(Music) Arthur Sullivan
(Libretto) W. S. Gilbert
Leeds has a proud history of amateur operatics - here, the boys from Beeston School pose for their 1923 production of 'Trial by Jury'
The Coliseum was opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1885.
Best known as a venue for circus and variety shows (the great magician Chung Ling Soo - whose life was brought to the operatic stage in Raymond Yiu's 'The Original Chinese Conjuror', performed by Northern Opera Group in 2018 - performed at the Coliseum on a tour of the provinces), it also played host to many professional and amateur theatre productions.
The Coliseum is still a popular Leeds landmark, now known as the O2 Academy.
The Coliseum celebrating its 50th birthday in 1935
First performance from Leeds Amateur Operatic Society
Leeds and the wider West Yorkshire area have a great reputation for the quality and variety of its amateur music making scene, and for well over 200 years, amateur choirs and orchestras have been performing in the city.
The works of Gilbert and Sullivan were the greatest spur for the emergence of amateur operatics in Leeds and the UK. 'Trial by Jury' was the first G&S opera to visit Leeds in 1876, and their works (performed by the D'Oyly Carte Company) were played in Leeds theatres many times per year.
Amateur performers quickly embraced Gilbert and Sullivan operas, with community companies springing up all over the UK. The Leeds Gilbert and Sullivan Society was one of the first amateur companies, starting life in 1909 and it’s still thriving today.
But amateur operatics didn’t start with Gilbert and Sullivan. Back in the 1860’s we have reports of the Leeds Rifles Volunteers putting on amateur operas at the Amphitheatre. It featured notable local amateur singers, who according to the Leeds Intelligencer newspaper were said to be “little inferior to the qualified professionals”.
The Leeds Amateur Operatic Society are the city's oldest amateur company, with 'HMS Pinafore' a natural choice for their opening production in 1890.
The Leeds Rifles putting on 'Guy Mannering' in the 1860s
'Pinafore' was the fourth collaboration between Arthur Sullivan (music) and William Gilbert (libretto), and by far the most popular to date - setting the path for theatrical G&S dominance on both sides of the Atlantic.
It premiered in 1878, and has remained popular ever since. Initial critical reaction was telling of its longevity:
"Seldom indeed have we been in the company of a more joyous audience. ... [Gilbert and Sullivan] have on previous occasions been productive of such legitimate amusement, such novel forms of drollery, such original wit, and unexpected whimsicality, that nothing was more natural than for the audience to anticipate an evening of thorough enjoyment. The expectation was fulfilled completely" (The Era)
The D'Oyly Carte Company's monopoly on professional productions of G&S operas brough numerous 'Pinafores' to Leeds in the 19th and early 20th centuries (the earliest we have on record being in 1879, just one year after its premiere).
It was seldom a D'Oyly Carte tour came to Leeds without 'HMS Pinafore'! Here is the playbill for a run at the Grand Theatre in 1910
There are lots of 'Pinafore' recordings available, on varying quality ...
This offering from the baton of Sir Malcolm Sargent is one of the better versions!
Leeds Corn Exchange, Leeds Libraries, Leeds Museums, University of Leeds, West Yorkshire Archive Service
The Original Chinese Conjuror (Northern Opera Group, August 2018)
credit: Pelly & Me Photography