Comic Opera About Comic Opera's Greatest
don’t the days seem lank and long
When all goes right and nothing goes wrong
And isn’t your life extremely flat
With nothing whatever to grumble at!—from Princess Ida, by Gilbert & Sullivan
It didn’t take long
for Elizabeth Biddle ’13 to fall in love with Gilbert & Sullivan.
One turn in the role of Edith, from the opera duo’s The
Pirates of Penzance, a Smith theatre production in 2011,
and Biddle was hooked.
The Ladies of Gilbert & Sullivan, written
and directed by Elizabeth Anne Biddle '13. (pdf).
Of course, Biddle is not alone.
One of the most iconic teams in musical theater history, librettist
W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan collaborated on
14 comic operas between 1871 and 1898 that have enjoyed international
success, growing broader with time. The duo’s operas—especially
H.M.S. Pinafore, The Mikado and The
Pirates of Penzance—are
performed widely to delighted sell-outs, and Gilbert & Sullivan
clubs and societies abound worldwide.
But Biddle may be among
the first to take her fandom to a higher level. As part of
her senior honors thesis in theater, which examines the lives
and works of Gilbert & Sullivan, Biddle wrote a full-fledged
opera of her own, titled The Ladies of
Gilbert & Sullivan,
using songs and excerpts from the team’s works, and depicting
actual scenes from backstage at the Savoy Theater, which was
built in 1881 for the purpose of staging the operas.
Biddle coordinated and directs
a stage production of The
Ladies of Gilbert & Sullivan,
complete with a G&S-sized cast and crew and
costumes provided by the Smith theater costume department.
Performances are Friday, April 19 (open dress rehearsal); Sunday,
April 21; and Sunday, April 28. Free and open to the public,
performances will take place in Earle Recital Hall, Sage Hall,
at 7:30 p.m.
“I absolutely fell in love with the music, the witty dialogue, and the socio-cultural
and political commentary,” says Biddle about Gilbert & Sullivan operas. “Sullivan
was a renowned classical composer, and Gilbert was the Shakespeare of his day.
Put two and two together, and you get a Gilbert and Sullivan opera!”
After her role in Pirates as a
sophomore, Biddle planned to step away from theater for a while,
heading to Oxford’s Hertford College for her Junior Year Abroad
to study government and philosophy.
“Within a week at Oxford, I joined the Gilbert and Sullivan Oxford Society,” she
says. “On Wednesday nights we would sing through a different G&S opera while
pub-hopping. They took their G&S operas very seriously.”
Upon returning to Smith for her
senior year, Biddle missed the G&S Oxford Society,
and set to work researching the comic opera team, and how women
are portrayed in their operas.
“In no time, I was writing my own script,” she says, “using songs and excerpts
from their operas as monologue songs and dialogues for the characters.”
In The Ladies
of Gilbert & Sullivan, actors portray real-life actors who premiered
the operas as members of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, the long-standing company
that originally performed Gilbert & Sullivan operas, and promoted them into the
“Over the two-hour show, I span
25 years, covering all of the G&S operas,” explains
Biddle. “Audiences will witness the invention of the electric
light, the famous ‘carpet
quarrel,’ and the final bows of Gilbert and Sullivan on the
Tickets to The
Ladies of Gilbert & Sullivan are limited;
reserve online at .