Ruddigore and Gondoliers, May 2015

Mad MargaretMad Margaret (Ruddigore) “Ruggigore” and “The Gondoliers” GavotteGavotte Scene (The Gondoliers)
Sunday, 31st May 2015
The Middleton Arena, Middleton
Donald Maxwell
Donald Maxwell – Bass and Narrator

Our fifth concert of highlights from two of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas took the usual popular format – presentation and narration (and song) by Donald Maxwell with the choir, a supporting cast of G&S specialist soloists and the National Festival Orchestra.

Ruddigore or “The Witch’s Curse” is a pseudo-gothic horror story, with a family of ghosts in a haunted Cornish castle.  The local barons are reluctantly forced by the curse to perform an act of evil every day and they find that this interferes with their love lives.  There is an honest yeoman, a long-lost sailor, a girl driven crazy by hopeless love, and the inevitable chorus of romantic village maidens.  As usual the devious Gilbertian plot and Sullivan’s music provide great entertainment.

The Gondoliers  was Gilbert and Sullivan’s last really successful collaboration.  Set in Venice and Barataria, a fictional republican kingdom, it is full of Mediterranean warmth with bubbling music and witty libretto.  Notwithstanding the foreign locations, it is British attitudes and institutions which Gilbert satirizes.  Nonetheless the opera was given a command performance for the Royal Family at Windsor Castle, the first theatrical entertainment there since Albert’s death.

The concert went very well (see comments below). There was one particularly heart-stopping moment for the men of the choir. The lights went down to add effect to the moment the ghosts step out of the pictures in Ruddigore, but failed to return promptly, leaving the singers valiantly trying to remember the words of their song.

Click here to view the concert programme.

Stuart Ferguson has kindly provided the following review:

Take a Pair of Sparkling Operettas

That’s exactly what Oldham Choral did last night at Middleton arena. They took two of Gilbert and Sullivan’s sparkling operettas and turned them into an evening of pure joy for the expectant audience.

Oldham Choral Society have now shared their concert versions of G&S works over the last five years and bring to an end a delightful look at these Victorian gems.

Under the baton and directorship of Nigel P. Wilkinson the Choral Society and the National Festival Orchestra, along with an array of experienced soloists, were brought together to weave their magic.

Chairman, Fred Jones, says, ‘Many of the choir look forward to this ‘end of term treat’, mainly because of the wonderful soloists and Donald Maxwell’s terrific narration. It’s like a ‘night out’ for us as well as the audience.’

Soloists were Donald Maxwell, who gave his interpretation of a G&S performance in Rochdale, conducted by Boris Karloff, and Kathleen Wilkinson, Claire Lees, Philip J. Hindle, James Elliot, Stephanie Stanway, with James Ogden, in the role of the Duke of Plaza Toro.

Jim Ogden is a stalwart of local Savoy Operas, both performing and directing, and formally retired from solo work after this performance, settling in to enhance the choral society’s baritones.

Ruddigore didn’t edit for the concert version as well as The Gondoliers. Despite the Illustrated London News reporting that Ruddigore is Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘most melodious and amusing work’, this performance didn’t grab the audience with its ghosts, witches and curses as it should. We needed more narrative to follow the plot.

The Gondoliers, however, lived up to the Choral Society’s high standard of presenting G&S. Ninety-six members – including ten dancing the hornpipe – moved through their selected pieces with enthusiasm and verve.

Choral members, orchestra, soloists and narrator united as one to give a resounding climax to over five years of presenting the Savoy Operas.

Part of the attraction of G&S is surely that our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, all attended these operettas and our generation continues to enjoy them, as much for that British tradition of concert-going as celebrating a unique musical heritage that Britain gave the world.

Let’s not minimise the great effort needed to stage such a concert. As well as planning, editing, rehearsing, booking soloists, there is also the publicity, ticket sales, programme and costumes that need to be dove-tailed together. Full praise, therefore, to Oldham Choral Society, the National Festival Orchestra and, the man who makes it all work together, Nigel P. Wilkinson, for last night’s performance and for the dozen other Operettas over recent years.

Oldham Choral Society continues its musical programme with ‘An Italian Gala’ on Sunday 15th November at the newly-refurbished Royal National College of Music. Be there.

The line-up of soloists was as follows:


Claire Lees Soprano Rose Maybud, Gianetta
Stephanie Stanway Soprano Zorah, Fiametta, Casilda
Kathleen Wilkinson Mezzo Mad Margaret, Tessa, Duchess of Plaza-Toro
James Elliot Tenor Dick Dauntless, Marco
Philip Hindle Tenor Robin Oakapple, Luiz
James Ogden Baritone Duke of Plaza-Toro
Donald Maxwell Bass Sir Despard, Giuseppe, Don Alhambra
Gerard Marsden & John Livesey Gondolieri
Orchestra National Festival Orchestra
Conductor Nigel Wilkinson

Tickets at £12.50 (Children £1) were available from:

– Our ticket secretary on 01457 875 221

– The Arena Box Office on 0844 855 4020 or (with booking fee) online.