Peak practise for festival of music

Sheffield-born baritone John Savournin
Sheffield-born baritone John Savournin

Buxton Festival over for another year, it must be time for the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival to descend on the High Peak town which it does this Saturday for the 20th, and last time.

Next year, it moves lock, stock and barrel to Harrogate – more about that anon.

In the meantime, it gets underway this weekend with a Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company staging of The Pirates of Penzance directed by John Savournin, who has effectively grown up with festival. The highly talented, Sheffield born and bred young baritone also plays the Pirate King in it, having covered the role recently while in the chorus for a Scottish Opera staging, and again directs the festival’s youth production which, this year, happens to be, Pirates.

He breaks Pirate and G&S mould shortly to play Peter Quince in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Opera North, returning to the company as Schaunard in Puccini’s La Boheme next year.

Other G&S Opera Company productions in Buxton are Iolanthe and Princess Ida which also find their director, Simon Butteriss, directing himself as the Lord Chancellor and King Gama, respectively.

Other cast members in the three productions include Bruce Graham (Sergeant, Mountararat, Arac), Sylvia Clarke (Ruth), Richard Gauntlett (Major-General), Frances McCafferty (Queen of Fairies, Blanche), Victoria Byron (Iolanthe, Psyche), Oliver White (Hilarion) and Abigail Iveson (Ida).

Gauntlett is in a major festival diversion, a pro-production of Lehár’s The Merry Widow directed and conducted by Andrew Nicklin, with such G&S favourites as Richard Suart (Zeta) and Ian Belsey.

The main roles are taken by Sarah Helsby Hughes (Hanna), John Upperton (Danilo), once closely Sheffield-connected Nick Sales (Camille) and Ellie Laugharne (Valencienne) who played the title character in the recent Buxton Festival production of La Finta Giardiniera.

Two further professional G&S productions are a Mikado and Pinafore from Lyric Opera Ireland.

All five G&S works mentioned, except Pinafore, are among the adjudicated amateur stagings, which further include two each of Ruddigore, Sorcerer and Yeomen, plus Gondoliers and Patience.

Not for the first time, Utopia Ltd and The Grand Duke are friendless leaving only Trial by Jury in the G&S canon, which is presented in a Brazilian performance on film.

However, away from the Opera House, where all the preceding (except Youth Production) take place, Trial and Grand Duke are among six G&S works (Trial with The Zoo) being put on by university G&S societies as part of a huge Fringe programme in the Pavilion Arts Centre and adjacent Octagon.