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D’Oyly Carte: The Decline and Fall of an Opera Company
By Paul Seeley Published 2021
ISBN: 978-0-367-61049-4 Routledge
This is a sequel to Paul Seeley’s earlier book, which detailed the life and work of Richard D’Oyly Carte. His research here proves to be equally extensive; he uncovers fresh material and many intriguing situations.
The book reveals both the excellence and thoughtlessness of the post-war management of the D’Oyly Carte Company. It was hard-working and still holds the UK record for extensive touring of 48 weeks each year, a fact to which the Arts Council seemed to be blind. Despite the company seeming to work as an impressively well-oiled machine, Bridget D’Oyly Carte and Frederic Lloyd occasionally made some poor appointments – and her father, too, could be equally misguided when dazzled by the credentials of musicians like Malcolm Sargent, despite their having the dedicated Isidore Godfrey, designers like Bridges Adams and the gifted Phil & Joseph Harker. Regular promotion within the ranks was sadly ignored and commitment was without reward, even though dedicated production staff regularly gave 100% of their energy.
The book traces events starting with Helen D’Oyly Carte’s running of the operas after her husband’s death, moving on the start of the G & S tradition at the Princes Theatre, a time when the nation’s G&S societies started to appear. Then follows detail of its association with film and radio and the interaction between the D’Oyly Carte Trust and the Arts Council, and ends with discussion of the rise and fall of the New D’Oyly Carte Company.
Geoffrey Toye was brought into the Company to conduct the first London Princes’ season in 1919, replacing the faithful and capable Walter Hann. Carte knew Toye as an old boy from his Winchester College days, so the reason for his employment was clear. We learn that one of Rupert Carte’s mentors was Landon Roland, principal of the Guildhall School of Music, who guided him to the Sargent appointment some years later. Again, it was a social link with Fred Gaisberg, HMV’s artistic director, that generated the interest in making full recordings of the operas. But HMV remained in control of the singers, despite recordings being ‘supervised’ under the direction of Rupert D’Oyly Carte, and some of the soloists were replaced, the most notable replacement being George Baker who had better tone than Lytton and good diction.
Perhaps one of the most important topics of the book concerns its involvement with the Arts Council. Seeley uncovers detail of how the regular approaches, made by Frederic Lloyd over a decade, developed. We discover how fair the Council’s dilatory opinions and inaction were in the 1970s; when the company was in dire straits towards the end of the 70s, the Arts Council could certainly have shown more benevolence. Rumours circulated about the Council’s behaviour, but these turn out to be completely wrong as all along there was an ardent supporter on the Arts Council board. The reason why more prominent opera companies were offered millions per year and the D’Oyly Carte was refused its approach for less than a million is unexplained. The thorny problem of theatre guarantees was a difficulty, yet the company was keen to obtain them for each touring season.
I should have liked to know more about the Company in Helen D’Oyly Carte’s time, but appreciate that regular access to the V&A’s and British Library’s collections during the period of research has been difficult. Helen was under extreme pressure during her tenure, having to deal with the irritating W S Gilbert as well as an enormous daily workload while not in good health, which could be the main reasons for the absence of documentation during this lean time. The period when Rupert ran the Company has been well examined elsewhere, yet this book provides much fresh insight to his tenure. Seeley is scrupulous with his detailed footnotes which contain much separate information that makes interesting reading. The photographs are disappointingly displayed, as there is sufficient space to either enlarge or provide more.
The picture painted of company staff shows that Frederic Lloyd was forward-looking in many respects and it is a pity that this could not be said for Albert Truelove who, like Snookie Fancourt and Leonard Osborn with their traditional attitudes, didn’t want change. Seeley is lenient towards Truelove, who once answered a request for improved lighting equipment with, “Why do we need to spend money on lighting when we have worked adequately without it until now?” Perhaps one point that needs further investigation is why, when the company was running at a loss, it devoted an expenditure of £24,000 to stage “Utopia Ltd” for only five performances - but perhaps the premiere CD recording of the opera brought in considerable revenue.
It has been interesting to find out that there was no Press/Marketing manager. Nowadays, it seems that opera companies can justify and afford a large team of Press and separate Marketing personnel. We also hear of the strange fact that the D’Oyly Carte Opera Trust was formed in 1961 with the governors who could offer little professional knowledge to justify their appointment. When they died, they were replaced by persons little better qualified to save the company - but even the most qualified of staff would have been unable to ensure the survival of the company in the face of the inevitable rising costs.
The book is available in hardback and e-book form.