United Kingdom Buxton Gilbert & Sullivan Festival: Preview (RJW)
This festival has now become as famous as the Buxton Opera Festival that precedes it and provides a unique blend of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, both collectively and separately. The Fringe section parades operetta of other closely associated composers delivered by operatic societies, university students, and school children. Researchers of British composers of the 19th century are also seen in attendance to soak up fresh slants on Victorian music of this very English institution that has been alive for over 140 years and provided the foundation of the early 20th century operatic composers that followed.
This year the main programme brings three professional productions; The Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe and Princess Ida with favourites, Simon Butteriss and Bruce Graham in parts made for them. One hopes that the Princess Ida might be that excellent Jeff Clarke production staged in 2009 with its sumptuous Act II setting. Adjudication is provided for all visiting amateur operatic societies, which this year will include Harrogate, Oxbridge and Derby, Peak, Trent, London, and visiting from Dublin, Ireland their leading professional group, Lyric Opera Productions with Mikado and Pinafore. Following last year’s splendid Ruddigore, the youth production this year will be The Pirates of Penzance.
The hotels will soon be filling with G&S lovers from Ireland, America, Canada and the Continent wishing to pick up from where they left off in conversation from last year. The Festival Club and local restaurants will be buzzing again, but sadly for the last time, because this year the Festival ceases its Buxton connection. Chat about the exciting move to Harrogate will be on most people’s lips and although it will be a sad ‘goodbye’ to Buxton, it will be a warm and cheery ‘hello’ to Harrogate.
The backdrop of Buxton has been ideal for music festivals over the decades and we can see how this has transformed the town over the last 20 years. At the inception of the two Festivals it would have been difficult to find much for the tourist: communal buildings in need of a lick of paint, and a run-down park and lake. Restaurants serving pre-theatre dinners in 1990 were few: now there are plenty as the music-lovers flock to spend their money over two brief summer months. This year sees the curtain fall on the Buxton base for the Gilbert & Sullivan Festival as it moves to its new home for 2014. The choice of Harrogate is a good one with its equally splendid Royal Hall Theatre, another Matcham (and Beale) architectural delight of 1275 capacity. The theatre is set in another charming Victorian town. The need to move (due to an impossible request for steeper hire charges and greedy visitors tax of £1/per seat) is sad, but the Festival can be reassured that the easy train link from Leeds to Harrogate, its easy access to the A1 and short hops to historic Knaresborough, Ripon and York will please those attendees who have exhausted all worthwhile sites around Buxton.
The Festival opens on Saturday 27th July with 2 performances of The Pirates of Penzancein the Opera House and Mr G & Mr S and Topsy Turvy & Tum-ti-tum in the Pavilion Theatre. See http://gsfestivals.org/content/whats for details.
Raymond J Walker