International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival

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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 all around the world. Beginning in 2014, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, hosts the festival, which was held in Buxton, Derbyshire, from 1994 to 2013.

At the festival, about 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, lectures, a memorabilia fair, and other events.

Description of the festival[edit]

The festival was founded in 1994 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. Ian Smith believes 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.[1][2] 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.[3]

Each summer, beginning with the last weekend in July or first weekend in August, the festival has included three weeks of nightly G&S operas (and weekend matinees) and dozens of daytime fringe activities,[4] although its length was reduced to two and a half weeks beginning in 2016[5] and just over two weeks in 2016.[6] The festival was held in Buxton, England, every year from 1994 to 2013, 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[7][8] and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania twice.[9] The festival relocated to Harrogate in 2014 and is scheduled to remain there at least to 2018.[10][11] The festival has sold more than 25,000 tickets in some years[12] and attracts up to 2,000 performers each year.[13]

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."[14] The festival's professional orchestra accompanies the main stage performances.[15][10]

The competition[edit]

Lithograph from The Mikado

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.[10][16] Over the three weeks of the festival, on weeknights, "the best non-professional groups from the UK and overseas compete for the International Champions title."[14] 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., the one and only tech-dress rehearsal (with the festival orchestra) in the afternoon, the performance in the evening, and move-out immediately afterwards.[10][17] 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.[18][8]

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 three consecutive years, 2007 to 2009. Individual awards are also presented for performers, directors and musical directors.[19]

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, was Festival Champions in 2013 and is the first and only company thus far to present all 14 G&S operas at the festival.[20] The festival organizers also rehearse a Festival Production (for which all rehearsals take place during the festival) and one or more "Youth Productions" (for performers under 18) during the course of the festival each year or, in some years, an entire "Unifest" competition among university groups.[7][10][21][22]

Professional productions[edit]

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,[8] the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players,[23] 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.[7][18][24] Sky Arts calls these performers "some of the UK’s finest exponents of musical theatre".[14] 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".[25][26]

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.[27] 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.[28] In 2012 the festival mounted the first full-scale professional production with orchestra of The Grand Duke in Britain since the 19th century.[29] In recent years, the company has produced three or four productions at the festival, giving a total of up to 16 performances there,[30] while the other professional companies give a few performances each.

In 2010, the National G&S Opera Company presented its first production outside of the festival, The Yeomen of the Guard, at Oxford Castle.[31][32] Two of its 2012 productions were repeated in Harrogate,[33] and all three of its 2013 productions transferred there after the festival.[34] The company toured three of its 2014 productions in repertory from June to August 2014, giving seven performances in each of six cities.[35][36] A review of the opening night of the 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.[37]

The National G&S Opera Company staged four productions in Harrogate in each of 2015 and 2016,[38] also touring them to other cities and towns,[39] including Buxton.[40]

Venues and fringe events[edit]

Part of the interior 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.[41] Beginning in 2014, the main stage is the 1,100-seat Royal Hall in Harrogate, another Matcham-designed theatre. These performances are nearly always accompanied by the festival's "National Festival Orchestra".[10] 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."[25] The festival also hosts dozens of performances and fringe activities in smaller venues. In Buxton, these included the 360-seat Pavilion Arts Centre.[41][42] In Harrogate, some fringe performances have been held in the 500-seat Harrogate Theatre and others at various venues in and around the town.[10][17]

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.[8] Recent years have included scholarly symposia,[43] and rarely revived works by Gilbert or separately by Sullivan are also seen.[44] 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.[7] 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.[45]

Effect and allure of the festival[edit]

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.[46]

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."[47][48] 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."[48]

In addition, the festival serves to raise awareness and funds for its organizers' efforts to re-introduce G&S into British schools.[21][22] The festival has been featured in several British television shows and in the documentary films Oh Mad Delight[49] and A Source of Innocent Merriment.[50] Sky Arts broadcast its features about the festival and Gilbert and Sullivan several times in 2010.[14]


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 available.[51] The festival's professional shows are also available on CD.[52]

Companies that have performed at the festival[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Bradley, pp. 45 and 197–98
  4. ^ Radcliffe, Philip. "theartsdesk in Buxton: G&S live on (and on)",, 22 July 2012
  5. ^ Chalmers, Graham. "International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival unveils Harrogate dates", Harrogate Advertiser, 15 January 2016
  6. ^ Smith, Ian. "The 2017 Programme", International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, accessed 13 November 2016
  7. ^ a b c d Festival history pages
  8. ^ a b c d Sandham, David. "Buxton Festivals". Buxton Festivals website with links to photos and reviews of each Festival, accessed 19 September 2010
  9. ^ Fine, John Christopher. "Gilbert & Sullivan Fare Is Alive and Well". The Epoch Times, 13 July 2010
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Chalmers, Graham. "Harrogate wins topsy-turvy battle over G&S Festival", Wetherby News, 5 June 2014
  11. ^ Chalmers, Graham. "Harrogate loves International G&S Festival!", Harrogate Advertiser, August 2014; and "Three more years: G&S Festival’s pledge to Harrogate", Harrogate Advertiser, 5 September 2015
  12. ^ "ClassicFest, Royal Hall, Harrogate, August 21 to 27", The Press, 20 July 2012
  13. ^ Moss, Stephen. "Gilbert and Sullivan: The unbearable lightness of being". The Guardian, 21 January 2010, accessed 6 August 2010
  14. ^ a b c d "Sky arts at the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival". Sky Arts, British Sky Broadcasting, accessed 13 August 2010
  15. ^ "Harrogate will be new home for International G & S Festival in 2014",, 19 July 2013
  16. ^ Beale, Robert. "Blow me down! Gilbert & Sullivan bows out of Buxton", Manchester Evening News, 26 July 2013
  17. ^ a b Smith, Ian. "A Summer Bursting at the Seams with Glorious Gilbert & Sullivan", Digital Journal, 19 June 2014
  18. ^ a b Lee, Bernard. "Gilbert and Sullivan are still going strong after a century", The Telegraph, 1 August 2008
  19. ^ Sandham, David. "Champions". Festivals website page showing the top three winners each year up to 2010, accessed 19 September 2012
  20. ^ International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival souvenir programme, 2015
  21. ^ a b Elkin, Susan. "Let’s have more Gilbert & Sullivan in schools". The Stage, 2 August 2010
  22. ^ a b "G&S festival grows and expands across Atlantic". The Sheffield Telegraph, 22 July 2010
  23. ^ "NY Gilbert & Sullivan Players to Sail Across the Pond for Harrogate's 2014 International G&S Festival, Aug 5-10",, June 25, 2014
  24. ^ Cockroft, Robert. "Review: International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival", Yorkshire Post, 14 August 2009
  25. ^ a b Walker, Raymond J. "Buxton International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival 2010 - Iolanthe". Seen and Heard International, MusicWeb International, accessed 6 August 2010
  26. ^ See also, Gore-langton, Robert. "Yum-yum, a Mikado that's utterly delicious". Daily Mail, 20 August 2010
  27. ^ "Professional Shows from the Festival", International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, accessed 13 June 2014
  28. ^ Christiansen, Rupert. "Utopia Ltd, Opera House, The Telegraph, 22 August 2011, accessed 17 February 2012
  29. ^ "G&S Co take Festival Lead", Buxton Advertiser, 21 July 2012
  30. ^ "The G&S Opera Company", International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, accessed 13 June 2014
  31. ^ Lisle, Nicola. "Yeomen of the Guard: Oxford Castle". The Oxford Times", 19 August 2010
  32. ^ Christiansen, Rupert. "The Yeoman of the Guard, Oxford Castle, review". The Telegraph, 2 September 2010
  33. ^ "ClassicFest, Royal Hall, Harrogate, August 21 to 27", The Press, 20 July 2012
  34. ^ "ClassicFest, Royal Hall and Harrogate Theatre, August 18 to 31", The Press, 1 August 2013
  35. ^ Potter, Tully. "Iolanthe: Poking fun at the peers, G&S style", Daily Mail, 9 August 2013
  36. ^ Smith, Ian. "G&S Opera Co on Tour", The International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, accessed 8 June 2014
  37. ^ Key, Philip. "Review: The Pirates of Penzance at the Floral Pavilion, New Brighton", Liverpool Echo, 11 June 2014
  38. ^ Bratby, Richard. "HMS Pinafore, National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company", The Arts Desk, 10 August 2015; and 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
  39. ^ "2015 Tour Dates", International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, accessed 28 June 2015
  40. ^ 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
  41. ^ a b Woolman, Natalie. "Buxton Opera House to open new Pavilion arts venue". The Stage, 7 September 2010
  42. ^ June 2007 Festival Newsletter, p. 5
  43. ^ Walker, Raymond J. "Symposium Offers Insights into Sullivan and his Work", Seen and Heard International, 9 August 2014
  44. ^ Walker, Raymond J. "Fascinating Revival of Edward German’s Only Comic Opera", Seen and Heard International, 17 August 2014
  45. ^ 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
  46. ^ Bradley, chapter 10
  47. ^ 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
  48. ^ a b Walker, Raymond J. "Buxton International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival 2010". MusicWeb International, accessed 6 August 2010
  49. ^ Article on the film Oh Mad Delight
  50. ^ Article on the film A Source of Innocent Merriment
  51. ^ Recordings available from the festival on DVD, International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, accessed 13 June 2014
  52. ^ Recordings available from the festival on CD, 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

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