When Nigel Martin signed up as the new musical director of Dore Gilbert and Sullivan Society last year he arrived at the very moment that the group were breaking with tradition and not doing G&S.
Instead of entering the world of the Savoy Operas with their crazy plots and wickedly funny commentaries on late Victorian England, he found himself heading the company as they made their first foray into the world of Franz Lehar and his celebrated froth romance The Merry Widow.
“It was great fun because it was a first for me and also a first for the company so we were on a journey together,” says Nigel, a lecturer and leader of the Sheffield Music Hub, taking music out into Sheffield’s schools.
A graduate of the Birmingham Conservatoire and the Royal College of Music, as an MD Nigel is actually much more used to conducting more modern musicals like Annie Get Your Gun, The Sound of Music and Jekyll and Hyde.
But his experience with The Merry Widow was so enjoyable that he has agreed to stay with Dore as they return to more familiar territory and one of the best loved of all the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, The Gondoliers.
It’s the unlikely tale of Marco and Giuseppe, two Venetian gondoliers, one of whom might just be a long lost infant king of a country torn apart by revolution.
Adding to the confusion, the unexpected monarch is also the husband of a bride he never met before, the unhappy daughter of a money-grabbing pair of Spanish grandees who have arrived in Venice determined to stake their claim to power and wealth now the island of Barataria’s monarchy is about to be restored.
In typical G&S fashion, only one person knows the truth and will keep mum until the final chorus.
So much for the plot – but keeping the whole silly saga afloat is one of the true masterpieces on late 19th century music, one of the finest of all Arthur Sullivan’s scores and one of the reasons that Nigel was so happy to return to the society.
It is 30 years since he last did Gilbert and Sullivan, he calculates, and is pleased to be returning to the fold.
“I really do like their style of writing,” he insists. “The lyrics and the music are both so clever and even if the plot is rather crazy it really does work very well.
“The music has lots of very nice phrasing and nuances, lots of characteristics that I am really enjoying discovering and working on with the company – it’s a very tight knit and well constructed piece of work.
“One of the things I like is that although it might seem very simple there are some really difficult and musically very challenging things in there.”
“I’ve got a great cast – people like Judy Savournin and Ian Stewart as the Duke and Duchess of Plaza Toro and Gwen Nimmo, last year’s Merry Widow, as their daughter Casilda.
The Gondoliers runs at The Montgomery, Surrey Street, from Wednesday to Saturday. Tickets: 2507155.