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Gilbert and Sullivan Society · Exeter · Devon

Written by W S Gilbert

Composed by Arthur Sullivan


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      Annotated libretto of Thespis based on the research of
    Dr Terence Rees


      The vocal score of Thespis in the adaptation by Dr Terence Rees and Garth Morton has now been published by R Clyde Music Publishers and can be obtained from Christopher Browne’s Gilbert and Sullivan Online Catalogue


       Vocal score of Act 2 No 9 ‛Little maid of arcadee’


      Vocal Score of the new Anthony Baker and Timothy Henty performing version of Thespis as produced professionally at Normansfield Theatre in 2008 is now available for purchase from


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    Reviews currently included here have been posted by contributor, Ian Bond, and are his personal views, and these may not represent the views of St David’s Players as a Society.

    Very much the enigma of the Gilbert and Sullivan series, the music of their Opus 1, Thespis or The Gods Grown Old, is almost certainly lost, probably long ago destroyed by Sullivan himself. For many years there was a myth that the opera had been a flop, running as it did for just 63 performances in the Christmas season of 1871/2. However, Sullivan scholar Dr. Terence Rees did extensive research on the work during the early 1960’s and discovered not only that Thespis was intended merely as a Christmas piece for the Gaiety Theatre and, as such, ran for a full-term up to Easter 1972, but that the piece was revived for the benefit performance of one of its’ stars, (Nellie Farren, the original Mercury), and that Richard D’Oyly Carte, when forming the Comedy Opera Company in 1876 (later the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company), actually discussed with both Gilbert and Sullivan the possibility of revising and reviving Thespis to the extent where verbal agreements were reached about a guaranteed minimum run on 100 London performances and a provincial tour. These plans came to nothing when Carte’s backers (he was not financially independent at this point), demanded a new piece for their money, and so The Sorcerer was born.

    That the performance material and copyist full scores existed as late as the summer of 1879 is evidenced by a request from Sullivan to his secretary to obtain all Thespis material from the Gaiety. At this time he was beginning work on The Pirates of Penzance and it is a fact that in the composers’ autograph manuscript of Pirates the first four pages of ‘Climbing over rocky mountain’, a chorus lifted from the earlier work and included with only minor revision, are torn from a copyists manuscript of Thespis and bound into the new score. Recent research has revealed that there may be a lot more of Thespis in Pirates, but the only other two positively identifiable pieces from the original are the ballad ‘Little Maid of Arcadee’ which was published in 1872, and the music of the Act Two ballet which was discovered in the early 1990’s mis-filed with the orchestral parts for Sullivan’s ballet, L’Ile Enchantee.

    There have been a number of attempts over the years to recreate Thespis - some have used music from other Sullivan operas, mainly without Gilbert - some have had new scores composed ‘in the style of Sullivan’. In the UK, the most popular version for many years was that which resulted from Dr Rees’ research and his collaboration with Garth Morton who selected music from a number of less well known Sullivan works to create a delightful, charming and lively score, which was regularly performed by amateur groups throughout the UK from 1962 well into the 1980’s.

    Only one recording of that particular version was ever released commercially, and that on the Rare Recorded Editions label in 1972. Copies of those original LPs are now extremely rare.

    Both the recordings illustrated and discussed here have been privately issued on CD and therefore their supply is from the original transferee only. Therefore any members of St David’s Players wishing to obtain a copy of either or both should contact us in the first instance and we will arrange to supply a copy.

    Of the two recordings, the first is definitely the better. This is a recording of a performance by the Glebe Operatic Society in London on Saturday 1st March 1969. To hear the overture from this performance click on the image to the left. Many of the cast in this recording made quite a name for themselves in their various roles as they played them for many productions in the Home Counties during the late 60’ early 70’s when there was quite a spate of Thespis productions around the time of the works centenary. The gods are led by Bernard Feinstein, a very decrepit and ancient Jupiter, but with a remarkably fine, rich, deep bass voice. Victor Golding was (and I believe still is) very well known, especially in the Hertfordshire area, and his very camp interpretation of Apollo is wonderful to hear, he and the creaking Diana of Marie Potter, build a magnificent rapport which adds hugely to the broad comedy of the piece. Mars is ably represented by Jim Glover and Jessie Poulter in the tiny role of Venus (a role rediscovered by Dr Rees during his research, but missing from the printed libretto) gives a hilarious representation of the first Gilbert and Sullivan elderly, ugly lady.

    The large cast of mortals are well represented, in particular Mary Blackman in the role of Pretteia, Jennifer Bates as Daphne, a magnificent melodramatic performance from David Lee as Preposterous, another very camp performance from David Paramor as Sillimon, and an outrageous cameo performance from Fred Bagatti as Tipseion, the reformed drunkard who, when called upon to undertake the duties of Bacchus, god of wine, ensures that the vineyards produce nothing stronger than ginger beer. Gill Stacey sings well as Nicemis, but her dialogue seems to lack that last bit of oomph that would raise her performance to the same level as the rest of the principal line-up.

    But the crowing glory of this performance comes from Carole Beynon in the ‘trouser’ role of Mercury, and Eddie Lewis as Thespis. The rapport that these two performers managed to establish ensures that whenever either is on stage the comedy reaches even greater and more outrageous heights.

    The production is in the very capable hands of Max Miradin,
    and the excellent chorus and exceptional orchestra are directed
    by Peter Shave. This performance can be supplied either as a 2 CD set with the full dialogue or as a single disc containing the complete musical score.

    This performance can be supplied either as a 2 CD set with the full dialogue or as a single disc containing the complete musical score.

    By comparison, the 1972 recording made again at a public performance, this time by Fulham Light Opera, is a disappointment. Marie Potter, Carol Beynon, Eddie Lewis and David Paramor all repeat their performances, and the digital transfer to CD has (through improved sound) revealed that their performances were still exceptional if a little tired. However, a combination of the vastness of Fulham Town Hall, a ragged orchestra and chorus, and the pressure of performing the first modern revival of THE ZOO as a double bill, seems to have taken the spark out of the performance. There is not the feeling of excitement that is so evident in the Glebe performance.

    Of the other performers, Jill Carus is certainly a better Nicemis and Gladys Wilkinson makes a good stab at Venus.

    This is a single disc set presenting the complete musical score without the dialogue.

    Having said all this, to own either recording is good and will give hours of enjoyment. To own both is desirable for any G & S enthusiast.