Are Gilbert & Sullivan Finally Dead?

London, The Arts
The Sorcerer from 'Dick Deadeye'

The Sorcerer from 'Dick Deadeye'

Last night I was at an open-air performance of ‘The Yeomen Of The Guard’ in the moat at the Tower Of London. I thought it might be fun to see a site-specific opera that’s rarely performed now. Opera snobs loathe G&S for its stodginess (and I’ve seen some really bad productions) but the muscular energy of the language still has the power to amaze, and certain songs (closer to traditional folk than operatic arias) can sound astonishing.
The frankly elderly audience would have been hard-pressed to get much pleasure last night as they fought with interruptions from a failing sound system, helicopters, planes, drunken street crowds, traffic, riverside fireworks and a freezing wind. Having seen some startlingly modern, intelligent G&S productions in the past, I wondered – will they only now be seen like this, as tottering historical pageants?
What they desperately need to survive is a theatre director with imagination who doesn’t imagine he’s producing fare for an old folks’ home.

4 comments on “Are Gilbert & Sullivan Finally Dead?”

  1. I.A.M. says:

    Shakespeare is far less frequently presented in a ‘traditional’ way (meaning what was thought c.1830 to be the correct format), what I call “Bell Jar Shakespeare” where nothing is permitted to change from outside influence. Shakespeare, like any decent writer, presents humanity in all its forms, in the truest possible way.

    So… Gilbert & Sullivan is different and must be presented only in late-Victorian settings and designs? Mmmm… erm… no.

    Give it ten years or so, when d’Oyly Carte control is removed from the works and people can do what they will without permission or royalties.

  2. helen Martin says:

    They’re free of copyright now. Consider the canadian versions with current Canadian references.

  3. I.A.M. says:

    Last I heard the music was no longer copyrighted, due to the Gilbert pre-deceasing the Sullivan in 1901. So, because the librettist/writer/director W.S. Gilbert died in 1911 you can sing Mr. Gilbert’s the songs without having to pay the royalties but not perform any of Mr. Sullivan’s script for free until 2012 (just in time for the Summer Olympics!).

    There was some vague suggestion that the D’Oyly Carte Co. was going to renew the rights a third set of 50 years, but that’s insane and probably not legal.

    Man, I’d love to direct a production of something highly political like Iolanthe with the setting up-dated to the time of Thatcher, but with tonnes of comments aimed at the Palace of Westminster and Washington DC!

  4. Well, I suppose the viewpoint in the UK is different from here in the US, the highbrows in the UK do have longer noses to look down at G&S. But the world of topsy turvy is alive and well in the USA as indded it was when Pirates of Penzance was actually written. The Philadelphia Metro area alone has seven perfoming societies who produce a G&S show annually, so when you refer to Yeoman of the Guard as rarely performed well that’s not so on this side of the pond! Over eighty amateur companies are keeping the traditions alive and the professional companies regularly perform one of the Big Three works. Oh Joy, Oh Rapture!

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