Flagstaff Light Opera Company was founded nearly 25 years ago by Flagstaff citizens who shared a passion for the timeless comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. Now dubbed the Flagstaff Music Theatre, the company returns to its roots with a weekend revival of the best of G&S. The performance will include the entirety of “Trial by Jury” as well as scenes from “HMS Pinafore,” “The Pirates of Penzance” and “The Mikado.”
The legendary partnership of William S. Gilbert and Alfred S. Sullivan was one of the most unlikely and yet brilliantly successful chapters in music theater history. Between 1871 and 1896 the alliance resulted in fourteen comic operas, and most of those survive with immense popularity and relevance in our time.
Gilbert, born in London in 1836, began his career as an author writing humorous sketches and poetry for the London journal Fun, a rival of the better known Punch magazine. Sullivan, born in 1842, was also a Londoner and pursued a career as a composer of “serious” classical music, with early musical training at the Chapel Royal and later at the prestigious Leipzig Conservatory in Germany.
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The two were opposites in temperament and personality, but chance brought them together in the joint production of successful and long-running “light” or “comic” operas satisfying a demand for new entertainment by both English and American theater patrons. The duo’s success was in large measure encouraged and aided by the famed impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, whose theater bearing his family name still exists in London.
In a notable 1884 review in Punch magazine the editors observed, “It is difficult to classify these Gilbert-Sullivan Operas. They are not, strictly speaking, Comic Operas, the are not operettas, nor Extravaganzas, nor Burlesques. Yet they contain something of these. What are they? They are perfectly original, and Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan have founded a school of their own…..Their union is their strength, yet if truth be told….so absolutely does the Gilbertian humour depend upon the masterly Sullivanian illustrations, that it would be true for their worshippers….without irreverence, or disrespect to the religion of Islam, ‘There is one Gilbert, and Sullivan is his profit!’”
In addition to the staging of one-act opera “Trial by Jury” in the second half of the program, a cast of current and former Flagstaff Light Opera/Flagstaff Music Theatre actors will offer a lineup of choral, small ensemble and solo vocal highlights drawn from three of the most familiar representatives of the Gilbert & Sullivan repertoire: “HMS Pinafore,” “The Pirates of Penzance,” and “The Mikado.” “Topsy-turvy” follows the performances. The music drama satirizes and comments on the class structure of 19th century English society, the hide-bound traditions of judicial, military and social aspects of that culture and the attainment of rank and privilege without qualification for such status. The recurring themes of mis-identity, reversal of societal roles and expectations and ironic twists in the tales’ conclusions are all delineated by the brilliant lyrics of Gilbert and the uncomplicated but masterfully constructed tunes of Sullivan.