Viv Hardwick reports on the growing interest in the international world of Gilbert & Sullivan

THE 24th International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival is one of the UK’s leading arts events and will be staged in the Royal Hall, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, during the week of August 4 to 20.

Celebrating the enduring musical partnership of Sir Arthur Sullivan and W S Gilber, the event features 40 full-scale productions staged in the Royal Hall and the adjoining 200-seat “Savoy" Theatre for Youth, University and other special interest performances.

The festival’s professional company will perform four new versions of all-time favourites: The Mikado, HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and Princess Ida. The fringe programme includes speakers and authors from around the world.

Highlights are “gothic Ruddigore” performed in Spanish by professional opera company Egos Theatre on Friday, August 18. The show played for six months in Barcelona and won Best Musical (Barcelona Critic’s Award). Described as a “show full of gothic terror and humour but played with excellent musical prowess” the show is nothing quite like any Gilbert & Sullivan seen before and the must-see show of the season.

Princess Ida is be performed by the National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company on Saturday, August 12 and Sunday, August 20. Directed by Vivien Coates, stars include Donald Maxwell as King Hildebrand, Richard Suart as King Gama, Emma Walsh as Princess Ida, Nicholas Sales as Cyril and Gaynor Keeble as Lady Blanche.

Other shows range from a Festival Youth Production to Bus Pass Opera for the over 60s. This year’s “golden oldies” will perform Patience in the Royal Hall on Thursday, August 17. Last year the combined ages on stage exceeded 2,500 years and showed you do not need to be written off just because you reach a certain age.

Ian Smith, festival chairman, says: “Our 2017 programme represents the very best of Gilbert & Sullivan and is simply a delight. We are looking forward to welcoming audiences from the length and breadth of the UK and from all around the world for a stimulating and uplifting visit to Harrogate in the summer. The magic of Gilbert & Sullivan lifts the spirits and our visitors always leave the theatre with a smile on their face and a skip in their step and that is exactly what the festival is all about.”

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The professional G&S festival company are also taking shows on tour to include Newcastle in September. It started in the 1990s with a professional line-up of ex-D’Oyly Carte principals including Kenneth Sanford, John Ayldon, Alistair Donkin, Geoffrey Shovelton, Patricia Leonard and Lorraine Daniels with a supporting amateur chorus staging The Yeomen of the Guard. This developed into one of the world's finest professional Gilbert and Sullivan performing groups, playing some of Britain's number one theatres.

This year’s line-up includes Vivian Coates, the founder and artistic director of Lyric Opera in Ireland. He was awarded a knighthood from the Italian President for his services in promoting Italian opera in Ireland. He will direct two new productions of Princess Ida and The Pirates of Penzance. Michael McCaffery (Old Vic Company, National Theatre of Great Britain, Glyndebourne and the Bayreuth Festival) has directed for many of the world's leading theatres and helms a new production of The Mikado. Donald Maxwell returns to direct HMS Pinafore and star in Princess Ida. Andrew Nicklin takes over the Musical Director baton for three of the four shows and Aidan Faughey conducts Princess Ida.

Other frontline newcomers this year include Anthony Flaum who makes his main stage debut with the English National Opera this year (Nanki Poo and Frederic); Mae Heydorn the Swedish/German mezzo soprano, who has starred with Glydebourne, Grange Park Opera and in the critically acclaimed West End production of the Rinse Cycle ( Katisha, Buttercup, and Ruth); Emma Walsh(Lyric Opera, Nevill Holt Opera, Winslow Hall Opera) will play Princess Ida, Josephine and Mabel; Natalie Montakhab, rising star with Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera and English National Opera, Yum Yum.

Toby Stafford-Allen is one of Britain’s leading baritones with a decade of critically acclaimed performances with English National Opera. He will play Pirate King, Pish Tush and Captain Corcoran. Simon Wilding who was the youngest member of the Bayreuth Opera Festival has also starred with English National Opera, Opera Holland Park and co-productions between the Royal Opera House and Broadway New York. He is the Sergeant of Police, Pooh Bah and Dick Deadeye.

Adding the names of Richard Gauntlett (Major General, Sir Joseph and Ko-Ko); James Elliott (Ralph Rackstraw and Hilarion), Richard Suart (King Gama); Nicholas Sales (Cyril); James Cleverton (Arac) and Gaynor Keeble (Lady Blanche) shows the company is laying new foundations as it moves towards its Silver Jubilee Season in 2018.

  • The National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company kick off their UK tour at Windsor Theatre Royal on Thursday, July 20, and tour dates are as follows:


Sat 5 August – HMS Pinafore (two performances)

Sun 6 August – The Mikado (two performances)

Sat 12 August – Princess Ida (two performances)

Sun 13 August – The Pirates of Penzance (two performances)

Saturday 19 August – The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance

Sunday 20 August – Princess Ida and HMS Pinafore


Thurs 28 September – The Pirates of Penzance

Fri 29 September – The Mikado

Sat 30 Sept – HMS Pinafore (2 performances)