Potted History

"Take all the remarkable people in history, Rattle them off to a popular tune."

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1885 - 1889


1885: Famous D'Oyly Carte baritone, George Baker, is born in Birkenhead on February 10th. His association with the company spanned nearly sixty years.

1885: The Mikado opens at the Savoy on March 14th and runs for 672 performances.

Mikado Advertisement

Check out original costumes from this production.


Historic Note:
Just before opening night Gilbert decided to cut the Mikado's big solo number in Act Two. The chorus and Richard Temple pleaded for its retention. Gilbert let it stay. A good thing too for its refrain was to prove one of the most often-quoted phrases for more than a century.
My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time -
To let the punishment fit the crime,
The punishment fit the crime.

1885: Iolanthe opens down under at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, on May 9th (read review)

1885: Carte's Mikado - that is, the version carrying the sanction of composer and librettist - opens in New York (at the Fifth Avenue Theatre) on August 19th.

Newspaper Review:
"Yesterday the English librettist and composer's latest achievement was brought forth with Mr. Sullivan's score, with a company trained in London to copy with absolute precision the English representation, and with stage attire of faultless accuracy and uncommon brilliancy. It would be surprising indeed if under such circumstances "The Mikado" which now attracts throngs to the Savoy Theatre, should not be received in this country with sufficient favor to warrant a prediction of its pretty durable success. Contrary to somewhat general belief, last evening's performance did not cast any new light upon the excellences of the libretto or upon the comparative weakness of the music."
New York Times of 20 August 1885

For the full review click here

1885: The Mikado has its Australasian premiere at Sydney's Theatre Royal on November 14th (read complete review).

Newspaper Review:
"Judging from the merits of the work and its reception by a crowded house on Saturday evening, "The Mikado" bids fair to distance all other work, by the joint authors as much in public favour as it undoubtedly differs from them in material. That no fewer than nine numbers were encored, and that two of them were sung three times, is emphatic testimony of the favour with which the opera was received by the immense audience; and this favour will, it is believed, increase rather than diminish when, after a certain familiarity with the whole, there is opportunity for examining the details more than is possible when the eye and ear are strained to the utmost."
Sydney Morning Herald. Nov 16th

1886: Sullivan's Ode for the opening of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, with words by Tennyson, is first performed at the Royal Albert Hall on May 4th.

1886: The first Viennese performance of The Mikado takes place at the Carlstheatre on September 1st.

1886: Alfred Cellier's Dorothy is first produced at the Gaiety Theatre, London, on September 25th. Mr B.C. Stephenson is the author of the libretto.

1886: Sullivan's oratorio The Golden legend is performed at the Leeds Festival on October 16th. This is a huge success.

Historic Note:
George Grove wrote of this work: I do like the Golden Legend. I have heard it 6 or 7 times and every time I like it better. Take it s it is meant to be and don't compare it with Bach or Beethoven or Schubert and it is lovely - the duet always makes me weep, and so does the point of imitation where the chorus comes in 'the night is calm'.

Newspaper Review:
"How can we describe the scene which followed the last note of the cantata! Let the reader imagine an audience rising to its multitudinous feet in thundering approval; a chorus either cheering with heart and soul or raining down flowers upon the lucky composer; and an orchestra coming out of their habitual calm to wax fervid in demonstration. Never was a more heartfelt ovation. Ovation! Nay, it was a greater triumph, one such as acclaimed the successful soldiers in Rome."
Leeds Mercury

1886: An unauthorized Hungarian production of The Mikado is presented in Budapest on December 10th.


1887: Ruddygore is first produced at the Savoy Theatre on January 22nd. It runs for 288 performances.

Ruddigore Poster

Check out original costumes from this production.

Historic Note:
George Grossmith, who was playing Ruthven, played his role for a week before increasing pain made him take to his bed with what was described as a disordered liver or severe cold. Hundreds of letters and telegrams inundated his bedroom from the Prince of Wales down to the Savoyard in the street. Grossmith had such a following that a lot of people stayed away from the operetta until he returned. His understudy, H.A. Henri did well and earned the gift of a gold-mounted walking stick from Gilbert. In August Henri took his new stage name, Henry A. Lytton.

1887: Ruddygore opens in New York, at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, on February 21st.

1887: Famous D'Oyly Carte tenor, Derek Oldham is born in Lancashire on March 29th. He played the tenor leads for lengthy periods from 1919 to 1937. He died in 1968.

1887: The Golden Legend receives its first American performance by the Boston Oratorio Society on May 8th.

1887: Famous D'Oyly Carte contralto, Bertha Lewis, is born in London on May 12th. She joined the company in 1905 and remained with them almost continually until her sudden death in 1931.

1887: Sullivan's Ode for the occasion of laying the foundation stone of the Imperial Institute, with words by Lewis Morris, is performed at the said venue on July 4th.

1887: Princess Ida reaches Australia . The first performance takes place at the New Princess Theatre, Melbourne, on Saturday, July 16th. (read review)

1887: The first performance in Denmark of The Mikado. This was with a touring D'Oyly Carte company. They opened at the Kasino Theatre in Copenhagen on September 17th. The short season was followed by a Danish version which ran for over 100 performances

Historic Note:
German-born Emile Berliner, impressed by an exhibition of Edison's original phonograph ten years previously, pursues his own research. He patents a disc machine which he calls a 'gramophone' and a technique by which recordings can be made on flat zinc discs, instead of cylinders.

from 100 Years of EMI. A Gramophone publication.

1887: H.M.S. Pinafore has its first revival. This is at the Savoy Theatre on November 12th. George Grossmith, Richard Barrington, Richard Temple and Jessie Bond recreate their original roles with J. G. Robertson as Ralph and Rosina Brandram as Buttercup.


1888: Famous bass-baritone, Darrell Fancourt, is born in London on March 8th. He performed with the D'Oyly Carte Company from 1920 until his death in 1953.

1888: The Pirates of Penzance has its first English revival. This is at the Savoy Theatre on March 17th. George Grossmith, Richard Temple and Rutland Barrington were in the original Opera Comique production. Others in the cast include J.G. Robertson as Frederic, Geraldine Ulmar as Mabel, Jessie Bond as Edith and Rosina Brandram as Ruth.

1888: Richard D'Oyly Carte marries Helen Cowper-Black, on April 12th. Sullivan is best man.

1888: There is a grand performance of The Golden Legend at the Albert Hall on May 8th. Queen Victoria is present. It was at this performance that the Queen says to Sullivan "You ought to write a grand opera - you would do it so well!"

1888: The Mikado has its first revival. This is at the Savoy Theatre on June 7th. The cast is much the same as the original production with the addition of J.G. Robertson as Nanki-Poo and Geraldine Ulmar as Yum-Yum.

1888: The Yeomen of the Guard is first performed at the Savoy on October 3rd. It runs for 423 performances.

Yeomen Poster

Check out original costumes from this production.

1888: Harris Norris is born in New Zeland on November 23rd. He was conductor of the D'Oyle Carte Opera throughout the 1920s. He died in England in 1979.

1888: The Mikado opens at the Wilhelmstädtisches Theatre on December 6th. The translation was by Zell and Genée.

1888: Sullivan provides incidental music to Macbeth. This opened at the Lyceum Theatre on December 29th.


1889: In Australia, The Yeomen of the Guard opens at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, on April 20th. (read review)

Newspaper Review:
"It is quite out of place to compare it to the other Gilbert-Sullivan operas, for Sir Arthur Sullivan has evidently set himself to create a new style, with probably a tendency to grand opera. And this tendency is more noticeable in the orchestration than in any other part of the music. Throughout the opera the instrumentation charms the ear into an almost total disregard of the efforts of the vocalists, and if it were possible to give the whole of the orchestral music of The Yeomen of the Guard as a kind of symphony without reference to performers or plot, the effort would be highly agreeable, for the real beauties of the work lie in the orchestration, which is at once tenderly melodious and yet vividly dramatic."
Table Talk, Melbourne. April 26th

1889: H.M.S. Pinafore has its second revival. This opens at the Savoy on June 6th. Richard Temple is the only survivor from the original production. Walter Passmore plays Sir Joseph, Henry Lytton is Corcoran, Ruth Vincent is Josephine and Rosina Brandram is Buttercup.

Ruth Vincent

1889: Opening of Carte's Savoy Hotel on August 6th. Sullivan is one of the directors.

Historic Note:
The hotel took five years and vast expense to complete. When it opened it incorporated unheard of features, including full electric lighting and a startling number of baths: 67 in total.
Richard D´Oyly Carte laid the foundations for The Savoy´s heritage:
British style and tradition coupled with innovation.
D'Oyly Carte ensured The Savoy´s continued success by luring celebrated hotelier Cesar Ritz from Paris to be Manager. Ritz was accompanied by Mâitre Chef Auguste Escoffier who created unique dishes for Sarah Bernhardt, Lily Langtry, Dame Nellie Melba and the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII. Ritz instituted the impeccable service, attention to detail and creativity which soon come to be hallmarks of the hotel.

Writing The Gondoliers. Excerpts from Sullivan's diary
November 5th: G. called for me. Long music rehearsal at the Savoy. Wrote duet for Duke and Duchess.
November 6th: First stage rehearsal 11.30 to 4.30. Home to work. Framed 'Thy wintry frown', and 'O, bury bury', - Recit. 'Ruthless my heart', and 'Rising early'.
November 7th: Framed 'Small titles and orders', 'On the day when I was wedded', and end of 2nd Act finale.
November 8th: Rehearsal at 11.30 to 3...Home at 5.15. Rewrote 'Thy cold disdain', and 'O, bury, bury'. Wrote 'There lived a king', and 'Take a pair of sparkling eyes', and also completed no.1. (1st act.) Finished at 5am with 'Take a pair'.
November 9th: Began scoring. 23 pages.
November 10th: Began at 11.30 to score...Scored down to end of 'Buon giorno' - 18 pages. (2.30am)
November 11th: Scoring all day. Finished down to beginning of 'Thank you gay and gallant'. 36 pages. 4.30am
November 12th: Rehearsed all 2nd Act music at Savoy 12.15 to 4.30. Long consultations with Carte. Home at 6, dined 6.45. Scored down to end of no.1 (13 pages)
November 13th: Scoring all day. Rewrote and scored 'Thy wintry frown', and scored nos.2,3,4 and 5. (24 pages)
November 14th: Long music rehearsal 11.30 to 4. Rewrote and scored duet (no.6) and scored 7,8 and 9 (23 pages)
November 15th: Very seedy all day. Scored no.10. Dined at Savoy Hotel. Farewell dinner to Dicey (who had just resigned his editorship of the Observer).
November 16th: Scoring all day. No 11 and finale down to finale down to beginning of salterella ('For everyone who feels inclined'), 31 pages, 3am
November 17th: Scored salterella and recit. following. 16 pages. G. Lewis, Dresden, Martin, French, Mrs Huyshe, and no.7 (Fanny Ronalds) dined here.
November 18th: Scoring. Finished finale 1st act. 10.15pm (14 pages) Then 7 pages of no.1 (2nd act) 21 pages
November 19th: Rehearsed 2nd act (stage) 11.30 to 4.30...Home, slept 1½ hours. Finished no.1. Went up to T. Chappell's at 11pm.
November 20th: Scoring all day, nos 2,4 and 5 (4 pages). Framed no.3 (35 pages) Bed at 4. G. and Cellier came to talk about two quintets in second act. C (Clotilde) cloudy.
November 21st: Scoring all day. No.5 (Cachucha) and 6 (29 pages). Also the strings and references of (sic) end of finale. Storm (evidently Clotilde's!).

1889: Gilbert's colaborator, Frederic Clay, dies at Great Marlow on November 24th

1889: The Gondoliers opens at the Savoy on December 7th. It runs for 554 performances.

Gondoliers Poster


Check out original costumes from this production.


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