D'Oyly Carte sings for its survival

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The songs have been sung in the grandness of the Savoy and in the draughtiest of church halls and schools. But in a Parliamentary first, members of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company next week take the works of Gilbert and Sullivan to the House of Commons.

The company will be singing for survival. After a pounds 250,000 rescue grant last year, the purveyors of light opera to the nation will have to abandon touring without the regular Arts Council funding it believes it deserves.

To set the right tone for the debate, it has gained special permission to sing in the Grand Committee Room at Westminster in what it claims to be the first ever musical lobby of Parliament.

More than 300 MPs are expected at a performance of highlights from HMS Pinafore, Iolanthe and The Mikado.

"We want to show them what we do," a company spokeswoman said. Or in the words of WS Gilbert himself: "You must stir it and stump it, And blow your own trumpet, Or trust me, you haven't a chance." (Ruddigore, Act 1)

Nonetheless, the choice of Iolanthe, a political satire about MPs and fairies, could cause a few problems.

The words of Act 2 could be accurate, but might not prove a winning argument: "The prospect of a lot Of dull MPs in close proximity, All thinking for themselves is what No man can face with equanimity."

And G&S, which has been performed by the D'Oyly Carte since 1875, may show itself to be sorely out of date in the world of New Labour: "I often think it's comical How Nature always does contrive That every boy and every gal, That's born into the world alive, Is either a little Liberal, Or else a little Conservative!" Not a Peter Mandelson in sight.

But if Little Buttercup (HMS Pinafore), the Lord Chancellor (Iolanthe) and Yum Yum (The Mikado) fail to hit the right note, the company will return to the statistics.

Sir Michael Bishop, chairman of the company's trustees, said it already provided 90 per cent of its running costs through the box office and private sector.

It has received pounds 350,000 in total from the Arts Council compared with pounds 30 million a year for the national and regional grand opera companies. In the last year, it has toured 36 towns and cities at seat prices a fraction of those at Covent Garden.

"The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company is the national light opera company and has been around for 120 years. It's a unique part of Britain's musical heritage," he said.

He must hope the MPs don't know the second act of Ruddigore: "This particularly rapid, unintelligible patter Isn't generally heard, and if it is it doesn't matter."