International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival
The International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival is held every summer in England. It was resident in Buxton, Derbyshire, from 1994 to 2013. It is scheduled to move to Harrogate, in North Yorkshire, in 2014. The three-week Festival of Gilbert and Sullivan performances and fringe events attracts thousands of visitors, including performers, supporters, and G&S enthusiasts from all around the world.
The Festival was founded and continues to be produced by Ian Smith and his son Neil to enhance the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. It also has a goal of reinstating G&S and the performing arts in schools in Britain. Occasionally, the Festival has added a week of performances in the United States. At the Festival, about a dozen amateur Gilbert and Sullivan performing societies from around the world compete each year for awards including "International Champion". At the weekends there are professional Gilbert and Sullivan performances. At Buxton an adjoining theatre has hosted the Festival fringe.
Description of the Festival
Each summer, beginning with the last weekend in July, the Festival includes over three weeks of nightly G&S operas (and weekend matinees) and dozens of daytime fringe activities. The Festival was held in Buxton, England, every year from 1994 to 2003, but it has experimented with additional weeks of the Festival in other towns or cities, including Eastbourne, England once, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania twice, Berkeley, California once and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania twice. The event is scheduled to move to Harrogate in 2014, after 20 years in Buxton. The Festival sells more than 25,000 tickets and attracts about 2,000 performers each year.
Sky Arts notes that the Festival "is 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." The Festival's professional orchestra accompanies the main stage performances.
At the core of the Festival is a competition of a dozen or more amateur G&S performing troupes who travel from all over Britain and the world to present their shows. Over the three weeks, "the best non-professional groups from the UK and overseas compete for the International Champions title." 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. At the first Festival in 1994, first prize was awarded to the production of Utopia Limited presented by the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Maine (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, the only company to have performed in every Festival since the first one, have won five times and placed second four times. Festival Productions, Ireland, won in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Individual awards are also presented for performers, directors and musical directors.
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 1998 and was the first company to present all 13 extant G&S operas at the Festival. The Festival organizers also rehearse a Festival Production (for which all rehearsals take place during the Festival itself) and one or more "Youth Productions" (for performers under 18) during the course of the Festival each year.
In addition to the amateur productions that are presented and compete at the Festival each year, there are weekend professional performances given by companies such as the Carl Rosa Opera Company, Opera della Luna, the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, Charles Court Opera and the Gilbert and 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, Charlotte Page, Oliver White, Rebecca Bottone, Ian Belsey and the Opera Babes. John Owen Edwards, David Russell Hulme, or David Steadman often music direct the company. Sky Arts calls these performers "some of the UK’s finest exponents of musical theatre". The Daily Telegraph "thoroughly enjoyed [the company's] spirited production" of Utopia, Limited in 2011. Of the productions by the G&S Opera Company, which is produced by the Festival organizers, and specifically their 2010 production of Iolanthe, reviewer Raymond J. Walker wrote:
- "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".
In August and September 2010, the G&S Opera Company presented its first production outside of the Festival, at Oxford Castle. In 2012 the Festival mounted the first full-scale professional production of The Grand Duke, with orchestra, in Britain since the 19th century. Two of its 2012 productions will also be presented in Harrogate later in August. [needs update] The company plans to tour several of its productions in 2014.
Venues and fringe events
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 Buxton Opera House. In 2014, the main stage will be the Royal Hall in Harrogate, another Matcham-designed theatre. These performances are nearly always accompanied by the Festival's "National Festival Orchestra". A review of a 2010 performance noted, "The music was up to Buxton's usual high standard, with the orchestra (leader, Sally Robinson) ... giving a superb and sprightly reading of the Overture and score throughout." The Festival also holds more than 50 performances and fringe activities in a smaller venue, which in Buxton was the 360-seat Pavilion Arts Centre (formerly the Paxton Theatre), the annexed Octagon auditorium and in other venues. In Harrogate, the festival plans to hold the fringe and other performances in the Harrogate Theatre.
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. 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. 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.
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.
A feature in Gilbert & Sullivan News noted: "The amateur performances were of a very high standard.... There is a lovely atmosphere in Buxton of Gilbert and Sullivan thriving, being enjoyed, and drawing everyone together as a family." 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."
In addition, the Festival serves to raise awareness and funds for the Festival organizers' efforts to re-introduce G&S into British schools. The Festival has been featured in several British television shows and in the documentary films Oh Mad Delight and A Source of Innocent Merriment. Sky Arts broadcast its features about the Festival and Gilbert and Sullivan several times in 2010.
Recordings are available from the Festival organizers of most of the productions that have been seen at the Festival, including those by the professional Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company.
- Radcliffe, Philip. "theartsdesk in Buxton: G&S live on (and on)", theartsdesk.com, 22 July 2012
- Festival history pages
- Sandham, David. "Buxton Festivals". Buxton Festivals website with links to photos and reviews of each Festival, accessed 19 September 2010
- Fine, John Christopher. "Gilbert & Sullivan Fare Is Alive and Well". The Epoch Times, 13 July 2010
- "Gilbert and Sullivan festival quits Buxton for Harrogate", BBC News Derby, 19 June 2013
- Christiansen, Rupert. "Gilbert and Sullivan Festival bows out of Buxton", The Telegraph, 15 July 2013
- "ClassicFest, Royal Hall, Harrogate, August 21 to 27", The Press, 20 July 2012
- Moss, Stephen. "Gilbert and Sullivan: The unbearable lightness of being". The Guardian, 21 January 2010, accessed 6 August 2010
- "Sky arts at the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival". Sky Arts, British Sky Broadcasting, accessed 13 August 2010
- "Harrogate will be new home for International G & S Festival in 2014", NODA.org, 19 July 2013
- Hewett, Ivan. "The Magic of Gilbert and Sullivan". The Telegraph, 2 August 2009, accessed 14 April 2010
- Beale, Robert. "Blow me down! Gilbert & Sullivan bows out of Buxton", Manchester Evening News, 26 July 2013
- Lee, Bernard. "Gilbert and Sullivan are still going strong after a century", The Telegraph, 1 August 2008
- Sandham, David. "Champions". Festivals website page showing the top three winners each year, accessed 19 September 2010
- Elkin, Susan. "Let’s have more Gilbert & Sullivan in schools". The Stage, 2 August 2010
- "G&S festival grows and expands across Atlantic". The Sheffield Telegraph, 22 July 2010
- Cockroft, Robert. "Review: International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival", Yorkshire Post, 14 August 2009
- Christiansen, Rupert. "Utopia Ltd, Opera House, The Telegraph, 22 August 2011, accessed 17 February 2012
- Walker, Raymond J. "Buxton International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival 2010 - Iolanthe". Seen and Heard International, MusicWeb International, accessed 6 August 2010
- See also, Gore-langton, Robert. "Yum-yum, a Mikado that's utterly delicious". Daily Mail, 20 August 2010
- Lisle, Nicola. "Yeomen of the Guard: Oxford Castle". The Oxford Times", 19 August 2010
- Christiansen, Rupert. "The Yeoman of the Guard, Oxford Castle, review". The Telegraph, 2 September 2010
- "G&S Co take Festival lead", Buxton Advertiser, 21 July 2012
- Potter, Tully. "Iolanthe: Poking fun at the peers, G&S style", Daily Mail, 9 August 2013
- Woolman, Natalie. "Buxton Opera House to open new Pavilion arts venue". The Stage, 7 September 2010
- See, e.g. "The Mountebanks gets a rare outing", Sheffield Telegraph, 5 August 2010; and "Moving pictures story that delighted the Victorians", Sheffield Telegraph, 12 August 2010
- Bradley, chapter 10
- 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)
- Walker, Raymond J. "Buxton International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival 2010". MusicWeb International, accessed 6 August 2010
- Article on the film Oh Mad Delight
- Article on the film A Source of Innocent Merriment
- Recordings available from the Festival
- Bradley, Ian (2005). Oh Joy! Oh Rapture! The Enduring Phenomenon of Gilbert and Sullivan. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195167007.
- International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival official website
- Fan site with extensive Festival information, reviews and photos
- Documentary film Oh Mad Delight
- Documentary film A Source of Innocent Merriment
- Davis, Carol and Victoria Willoughby. 2004 description of the Festival
- Garnett, Stephen. "Buxton Festival 2008 – A Summer Celebration of Gilbert & Sullivan", This England, 2008
- Lee, Bernard. "Gilbert and Sullivan are still going strong after a century", Sheffield Telegraph, 2008
- Christiansen, Rupert. "The International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival: a uniquely British phenomenon", The Telegraph, 2009
- Excerpt of SkyArts video about the Festival 2010
Companies that have performed at the festival
- Carl Rosa Opera Company
- Charles Court Opera
- The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players
- Opera della Luna
- The Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company
- Amateur UK award winners
- Derby Gilbert & Sullivan Company (six awards)
- St Mary's Catholic High School (Manchester) (highest ranking of a high school group)
- South Anglia Savoy Players (four awards)
- Foreign amateur competitors
- The Blue Hill Troupe (New York City)
- Festival Productions (Ireland) (three awards)
- The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Chester County (Pennsylvania, U.S.)
- The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Houston (Texas, U.S.) (one award)
- The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Maine (one award)
- Lamplighters Music Theatre of San Francisco (one award)
- Savoy Company (Philadelphia, U.S.)
- SavoyNet, an email-based G&S group, with performers from around the world
- Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society (U.S.)
- St. Anne's Music and Drama Society (Toronto, Canada)