridget, being the sole surviving member of the family, took up the reins and took care of the difficult days surrounding the expiry of the copyright in 1961.
1975 saw the Centenary Season at the Savoy but due to rising costs the Company was disbanded and closed in 1982. Three years later Dame Bridget died leaving a legacy of £1 million. Richard Condon was engaged as General Manager and secured generous continuing sponsorship from Sir Michael Bishop and BMI British Midland Airways. Sir Michael would eventually become Chairman of the Board of Trustees.
In 1988 the company reformed with new productions of Iolanthe and The Yeomen of the Guard, which toured nationwide. Seasons each year since have taken in The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado, Trial by Jury, HMS Pinafore, Iolanthe, The Gondoliers and from 1993 the repertoire was extended to include non-Gilbert and Sullivan works such as Orpheus in the Underworld, Die Fledermaus, La Vie Parisienne, and The Count of Luxembourg. In 1990 Ray Brown became General Manager and oversaw the company’s seven-year stay in the Midlands.
In September of 1998 the company relocated back to London and is now resident in Kennington, South London. There have now been two successful seasons of Gilbert and Sullivan at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank in London and a very popular production of The Pirates of Penzance at the Queens Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue in the West End for a Christmas season 1998/9.
HMS Pinafore had a very successful outing at the Royal Festival Hall in July 1999, directed by Martin Duncan and designed by Tim Hatley, and the same production played a West End season from February to May 2000 with the Company’s long overdue return to its spiritual home at the Savoy Theatre.
The Mikado was given a fresh, new and innovative production later in 2000 with direction by Ian Judge and design by Tim Goodchild. This production ran for 18 weeks at the Savoy and finished early in 2001. Hot on the heels of The Mikado, another revival of The Pirates of Penzance was staged for the Savoy and ran from April to June 2001.
A successful reworking of Iolanthe opened in February, 2002 and was followed by a brand new production of The Yeomen of the Guard, which closed on 8th June. The year continued to be extremely busy with a revival of the recent 2000 production of The Mikado having proved popular for another long season, which was then followed by an equally successful run of HMS Pinafore through until March 2003.
The company went through a dormant phase between 2003 and 2013, with no productions at all. During this period the company mounted a successful claim for reimbursement of VAT paid during the 1990’s. It was with this money that we returned to production in 2013. In a co-production with Scottish Opera, the Company presented a new production of The Pirates of Penzance, which started with a short Scottish tour in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness, and then an equally short tour ‘south of the border’ during June and July. It was directed by Martin Lloyd Evans and designed by Jamie Vartan. The production was a great critical success, with mostly 4 and 5 star reviews, and strove to reach a new audience, who might not have seen the company before, possibly because of our lengthy break from production during the first decade of the century. It is hoped that further collaborations with Scottish Opera will follow.