Topsy-Turvy World

Today’s pro­gramme in our week cel­e­brat­ing Sec­ond Life’s Fifth Birth­day by way of the music of our home region of Cale­don con­tin­ues with a delight­ful day of con­fec­tions from libret­tist W S Gilbert and not­ed Vic­to­ri­an com­pos­er Sir Arthur Sul­li­van – the famous col­lab­o­ra­tion of Gilbert & Sul­li­van.

The two were brought togeth­er by Richard D’Oy­ly Carte and he con­tin­u­al­ly encour­aged them, build­ing the Savoy The­atre in 1881 and found­ing the now-famous D’Oy­ly Carte Opera Com­pa­ny to per­form the works, which became known as the Savoy Operas.

The term “Top­sy-Turvy”, which was tak­en by Mike Leigh as the title for his 1999 film of Gilbert & Sul­li­van’s rela­tion­ship dur­ing the writ­ing and per­for­mance of The Mika­do in 1884–5, one of their most famous operettas, relates to the invert­ed worlds of fan­cy that Gilbert wrought for these operas, where peers and fairies co-exist, pirates turn out to be nobles, and gon­do­liers become kings.

The operettas are regard­ed by some as light­weight – and of course they are one thread in the web of pop­u­lar music of the late 19th cen­tu­ry – but the music of Sul­li­van is superb, mix­ing humour and emo­tion in equal mea­sure; and the writ­ing intri­cate, inge­nious and at the time top­i­cal and often quite polit­i­cal­ly satir­i­cal in tone. Indeed, since the operettas came out of copy­right, many writ­ers have tweaked the word­ing of var­i­ous pop­u­lar extracts to ref­er­ence cur­rent events. Gilbert often took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to lam­poon the aris­toc­ra­cy, polit­i­cal par­ties and oth­er wor­thies.

Some of the songs, like The Lord Chan­cel­lor’s Night­mare Song and A Mod­ern Major Gen­er­al have become stand-alone favourites – the for­mer being cov­ered by Todd Rund­gren of all peo­ple (and bril­liant­ly, with a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of hilar­i­ous sound effects) for exam­ple.

A day of Top­sy-Turvy fun is guar­an­teed for all, with top-notch per­for­mances of many of the operettas and their famil­iar Over­tures. Today’s pro­gramme is pre­sent­ed by Edwina Heron.

Gilbert & Sul­li­van is an ide­al accom­pa­ni­ment to the steampunk/Victorian world of the Inde­pen­dent State of Cale­don. Tune in as you explore the Cale­don SL5B exhib­it at http://slurl.com/secondlife/Second%20Life%20Birthday, sim­ply by press­ing Play on your embed­ded music play­er. The pro­gramme can also be heard by tun­ing in direct­ly to our Main Stream, http://music.radioriel.org/.

• For more on Gilbert & Sul­li­van, vis­it the Gilbert & Sul­li­van Archive.

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