Princess Ida holds her court amongst the rarer Gilbert and Sullivan operas; their eighth collaboration, it opened at the Savoy Theatre on 5 January 1884, running for 246 performances. Today’s performance, directed by Simon Butteriss, is the final offering from the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company to be given at the Buxton Gilbert and Sullivan Festival – hereafter the festival will take place in Harrogate. Simply put, the performance sparkled; singing, acting, costumes, dramatic flow and orchestral playing were all splendid and the scenery and lighting only further heightened the experience.

© Charles Smith
© Charles Smith

Opening with one of Sullivan’s briefest overtures, the orchestra, directed by David Steadman, packed a punch and relaxed beautifully into some delightfully lyrical tunes. The opening chorus, “I search throughout the panorama,” displayed the mixed chorus at its best and set the standard for the following numbers – perfectly balanced in clarity of tone and diction, their involvement was a pleasure.

Ida employs a reasonably large cast of soloists and though there is not space enough to extol the many virtues of each, they may collectively be summed up as excellent without any weak link in the chain. However, it will come as no surprise that as both director and in playing King Gama for the first time, Simon Butteriss was without doubt in his element and gave one of the finest performances I have encountered. Ida employs rather more dialogue than other G&S productions and King Gama delivers many of the choicest lines which Butteriss wrapped in a venomous tongue and spewed with acidic wit and flawless comic timing. Similarly, though his character is a rather less verbal brute, Stuart Pendred as King Hildebrand sang with an assured directness that gave his King a distinct air of nobility. As in previous years, the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company regulars Bruce Graham and Oliver White sang with accuracy and lyricism whilst aiding the story with a comfortable affinity and understanding of Gilbert and Sullivan acquired only after many years’ work. However, as the 22-year-old Hilarian, White and his friends Cyril and Florian (Jeremy Finch and Henry Manning respectively), don’t quite pass for men in their early 20s (even at a distance), but this is a small detail, and their merry trio was entertaining.

Of the ladies, Abigail Iveson’s Princess Ida was enchanting; possessing a clear soprano tone as well as being very beautiful, full of poise and discipline – she gave a regal performance. Dressed in a simple white gown, her gentility was perhaps represented in her occasional battles to be heard above the orchestra and some words were occasionally lost, but her strength and vehement delivery of Gilbert’s lines on the power of women were received in passionate spoken dialogue. Frances McCafferty also gave a stirring performance as the extremely un-dainty, cigar-smoking Lady Blanche – imagine a well-spoken, Valkyrie-like, private school games mistress operating from St Trinian’s and you’re right on the money – I loved it.

Overall what was remarkable is the quality of production that can be achieved on such limited rehearsal time, and I for one will lament the future absence of the festival in Buxton – as productions in Harrogate are now too far for me attend, with joy abiding I wish the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company nothing but the best and hope that it will continue to prosper and go from strength to strength – if the younger members of the present chorus are our future soloists, we have nothing to fear and to them I say “Now wouldn’t you like to rule the roost and guide this [opera company]?”