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".
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Hair loss explained: How and why men go bald
- 2 Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe the Stark may have a twin sister
- 3 Artist takes LSD, draws herself over different stages of the 9-hour trip to show its effects
- 4 A pint of water every day is the key to losing weight, scientists say
- 5 Russia 'accidentally reveals' number of its soldiers killed in eastern Ukraine
Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe the Stark may have a twin sister
Artist takes LSD, draws herself over different stages of the 9-hour trip to show its effects
Suicide Squad's Margot Robbie: Jared Leto's now more petrifying when out of his Joker make-up
Novel Scarlett Johansson tried to ban, Grégoire Delacourt’s The First Thing You See, to be published in UK
The Girl in the Spider's Web, David Lagercrantz, review: Stieg Larsson's heroes return in a thrilling new intrigue
Dresden riots: Protesters in Germany attack refugee buses shouting 'foreigners out'
France train shooting: US soldiers speak of the moment they stopped gunman and 'beat him until he was unconscious'
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith calls for urgent ESA overhaul as part of drive to cut down welfare costs