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Haddon Hall review at Royal Hall, Harrogate – ‘rare resuscitation of Arthur Sullivan’s pedestrian work’

Scene from Haddon Hall performed by the National Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company. Photo: Jane Stokes Scene from Haddon Hall performed by the National Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company. Photo: Jane Stokes
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In 1890, impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, composer Arthur Sullivan and librettist WS Gilbert fell out over the costs of a carpet. It ended in court, with one of the great operatic partnerships seemingly sundered. In fact, Gilbert and Sullivan eventually worked together again, though in the interim they sought other collaborators.

This was the background to the creation of Haddon Hall, in which Sullivan set a libretto by Sydney Grundy – a popular playwright of the day, but now forgotten.

The piece, which premiered at the Savoy Theatre in 1892, is set at the Derbyshire mansion of the title in the mid 17th century, and loosely built around the apocryphal elopement of the daughter of the house with her lover. It enjoyed a respectable run but subsequently fell from the repertoire. This was the first professional UK revival in more than a century.

Enterprising though it was of the National Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company to mount a full-scale staging, and welcome to aficionados, there’s no denying that the piece has its problems.

“Time has not been kind to the text”, say Martin Yates and the late David Eden, who have created a new version of the libretto. Even so, Grundy’s words feel impossibly clunky and rarely inspire Sullivan to those flights of fancy that Gilbert’s sharp wit regularly brought out of him. The result is pedestrian. The ‘comic’ Puritans are something of a trial.

Director Sarah Helsby Hughes’ decision to give this period piece an old-fashioned staging is probably the best option. Conductor Andrew Nicklin keeps the uneven score on the musical road. Orchestra and chorus both make a positive impact.

Among an effective cast, Rachel Harland’s bright soprano wins her success as Dorothy Vernon, while expert old-stagers Bruce Graham (The McCrankie), Richard Suart (Rupert Vernon) and Donald Maxwell (Sir George Vernon) extract more than you might think possible from indifferent material.

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Written without Gilbert, Sullivan's 1892 light opera is given a rare resuscitation