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Gilbert & Sullivan's 'Savoy Operas'

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Gilbert & Sullivan's 'Savoy Operas'

Is this an icon?


Gilbert & Sullivan's 'Savoy Operas'

Some people love the 14 comic operas or operettas that W S Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan wrote. Others can’t stand them. But even the staunchest critic would be hard-pressed to deny their originality and influence. When Gilbert and Sullivan were introduced by the theatre impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, each was already well known in his own right. Gilbert, who wrote the lyrics, had penned The Bab Ballads; Sullivan, who wrote the music, was a well respected composer. Thespis, their first collaboration in 1871 didn’t set the world on fire - but when Trial by Jury opened four years later, it ran for 135 performances and set a new record for English musicals. Worldwide success came with HMS Pinafore in 1878. As Henry J Wood remarked in 1921 in a foreward to a book on the pair “Nothing could be more loved of the great mass of English people – they were whistled by London errand boys and sung in every suburban drawing room”. The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, founded by Richard D’Oyly Carte, performed their operettas until 1982 and they are still performed by other companies across the world.


Your comments

Contributed many of the most beloved works of the English theatre and English music (e.g. 'HMS Pinafore', 'The Mikado', 'The Pirates of Penzance'. Still loved and performed by enthusiasts throughout the English-speaking word (and sometimes beyond) over a century after their creation.

Steven Martin

Yes, these are quintessentially English. Poking fun at ourselves to mirth, merriment and a great tune.
Stephen Hartland

If an American Anglophile may be allowed an opinion on English Icons, the G&S operettas are the first thing that comes to mind when I think of English musical theater. Then, of course, comes Handel's works, Purcell's and Britten's. (The latter not always favorably.) I am an unapologetic and unreconstructed G&S Savoyard of the rabid variety and went into mourning for a month when the old D'Oyly Carte Opera Company folded. But, as others have pointed out, love 'em or hate 'em, they embody English humor: satirical, witty and triumphantly eloquent. I note that Alice in Wonderland is an icon. Gilbert was at least as great a master of Topsy Turvydum as Lewis Carroll and deserves no less recognition. Sullivan is the greatest native English composer between Purcell and Elgar and his tunes are still familiar to millions around the world. Because of the sheer richness of English literary history and the impressive flowering of musical creativity that occurred in England in the late 19th and 20th centuries, there is some justification for the debate about the iconic status of G&S. However, Gilbert may not have been Shakespeare and Sullivan was not Vaughan Williams but they are English geniuses all the same.
Dan Longiaru

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My favourite Icon of England has to be the Cornish Pasty.

Ian Baldry