Our Society was born in the Schoolroom, Tacket Street on Monday 22nd July 1929. With the permission of the DOyly Carte Company, it was christened "The Ipswich Gilbert and Sullivan Amateur Operatic Society". Although this lengthy title still remains we are generally now known as the Ipswich G and S Society. Our musical interest is much broader than our name suggests for we also perform a range of classical and modern music during our charity concert season, as well as our annual production of one of the Savoy Operas. In addition we have performed original musical works written and directed by the Societys former Musical Director, Bernard Reader.
The Savoy operas are today almost as popular as they were 100 or more years ago. But even with this popularity the business of producing a show is costly and the less well known operas frequently make a loss. It is only with the contributions, both financial and practical, of members and patrons that the society can continue with its aims. However, it is the sheer energy and enthusiasm of all those involved which really makes G & S so special, and a brief look at our history shows this has been true throughout the lifetime of the society.
In May 1930 the infant Society took its first faltering steps onto the stage with a production of The Gondoliers. The production took only £390-2-10 (three hundred and ninety pounds two shillings and 10 pence) for 7 performances. It was considered a success despite making a loss! This was the pattern of things to come for the next nine years with each production of a Savoy Opera resulting in critical accolade but financial distress. The 1934 program for Princess Ida included within its cover a heartfelt plea for patrons to provide "practical support...to perpetuate in Ipswich the works of those great collaborators, Gilbert and Sullivan".
After the 1940 production of The Mikado the activities of the Society were suspended because of the war and it was to be some 14 years before a fully staged G & S opera was produced in Ipswich.
In fact, after the war, there was gathering interest in "the works of those great collaborators" but it wasnt until 1949 that a Mr Bill Stanforth noted in the local press that G & S was absent from Ipswich. The response came from a member of the London based Gilbert and Sullivan Society who suggested that an Ipswich branch of the society be formed. This society had branches throughout the world and existed to foster and keep alive interest in the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, but it did not encourage the branches to put on stage productions of the operas. It is unclear why the pre-war society was not brought back to life at this time perhaps there was insufficient interest from potential performers. Whatever the reason the Ipswich Branch of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society was formed in 1949 and the then branch rule book stated "No public performance". Meanwhile the pre-war society slumbered.
Although the branch activities were quite varied (including gramophone recitals, visits by personalities, vocal competitions etc.) it seems that there was a growing desire to give public performances. So, despite the rules, the branch hoped to produce The Gondoliers in 1952, but when permission was refused by the London based society the proposed performance sadly never materialised. Eventually, enthusiasm for performing the operas was such that it could not be stifled, and The Mikado was successfully produced at the Art Gallery, High Street in November 1954.
The success of the 1954 production encouraged the branch to stage a Savoy opera each year. Unsurprisingly, finance once again became an issue. In 1961 the branch had £326 in the bank but with the Art Gallery only seating a maximum audience of 211 there was limited scope to increase takings. At the same time there was a conflict between some members wishing to abide by the stated aims of the branch and other members desiring to perform the operas.
The situation was finally resolved when it was discovered that the pre-war society still had a chairman and a secretary who looked after the dormant organisation. Whats more it had £180 in the bank which, under its own rules, could only go to charity if the society were wound up. The solution was for the Ipswich Branch of the G & S Society to be dissolved and for all the members to join the Ipswich Gilbert and Sullivan Amateur Operatic Society. And as if to demonstrate its new found freedom the group changed venue for its next production (Ruddigore) to the Civic College (now Suffolk College).
Annual stage productions continued at the Civic College until 1970 when the college stage ceased to be available. The G & S Society took a deep breath and booked the much larger venue of the Gaumont Theatre (now the Regent) for its production of "Cox and Box" and "The Pirates of Penzance". The venture was a tremendous success.
Between 1970 and 1984 the society went from strength to strength, growing in membership, attracting much local talent into its ranks and each autumn producing another Savoy opera at the Gaumont to delight audiences. In 1985, productions were moved to the Corn Exchange Theatre because, once again, the regular venue was no longer available.
We have continued at the Corn Exchange since that time despite some of the problems of using a venue not designed for Opera performances. The sheer size of the stage is daunting but our Producers rise to the challenge each year giving us luscious and spectacular settings for the operas.
We continue to perform a Savoy opera in November every year, under the Musical Direction of Andrew Burke and produced by Mavis Holmes. We also give 8 or so concerts every year in aid of charity. Our MD for our charity concerts is Christoper Tinker.
In 1980 and 1990 we celebrated our Golden and Diamond Jubilees respectively, with special Gala Concerts. For our Golden Jubilee, Richard Baker, the TV personality, acted as compere while members of the society performed a selection of songs from the G & S operas. In 1990 Richard Baker returned to be with us for the celebration, but this time he had written a history of Gilbert, Sullivan and DOyly Carte which was performed by himself and actors, and illustrated by a selection of G & S songs.
We were very fortunate to have an extremely talented Musical Director in Bernard Reader between 1973 and 2001.
In addition to acting as MD for our productions and concerts, Bernard wrote three Operatic works. 1985 saw "Parousia" performed before a live audience and then later recorded. "A Touch of Infinite Calm" was, in his own words, like a jigsaw puzzle of pieces of the G & S operas arranged to illustrate an Edgar Alan Poe love story called Eleanora. A recording of the work was made when a concert version of the opera was performed in 1992. His latest work "Orphys Innings" was also given a concert performance at Ipswich Corn Exchange on 9 September 2000, to a rapturous reception.