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International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Royal Hall, Harrogate, hosts the main stage performances at the Festival.
The Royal Hall, Harrogate, hosts the main stage performances at the Festival.

The International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival was founded in 1994 by Ian Smith and his son Neil and is held every summer in England. The two- or three-week Festival of Gilbert and Sullivan performances and fringe events attracts thousands of visitors, including performers, supporters, and G&S enthusiasts from around the world. Beginning in 2014, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, has hosted the Festival, which was held in Buxton, Derbyshire, from 1994 to 2013.

At the Festival, up to a dozen amateur Gilbert and Sullivan performing societies from around the world compete on the Festival's main stage each year for awards including "International Champion". At the weekends there are professional Gilbert and Sullivan performances, including performances each year by the Festival's homegrown National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company. A smaller nearby theatre and other venues host the Festival fringe, which consists of dozens of performances and lectures, a memorabilia fair, and other events.


The Festival was founded in 1994 by English businessman Ian Smith (1939–2019)[1] and continues to be produced by his wife Janet, son Neil and their family to preserve and enhance the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.[2] It also has a goal of reinstating G&S and the performing arts in schools in Britain. On several occasions, the Festival added a week of performances in the United States. The founders believe that the Gilbert and Sullivan works are an important national heritage and legacy, especially as performed in the tradition of the venerable, year-round D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which performed Gilbert and Sullivan's Savoy Operas continuously, year-round, for over a century until 1982.[3][4] When that company closed in 1982, greatly diminishing the amount of Gilbert and Sullivan produced in Britain, Ian Smith "had a burning anger" that the English Arts Council had not subsidised the company, and this led him to found the Festival.[5]

The Festival was held in Buxton, England, every year from 1994 to 2013, but it has experimented with producing additional Festival weeks in other towns or cities, including Eastbourne, England once; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, twice; Berkeley, California, once;[6][7] and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, twice.[8] The Festival relocated to Harrogate, England, in 2014.[9][10] where it continues to be held each summer.[11] Also in recent years, the Festival has also given a week of mostly professional shows in Buxton shortly prior to the main Festival opening in Harrogate.[12][13]


Each summer, beginning with the last weekend in July or first weekend in August, the Festival includes two or three weeks of nightly G&S operas (and weekend matinees) and dozens of daytime fringe activities,[14][15] The Festival has sold more than 25,000 tickets in some years[16] and attracts up to 2,000 performers each year.[17]

Sky Arts described the Festival as "one of the most colourful, melodic and joyous festivals of musical theatre you will come across. Celebrating the timeless, waspishly satirical lyrics of W. S. Gilbert and the brilliant musical inventiveness of Arthur Sullivan, the festival is quite simply the world’s biggest event dedicated to the Savoy operas. ... It is forward-looking and fun presenting contemporary as well as traditional productions of G&S."[18] The Festival's professional orchestra accompanies the main stage performances.[9][19]

The competition

Scene from SavoyNet's Yeomen, the Festival winner in 2013
Scene from SavoyNet's Yeomen, the Festival winner in 2013

At the core of the Festival is a competition among amateur G&S performing troupes from Britain and around the world.[9][20] Over the course of the Festival, on weeknights, "the best non-professional groups from the UK and overseas compete for the International Champions title."[18] The day of performance for each amateur group is hectic, with move-in to the theatre at 9 a.m., lighting call at 11 a.m., their one and only tech-dress rehearsal (with the Festival orchestra) in the afternoon, the performance in the evening, and move-out immediately afterwards.[9][21] A professional adjudicator critiques each amateur performance immediately after the curtain falls. The adjudicator then scores each performance, and both group and individual awards are announced at the end of the Festival.[7][22]

At the first Festival in 1994, first prize was awarded to the production of Utopia, Limited presented by the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Maine, in the US (then known as the G&S Society of Hancock County). The Derby Gilbert & Sullivan Company has won the first prize more often than any other company (six times); and the South Anglia Savoy Players has won five times and placed second four times. Festival Productions, Ireland, won in three consecutive years, 2007 to 2009. Individual awards are also presented for performers, directors and musical directors.[23]

Some groups compete year after year at the Festival, but some companies, especially those travelling from North America, South Africa, Australia and other distant places, may visit only occasionally or once. Some groups meet and rehearse entirely at the Festival, including the internet group SavoyNet, which has competed each year since 1997. SavoyNet were Festival Champions in 2013 and 2018 and are the first and only company thus far to present all 14 G&S operas at the Festival.[24][25] The Festival organizers also rehearse, during the Festival each year, a "Youth Production" (for performers aged 9 to 19) and a "Bus Pass Opera" production (for performers over 60).[6][9][26] A "Unifest" competition among university groups is presented simultaneously, as part of the Festival fringe.[11][27][28]

Professional productions

Buxton Opera House hosted the Festival from 1994 to 2013
Buxton Opera House hosted the Festival from 1994 to 2013

While the amateur productions compete during weeknights at the Festival, there are weekend professional performances given by companies such as the Carl Rosa Opera Company, Opera della Luna,[7] the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players,[29] Charles Court Opera, and the Festival's self-produced National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company, which has starred such well-known G&S performers as Richard Suart, Simon Butteriss, Bruce Graham, Gillian Knight, Barry Clark, Michael Rayner, Patricia Leonard, Donald Maxwell, Jill Pert, Gareth Jones, Oliver White, Rebecca Bottone, Ian Belsey and the Opera Babes. John Owen Edwards, David Russell Hulme, or David Steadman often serve as musical director of the company.[6][22][30] Sky Arts calls these performers "some of the UK’s finest exponents of musical theatre".[18] Raymond J. Walker wrote of the National G&S Opera Company:

"With a reputation for strong casts [and] energetic delivery, traditionally fresh interpretations are brought to roles familiar to a large proportion of the [Festival] audiences. With good stars like Jill Pert and Richard Suart in key roles, we were assured of an excellent evening’s entertainment. ... Care is always taken with the staging and lighting of these ... productions and, as with Princess Ida last year, they can match a West End show. ... Throughout, the chorus was outstanding. ... the strength of singing from the twenty-strong chorus in forte passages was spectacular".[31]

Uniquely among professional companies in Britain, other than D'Oyly Carte, the National G&S Opera Company has presented all 13 of the extant Savoy Operas.[32] The Daily Telegraph "thoroughly enjoyed [the company's] spirited production" of Utopia, Limited in 2011, an opera that has rarely been given a professional staging in Britain over the past century.[33] In 2012 the Festival mounted the first full-scale professional production with orchestra of The Grand Duke in Britain since the 19th century.[34] In recent years, the company has produced at least three productions at each Festival, giving a total of up to 16 performances there,[35] while the other professional companies give a few performances each.[26][29]

In 2010, the National G&S Opera Company presented its first production outside of the Festival, The Yeomen of the Guard, at Oxford Castle.[36][37] Two of its 2012 productions were repeated in Harrogate,[16] and all three of its 2013 productions transferred there after the Festival.[38] In 2014, the company began touring its productions in repertory from June to August 2014, giving performances in each of six cities.[39] A review of the opening night of the 2014 tour praised the direction, choreography and conducting of The Pirates of Penzance and said of the company:

They are a real find with strong production values, a great orchestra and first class singing. Musically, this is a very strong show. It all looks marvellous with picture book settings and eye catching costumes plus a full and energetic cast. ... It all works superbly with a company obviously enjoying themselves. The chorus work is top notch, and they all come across as individuals.[40]

The National G&S Opera Company has generally staged four productions in Harrogate each summer since 2015,[26][41] also touring them to other cities and towns,[42] including Buxton.[13] In 2018, in connection with the 25th anniversary of the Festival, the company presented six productions,[15] including the first professional production of Haddon Hall since the 19th century.[43]

Venues and fringe events

Interior view of the Harrogate Theatre
Interior view of the Harrogate Theatre

All of the competition performances and the weekend professional performances are given on the Festival's main stage. From 1994 to 2013, that was the Frank Matcham-designed 900-seat Buxton Opera House.[44] Beginning in 2014, the main stage has been the 1,100-seat Royal Hall in Harrogate, another Matcham-designed theatre. These performances are nearly always accompanied by the "National Festival Orchestra".[9] A review of a 2010 performance noted, "The music was up to [the Festival's] usual high standard, with the orchestra (leader, Sally Robinson) ... giving a superb and sprightly reading of the Overture and score throughout."[31] The Festival also hosts dozens of performances and fringe activities in smaller venues. In Buxton, these included the 360-seat Pavilion Arts Centre.[44][45] In Harrogate, some fringe performances have been held in the 500-seat Harrogate Theatre and others at various venues in and around the town, including at the Festival's purpose-built Savoy theatre.[9][21][26]

The "fringe" activities have included performances, master classes and lectures by members of the original D'Oyly Carte Opera Company (such as Valerie Masterson, Thomas Round, Gillian Knight, Kenneth Sandford, John Ayldon and John Reed) and other professionals, and a late night Festival Club, where cabaret performances are given each evening after the opera, and sometimes a G&S singalong is conducted.[7] Recent years have included scholarly symposia,[46] and rarely revived works by Gilbert or separately by Sullivan are also seen.[47] There is also a G&S memorabilia fair, providing a chance for collectors and gift hunters to buy and sell G&S recordings, DVDs, books, scores, figurines and other items of interest.[6][48] Fringe events also include recitals, concerts, lectures and productions of lesser-known works by Gilbert without Sullivan, Sullivan without Gilbert, works that played as companion pieces with the Gilbert and Sullivan operas during their original productions and other Victorian and Edwardian works.[49]

Effect and allure of the Festival

The Festival serves as a "lightning-rod" of G&S activity worldwide. G&S performers and audiences from one part of the world can see performances by groups from other parts of the world. Performances in the traditional style mix with avant garde ones, and G&S scholars can communicate with a wide audience of enthusiasts.[50]

A feature in Gilbert & Sullivan News noted: "The amateur performances were of a very high standard. ... There is a lovely atmosphere ... of Gilbert and Sullivan thriving, being enjoyed, and drawing everyone together as a family."[51][52] The Festival has developed "a reputation for being one of the friendliest musical festivals anywhere, with people returning year after year to soak up its special atmosphere."[52]

In addition, the Festival aims to raise awareness and funds for its organizers' efforts to re-introduce G&S into British schools.[27][28] The Festival has been featured in several British television shows and in the documentary films Oh Mad Delight[53] and A Source of Innocent Merriment.[54] Sky Arts broadcast its features about the Festival and Gilbert and Sullivan several times in 2010.[18]


Recordings on DVD of most of the amateur and professional productions that have been seen at the Festival, as well as for some of the fringe events, are produced by the Festival organizers.[55] Some of the Festival's professional shows are also available on CD.[56]

Companies that have performed at the Festival

See also


  1. ^ "Ian Smith obituary", The Times, 27 November 2019; and "Halifax businessman and founder of International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival Ian Smith dies aged 80", Halifax Courier, 26 November 2019
  2. ^ Hall, George. "Celebrating 25 years of the very model of a modern opera festival", The Stage, 3 August 2018; and Hastings, Sheena. "Chorus of approval for family with song in hearts", The Yorkshire Post, 12 July 2012, accessed 23 November 2019
  3. ^ Bradley, pp. 49–50; Joseph, p. 358. Between 1988 and 2003, a seasonal company used the name D'Oyly Carte. See Bradley, pp. 54–68
  4. ^ Skow, John. 1982 "Music: Final Curtain for D'Oyly Carte". Time magazine, 8 March 1982, accessed 7 July 2010. Until the Gilbert and Sullivan copyrights expired in 1961, no other professional theatre or opera companies were allowed to present the Savoy Operas in Britain, although professional companies performed the operas elsewhere, and numerous amateur Gilbert and Sullivan companies performed around the world. After 1961 other professional companies began to perform the operas in Britain. See Bradley, chapters four and six; and Hewett, Ivan. "The Magic of Gilbert and Sullivan". The Telegraph, 2 August 2009, accessed 14 April 2010.
  5. ^ Bradley, pp. 45 and 197–98
  6. ^ a b c d Festival history pages
  7. ^ a b c d Sandham, David. "Buxton Festivals". Buxton Festivals website with links to photos and reviews of each Festival, accessed 19 September 2010
  8. ^ Smith, Tim. "Summertime means a boon for Gilbert and Sullivan fans". Archived 3 June 2020 at the Wayback Machine The Baltimore Times, 15 June 2011
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Chalmers, Graham. "Harrogate wins topsy-turvy battle over G&S Festival", Wetherby News, 5 June 2014
  10. ^ Chalmers, Graham. "Harrogate loves International G&S Festival!", Harrogate Advertiser, August 2014
  11. ^ a b Wilkinson, Sue. "Facts and figures of Harrogate’s G&S Festival" Archived 26 March 2018 at the Wayback Machine, Harrogate Advertiser, 26 March 2018
  12. ^ "Gilbert & Sullivan Festival back in Buxton this July",, accessed 16 July 2019
  13. ^ a b Beale, Robert. "The Gondoliers at Buxton Opera House review", Manchester Evening News, 7 August 2015; and Bratby, Richard. "The Yeomen of the Guard, National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company",, 2 August 2016
  14. ^ Radcliffe, Philip. "theartsdesk in Buxton: G&S live on (and on)",, 22 July 2012
  15. ^ a b Smith, Ian. "What's On Guide 2018", The International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, accessed 2 July 2018; "Ian Smith obituary", The Times, 27 November 2019; and " Feast of G and S is heading your way as festival returns", Buxton Advertiser, 23 June 2018
  16. ^ a b "ClassicFest, Royal Hall, Harrogate, August 21 to 27", The Press, 20 July 2012, accessed 30 November 2020
  17. ^ Moss, Stephen. "Gilbert and Sullivan: The unbearable lightness of being". The Guardian, 21 January 2010, accessed 6 August 2010
  18. ^ a b c d "Sky arts at the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival"[permanent dead link]. Sky Arts, British Sky Broadcasting, accessed 13 August 2010
  19. ^ "Harrogate will be new home for International G & S Festival in 2014" Archived 2013-09-27 at the Wayback Machine,, 19 July 2013
  20. ^ Beale, Robert. "Blow me down! Gilbert & Sullivan bows out of Buxton", Manchester Evening News, 26 July 2013
  21. ^ a b Smith, Ian. "A Summer Bursting at the Seams with Glorious Gilbert & Sullivan", Digital Journal, 19 June 2014
  22. ^ a b Lee, Bernard. "Gilbert and Sullivan are still going strong after a century" Archived 6 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine, The Telegraph, 1 August 2008
  23. ^ Sandham, David. "Champions", Festivals website pages showing the winners each year up to 2010, accessed 19 September 2012
  24. ^ International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival souvenir programme, 2018, p. 39; "Savoynet Performing Group", National Operatic & Dramatic Association, accessed 19 July 2018
  25. ^ Smith, Ian (presenter). "The 25th International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival Awards Ceremony" at 37:45, Official Facebook page of the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, 25 August 2018
  26. ^ a b c d Hardwick, Viv. "Gilbert & Sullivan heading to Harrogate and Newcastle", The Northern Echo, 1 June 2017
  27. ^ a b Elkin, Susan. "Let’s have more Gilbert & Sullivan in schools" Archived 2012-03-19 at the Wayback Machine. The Stage, 2 August 2010
  28. ^ a b "G&S Festival grows and expands across Atlantic"[permanent dead link]. The Sheffield Telegraph, 22 July 2010
  29. ^ a b "NY Gilbert & Sullivan Players to Sail Across the Pond for Harrogate's 2014 International G&S Festival, Aug 5-10",, 25 June 2014
  30. ^ Cockroft, Robert. "Review: International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival", Yorkshire Post, 14 August 2009
  31. ^ a b Walker, Raymond J. "Buxton International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival 2010 – Iolanthe". Seen and Heard International, MusicWeb International, accessed 6 August 2010
  32. ^ "Professional Shows from the Festival" Archived 2014-07-18 at the Wayback Machine, International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, accessed 13 June 2014
  33. ^ Christiansen, Rupert. "Utopia Ltd, Opera House", The Telegraph, 22 August 2011, accessed 17 February 2012
  34. ^ "G&S Co take Festival Lead", Buxton Advertiser, 21 July 2012
  35. ^ "The G&S Opera Company", International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, accessed 13 June 2014
  36. ^ Lisle, Nicola. "Yeomen of the Guard: Oxford Castle" Archived 2011-07-26 at the Wayback Machine. The Oxford Times, 19 August 2010
  37. ^ Christiansen, Rupert. "The Yeoman of the Guard, Oxford Castle, review". The Telegraph, 2 September 2010
  38. ^ "ClassicFest, Royal Hall and Harrogate Theatre, August 18 to 31", The Press, 1 August 2013
  39. ^ Smith, Ian. "G&S Opera Co on Tour" Archived 2014-03-03 at the Wayback Machine, The International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, accessed 8 June 2014
  40. ^ Key, Philip. "Review: The Pirates of Penzance at the Floral Pavilion, New Brighton", Liverpool Echo, 11 June 2014
  41. ^ Bratby, Richard. "HMS Pinafore, National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company", The Arts Desk, 10 August 2015; Dreyer, Martin. "Review: National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company in The Sorcerer and The Yeomen of the Guard, Royal Hall, Harrogate, August 12 and 13", The Press, 17 August 2016; "Theatre: Gilbert & Sullivan heading to Harrogate and Newcastle", The Northern Echo, 1 June 2017; and Walker, Raymond. "This Year’s International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival at Buxton and Harrogate", Seen and Heard International, 7 July 2019
  42. ^ "2017 Tour Dates" Archived 2017-08-24 at the Wayback Machine, International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, accessed 15 May 2017
  43. ^ Walker, Ramond J. "Haddon Hall is a Grundy and Sullivan Rarity", Seen and Heard International, 4 August 2018; and Hall, George. "Haddon Hall review at Royal Hall, Harrogate – 'rare resuscitation of Arthur Sullivan's pedestrian work'", The Stage, 21 August 2018
  44. ^ a b Woolman, Natalie. "Buxton Opera House to open new Pavilion arts venue". The Stage, 7 September 2010
  45. ^ June 2007 Festival Newsletter, p. 5
  46. ^ Walker, Raymond J. "Symposium Offers Insights into Sullivan and his Work", Seen and Heard International, 9 August 2014
  47. ^ Walker, Raymond J. "Fascinating Revival of Edward German’s Only Comic Opera", Seen and Heard International, 17 August 2014
  48. ^ "Ian Smith obituary", The Times, 27 November 2019
  49. ^ See, e.g. "The Mountebanks gets a rare outing"[permanent dead link], Sheffield Telegraph, 5 August 2010; and "Moving pictures story that delighted the Victorians"[permanent dead link], Sheffield Telegraph, 12 August 2010
  50. ^ Bradley, chapter 10
  51. ^ Dufty, Jean. "Buxton Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, 1998" in Gilbert & Sullivan News vol. II, no. 13, p. 8 (Autumn, Winter 1998), The Gilbert and Sullivan Society, London
  52. ^ a b Walker, Raymond J. "Buxton International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival 2010". MusicWeb International, accessed 6 August 2010
  53. ^ Article on the film Oh Mad Delight Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine
  54. ^ Article on the film A Source of Innocent Merriment Archived 2006-02-23 at the Wayback Machine
  55. ^ Recordings available from the Festival on DVD Archived 2015-08-13 at the Wayback Machine, International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, accessed 13 June 2014
  56. ^ Recordings available from the Festival on CD Archived 2014-07-18 at the Wayback Machine, International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, accessed 26 June 2014


  • Bradley, Ian (2005). Oh Joy! Oh Rapture! The Enduring Phenomenon of Gilbert and Sullivan. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195167007.
  • Joseph, Tony (1994). D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 1875–1982: An Unofficial History. London: Bunthorne Books. ISBN 0-9507992-1-1

External links

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