Todmorden U3A: An insight into the satire of Gilbert and Sullivan

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It has been a musical couple of months for the group. Members enjoyed the return of Bernard Lockett who focused on the satire of Gilbert and Sullivan.

It’s hard to imagine Gilbert and Sullivan as anything other than pillars of the establishment, but Bernard Lockett showed us that their brilliance lies in the way the bite of Gilbert’s satire gains acceptability through the softening effect of Sullivan’s music.

Nevertheless, Bernard proposed that since G&S performances were attended by all classes of society, one can imagine the lower classes in the gallery enjoying a laugh at the expense of the socially elevated in the stalls.

Such laughter would, for example, have come at the expense of Parliament (‘Iolanthe’), the Law (‘Trial by Jury’) or corruption in government (‘The Mikado’).

The practice of offering high office to unsuitable men is highlighted by ‘the ruler of the Queen’s Navy’ in ‘HMS Pinafore’.

This opera spotlights the fact that the stationery magnate, W.H. Smith, a man of no marine experience, had been shoehorned into the Admiralty as its First Sea Lord. (Bernard pointedly observed that there are today 42 Admirals in the Royal Navy even though it does not have that many ships.)

Gilbert’s social commentary is often acute. ‘Princess Ida’ advocates the role of women in society to clear up the mess that men – who ‘at best are but a monkey shaved’ - have made of it. It makes the case for university education and votes for women.

And in ‘Utopia Limited’, one critic has observed that ‘English prudery, English conversation, English company promoting, the English party system, the English War Office and Admiralty, the County Council, and the English Cabinet’ are all taken to task.

Once again, Bernard’s talk was illustrated with DVD excerpts from the operas which were highly entertaining and reminded us that although the operas are considered ‘light’, they offer substantial challenges to the singers.

Our May meeting also showcased Alan Fowler who spoke with quiet passion about the Social History Group.

Alan’s knowledge and expertise are prodigious, and his group’s main focus is on the history of 20th century northern textile towns. They make use of autobiographies and Mass Observation documents.

They have a current ambition to study Todmorden local papers from 1918 as a turning point in the town’s manufacturing life.

Todmorden U3A’s next meeting will be held on Thursday, 20 July in the Central Methodist Church in Todmorden at 1.45.

This meeting will include our AGM, followed by a talk by Geoff Tansey titled ‘Food: Wars or Peace? Challenges and Opportunities in 21st Century’. Our contact details are website www.u3atod.org.uk, (email) enquiries@u3atod.org.uk, or (phone) 01706 812015.