theartsdesk in Buxton: G&S live on (and on) | Opera reviews, news & interviews
theartsdesk in Buxton: G&S live on (and on)
The operetta festival attracts Gilbert & Sullivan enthusiasts from all over the world
Within hours of the opera buffs leaving town, having had their fill of Buxton Festivalia, the old spa changes gear for operetta. For three weeks, the town becomes the jolly international capital for Gilbert & Sullivan. Enthusiasts and performers from all over the country and foreign parts gather to celebrate the seemingly never-ending attraction of those old familiar tunes, characters and satirical send-ups.
Year after year, the town brims with them. And some get in the mood by slipping into costume and character. You are as likely to bump into Ko-Ko, the clowning Lord High Executioner of Titipu, and Yum-Yum, his tasty ward, strolling through the Pavilion Gardens as you are to meet a local bobby. And the spirit of it all is so infectious that you might be tempted to greet the bobby with a “tarantara”.
This is G&S heaven. You can see performances every morning, afternoon and evening. And then, if you have the energy, you can retire to the Festival Club in the Pavilion adjacent to the Opera House, let your hair down and enjoy a nightcap, cabaret and a singalong. There are more than 100 events over the three weeks, including talks, films and production workshops. But you’re here to enjoy yourself. “It’s fun, it’s friendly and it’s for all the family,” proclaims artistic director and founder Ian Smith.
What you get at this festival is loyalty. People like to see their favourite performers time and time again
This is the 19th International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, kicking off with the professional G&S Opera Company’s production of The Mikado, which not so long ago was authenticated here with a production from Japan. The visitors explained that Titipu was their answer to Macclesfield, being famous for silk. This season, we have Ruddigore in Spanish from Madrid, The Yeomen of the Guard from Cape Town and HMS Pinafore from Fraser Valley Opera in Canada. Home productions of near-professional standard come from the likes of West Wickham and Godalming, Southampton and Derby, Trent Opera and, naturally, Peak Opera. There’s even an international group formed by enthusiasts who link up on the net, eventually meeting in Buxton to originate a production. They go under the name of Savoynet and they will be doing The Sorcerer.
The focus of the festival is Buxton Opera House, the beautifully restored Edwardian gem so fitting for the G&S atmosphere. Over 22 consecutive evenings and half a dozen matinees, there will be 18 productions, covering all the favourites and this year’s collectors’ item, The Grand Duke, Gilbert and Sullivan’s final collaboration, being given only its second professional fully staged production since its 1896 premiere at the Savoy Theatre. Buxton is the place where true aficionados like to complete their personal canon. Some people are missing only The Grand Duke from their portfolio, so this year is very special.
This year is also special because it has an extra layer of showbiz Victoriana for the opening weekend. In light of the Jubilee, “Queen Victoria” is due to arrive by coach and horses with a considerable entourage to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee of 1897 and lend her presence to a “Royal” Gala Prom in the evening. The Halifax-based father-and-son team who run the festival, Ian and Neil Smith, are not averse to risking a laugh at their expense in the cause of fun. Tradition has it that Ian, a dapper figure in black tie, makes an amusing front-of-curtain speech before every show and leads the audience in warm-up singing (they all know the words). This year, he will also be compering a special edition of The Good Old Days, with the entertainment coming - naturally - from “a predominance of prestigious performers presenting a pre-requisite portion of panache”.
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