SADLY, the days of Buxton as the capital of the topsy-turvy world every August have now gone, as the headquarters of the 22-year-old International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival has moved to Harrogate.
But something of its past glories is coming back to the High Peak, as the professional performance troupe formed for the festival – the National Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company – is on tour again, and from August 4 to 8 takes to the boards of its old stamping ground, Buxton Opera House.
Productions of The Mikado, The Gondoliers and HMS Pinafore are on offer, and they’re all directed by Sheffield-born John Savournin, a performer-director who has made a considerable niche for himself in the G&S hall of fame – both as singer and through his razor-sharp, but traditional-in-spirit productions, mainly with Charles Court Opera, a touring company he founded and has run for the past 10 years.
Principals this time include John himself and G&S luminaries such as Donald Maxwell, Richard Gauntlett, Bruce Graham, Oliver White and Nichola Jolley.
I asked John about his own journey to this point.
“I have always been involved in music and theatre,” he said. “Starting as a field mouse in a production of The Wind In The Willows. I decided to attend music college in London (Trinity College), as I felt I could best serve both my passions through opera.
“I’m not the first person to say that I’ve ended up where I am now by lots of luck, and in some ways by accident – but also through a lot of hard work.”
He loves the G&S shows (though Charles Court Opera does much more than those). “Not only are the plots accessible today, but they combine that with the unique blend of G & S: entertaining musical theatre with intelligent, biting humour.”
As director, he goes to the text and music of each show and looks at them with fresh eyes. “Often they’re quite convoluted – especially in the songs – but it really pays off to get inside the text afresh. I try to find energy and a lightness of touch, most of all.
“But they have to be truthful and, as with any good comedy, to be taken seriously.
“Get the comedy right, and the pathos will shine through, too.”
John’s performing in the north west again later this year, in Opera North’s new production of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate.