Blue plaque at London home of a Victorian Simon Cowell
He was the very model of a modern major impresario, the driving force behind the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, and founder of the Savoy Hotel.
Richard D'Oyly Carte's influence even extends to the house where he lived as a teenager and young man, which tomorrow will be awarded its very own English Heritage blue plaque. Film director Mike Leigh will unveil the plaque at the former family residence in London's Kentish Town.
It was D'Oyly Carte's Comedy Opera Company that performed the first productions of many of Gilbert and Sullivan's most famous works, including The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. The blue plaques historian at English Heritage, Susan Skedd, describes him as "a shrewd businessman and outstanding stage manager."
He "succeeded in maintaining his worldwide monopoly over Gilbert and Sullivan productions, and set new standards of staging and singing in opera," she said. And "he was also responsible for creating the first luxury hotel in London".
Born in Soho in 1844, D'Oyly (as he preferred to be known) began his career as a theatrical agent when he was 26. Five years later, he was appointed manager of the Royalty Theatre on Dean Street.
While there he encouraged composer Arthur Sullivan to write a score for WS Gilbert's comic libretto Trial By Jury. First performed in March 1875, it would run for 131 performances. By 1880, the trio were sharing annual profits of £60,000 – around £3m by today's standards.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw later said of the impresario's legacy: "Mr D'Oyly Carte founded a new school of English comic opera, and finally built a new English Opera House and made a magnificent effort to do for English grand opera what he had done for comic opera."
D'Oyly Carte opened the Savoy Theatre on London's Strand in 1881, claiming it was the first public building in the world to be powered entirely by electricity. The luxury Savoy Hotel was built on a vacant plot next to the theatre, and opened in 1889.
But strains were beginning to show in the musical team's relationship, with Gilbert withdrawing from the partnership.
In 1891, D'Oyly Carte founded the Royal English Opera House, now the Palace Theatre, at Cambridge Circus, staging 155 performances of Sullivan's only grand opera, Ivanhoe. The theatre was sold a year later, after D'Oyly Carte failed to find new operas to fill his programme.
"My husband and I find it thrilling to think of the musical time-line running through this house," said Antonia Leach, the owner of 2 Dartmouth Park Road, where D'Oyly Carte lived between 1860 and 1870. "Also, the thought of it as having in some way acted as the creative crucible out of which came the alchemical partnership of Gilbert and Sullivan. "
D'Oyly Carte's influence is not to everyone's taste, however. "I've never had anything but contempt for Gilbert and Sullivan," Jonathan Miller said earlier this year. Miller, who directed a celebrated production of the The Mikado in 1986 at the English National Opera, described their work as "simply Ukip set to music".
And writer and academic Germaine Greer has been critical of Gilbert and Sullivan fans, saying they exemplify "racist, right-wing, Old England nerderie".
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