Who We Are And What We Do
Founded in 1975, The Savoy Society of Ottawa is an organization of people who share a common interest in performing the comic operas of Sir William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. The name “Savoy” is taken from the London Theatre of the same name, where Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas were performed in the late 19th century.
Our first production, The Pirates of Penzance, opened on April 29, 1976, at L’Ecole Secondaire de LaSalle on Old St. Patrick Street, and played for 4 performances. We moved to the Centrepointe Theatre in Nepean when it opened in 1988 (as its first client), and until 2008 played 7 public performances a year, including a Sunday Matinee, plus a Benefit performance. In 2009 we reduced the number of performances to 4 and as of this year (2011 / 2012) you’ll find us performing at the Adult Highschool in Ottawa (300 Rochester Street).
Savoy is an organization in which we take great pride. It is comprised of a large number of devoted and talented people who produce a very high quality of performance on stage, and is self-supporting through ticket sales and donations. Although dwidling attendance has resulted in our relocation out of Centrepointe Theatre, Savoy enjoys a solid reputation in the community, and takes pride in its creation of a strong family atmosphere which allows individuals to engage in artistic expression in a warm and supportive environment.
Why should an Ottawa group devoted to Gilbert and Sullivan be called The Savoy Society? Do we have anything to do with that region in France nestled between Italy and Switzerland?
“Savoy” actually refers to the Savoy Theatre in London, which was built by impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte in 1881 from the profits of the early G&S operas. This theatre, on the Thames Embankment just off the Strand, now has its entrance in part of the renowned Savoy Hotel, which Carte built in 1889.
The name was chosen from the fact that the site was once occupied by the Savoy Palace, built on land granted in 1246 by King Henry III to his wife’s uncle, Peter of Savoy (later the Duke of Savoy). The Palace was the most splendid nobleman’s residence in London, and in the 14th century came to be occupied by John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, until it was burned down during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.
The Savoy Theatre was built during the run of Patience, and it was hailed as London’s most modern theatre, with innovations such as numbered seating and free programme booklets (the latter no longer the practice in London!). Most notable of all was the fact that the Savoy was the first public building in the world to be lit by electricity.
The Gilbert and Sullivan operas are also known as the Savoy Operas due to the fact that all of them, with the exception of first, Thespis, either premiered or were revived at the Savoy. According to some definitions, a Savoy Opera can be any opera that was performed at the theatre, which would take in a number of other works from the 1890s and 1900s, such as Hood and German’s Merrie England, as well as collaborations Gilbert and Sullivan made with other partners.
In the 20th century, the Savoy continued its life as one of the great West End theatre, and it occasionally welcomed back the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company for some of their London seasons. The theatre was substantially renovated by Rupert D’Oyly Carte (son of Richard) in 1929, and much of the interior was gutted in a fire in 1990, the theatre being restored and reopened three years later.
The name “Savoy” has thus become firmly linked with the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. There are dozens of Gilbert and Sullivan groups around the world that pay tribute to the original home of the operas by using the name “Savoy”, the Savoy Society of Ottawa being one.