Thespis: An Assessment of a Forgotten G & S Work

17/08/2014

  Talk on Thespis: Anthony Baker & Tim Henty, G&S Festival, The Crown Hotel, Harrogate ,12.8.2014 (RJW)

 To a packed room, the producers of a Harrogate Savoynet production of the comic opera Thespis gave an introductory talk. They made an assessment of the surviving material, what might have happened to the lost material and how accurate any reconstruction is likely to be for a stage performance.

Gilbert and Sullivan prepared Thespis in a period of three weeks for a Boxing Day opening of this extravaganza in 1871. It achieved a respectable number of performances until March when most theatres were likely to change their programme. The critics were generous in their comment and noted that the entertainment was better than the burlesques that were widely played. Two sources of the libretto can be found. Gilbert printed an early version of it in his series of Plays (Chatto & Windus 1910) while a second earlier libretto is the Lord Chamberlain’s copy held at the British Library.

 Tracing Sullivan’s music is much more difficult as most is still lost. Discussion centred on about how much might have been recycled, but there no evidence of this, apart from ‘Climbing over Rocky Mountains’ which Sullivan freely admitted he used. Apart from this one of the songs, ‘Little Maid of Arcadee’ was published as a parlour ballad. Selwyn Tillett and Roderick Spencer in the 1960s had sifted through the libretti of the later operas to see if they could match lyric metre, an exercise that proved very difficult. They managed to use extant music from the lesser known operas to fit for their 20th century production. There have been more recent attempts like Montgomery in New York who wrote material in the style of Sullivan.

 In the new Baker/Henty production to be mounted at the Festival (previously staged at Normansfield, England) they have examined the background from a  fresh direction, realizing quite rightly that Victorian theatres regularly played pastiches of continental composers. Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld (1858) had come to London in a première English translation in 1865-6;  it played fairly frequently thereafter. It was popular music and it is possible that Sullivan introduced elements into his Thespis score. Musical director, Henty could see that the lyrics to the Act I chorus may well have been a double chorus where the finale of The Pirates of Penzance, ‘Here’s a first rate opportunity’ and Orpheus’s ‘We go, we go’ can be run together.

 No doubt decades will pass before any lost material is rediscovered, but as this has happened in other areas it is always possible.

Raymond J Walker

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Sundays for a Fiver Festival in November __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Holland Park’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre Reopens in December 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Exciting 2018/19 Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! See Pop-Up Opera’s La Tragédie de Carmen this Autumn __________________________________
  • NEW! Oxford Chamber Music Festival October 2018 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 and Beyond __________________________________
  • NEW! Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
 in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Sunday International Concerts Series in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Salzburg Whitsun Festival 7 – 10 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bolshoi Ballet 2018/19 UK Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018-2019 Geneva Grand Theâtre Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Hallé Season in Manchester __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 BBC NOW in Cardiff and Swansea __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! The Future of Opera is Theatre: An Essay by Casey Creel __________________________________
  • NEW! Jacqui and David Morris’s New Documentary Film Nureyev Celebrates a Unique Man and Dancer __________________________________
  • NEW! MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! JACK BUCKLEY’S MEMORIES OF LINDSAY KEMP (1938-2018) __________________________________
  • NEW! THE GESUALDO SIX IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Appreciation Talks this Autumn from Helen Astrid __________________________________
  • NEW! TENOR NICHOLAS PHAN IN CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOPHER SALLON __________________________________
  • NEW! THE PIANIST GEORGE HARLIONO IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! A Major Work by Stanford to be Premiered – 99 Years Late! __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR ALEXANDER SLADKOVSKY IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! THE TENOR RUSSELL THOMAS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! RAFAL BLECHACZ IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month