Girton village website

Focus on Girton Operatic

Every Spring, Girton certainly has something to sing about, regardless of the weather. For it is then each year that Girton Operatic launches its new production at the Girton Glebe School, continuing an unbroken tradition since 1990. Founded by Petrina and Alan Lodge, with help from other Glebe School parents, Girton Operatic started with a modest amateur staging of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers, and has since gone from artistic strength to strength. Its current productions are polished performances musically, as well as being crafted to high theatrical standards which far transcend expectations for a village society. This is a far cry from the first show, when costumes were made from donated curtains!

Girton Operatic has remained true to its origins, and its Spring productions are always from the repertoire of the Victorian light operas of librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Sir Arthur Sullivan - popularly G & S. The works of these two Savoyard stalwarts of British operatic tradition (both professional and amateur) have remained unceasingly popular with artists and audiences alike, and surprisingly relevant to this day in their social and political comment. Politicians still introduce their speeches with "I have a little list", Home Secretaries talk of "a short sharp shock", and "making the punishment fit the crime" (The Mikado), and even thoroughly modern major generals (The Pirates of Penzance) still seek to advance their careers according to Gilbertian principles. The orchestral and choral music of Sir Arthur Sullivan is currently being re-evaluated, and his role in re-establishing a distinctive British operatic tradition in the late nineteenth century is increasingly being appreciated.

Felicity Few and Ruth Roberts in The Pirates of Penzance (2009)

So Girton Operatic has performed all fourteen G & S operas, except the early Thespis, of which they have included excerpts in concerts. A production takes six months to prepare, in contrast to many societies where a frantic last minute rush takes place, and this relaxed pace shows in the quality of the music and staging. Many of the operas have been presented twice, but to date The Gondoliers heads the Girton list, with three productions, the latest in 2007. This is due to be equalled this year by The Mikado, scheduled for 3 - 5 March 2011 at the Girton Glebe School (see below for more details). A family matinee performance is also given to encourage future members, and prizes are given for relevant audience fancy dress: the winners for Utopia Limited (set on a South Sea island) in Girton in early Spring must have been hardy souls! In addition to the annual opera, Girton Operatic gives a summer charity concert usually in St Andrew's Church, with a wider repertoire. Sometimes these are original miscellanies, a madrigal concert or an operetta. The Rose of Persia, a collaboration between Sullivan and librettist Basil Hood was given in 2004 as was Haddon Hall, a period piece by Sullivan with libretto by Sydney Grundy in 2009. For Summer 2011, a break from tradition is being considered, by presenting a revue of numbers from West End musicals - subject to final arrangements.

The Society has a flourishing membership, currently numbering around 30, and most members have a connection with Girton, although residence in the village is not mandatory. An appraisal in 2010 of all who had been involved over the past 20 years lists over 200 names, about two thirds of whom are current or past residents. A 20th Birthday party at the Old Crown public house was attended by over 60 members and past members. Many people have contributed significantly in various roles to the Society's evolution and progress, but mention should particularly be made of the dedication of Angela Lewell (Treasurer since the start in 1990) and Paul Scott (rehearsal pianist for many years). The principal roles in the operas have been taken by many members, and the interchange between chorus and soloists is an established tradition. This strength was never better illustrated than in 2007 when (due to a soloist's illness) Philip Hubbard, then aged 17, at 24 hours' notice stepped up from the chorus and faultlessly sang the role of Mario (the second gondolier in The Gondoliers) without a score, and including dialogue and dance.

Girton Operatic has had a constitution since its earliest years which ensures a rotation of its office holders, and it is run by a Chairman, Treasurer, Business Manager and a committee of four elected members. A particular feature is the contribution to charities (local and national) stemming from surpluses from its well-attended productions. While the original objective was to raise funds for the Girton Glebe School, over the years significant donations have been made amongst others to the Cotton Hall, St Andrew's Church (where the summer concerts take place), cancer charities (in memory of several former members) and the Girton Glebe School library. The link with the School is especially close: the School is particularly cooperative with all the disruption to school routine caused by productions, and this is reciprocated by letting the pupils see excerpts from the productions in assembly at the start of the school day in the week of the show.

The Pirates of Penzance (2009

A distinctive rule guards against "cherry-picking" of principal roles by peripatetic semi-professional singers - a problem for high-quality amateur groups. Principals must have sung in the chorus in at least one production before being considered for a leading role. This provision has contributed not only to the level of commitment of members, but also to the quality of the chorus. The nurturing of its own talent has always been a prominent part of Girton Operatic's ethos. Another distinctive feature is that productions are accompanied by an orchestra, usually about 12 instrumentalists, rather than a piano or a small group. The creation and development of the orchestra is largely due to the work of Petrina Lodge, and many of the musicians are village residents. Over the years, Girton Operatic has built up a unique stock of scenery, costumes and props for G & S and similar productions, which it now stores in Girton and loans out to other amateur societies.

Membership is open to all over the age of 16, having a connection with the village and a love of singing. Given the high standards, a certain level of musicality is a pre-requisite, but operatic experience and the ability to read musical notation are not essential. Members are not all singers or musicians - help is always needed as stage crew, making scenery and costumes, and front of house. Girton Operatic is remarkably egalitarian, with these tasks being shared out widely through the membership. If you are interested in future productions, be in contact with the Chairman - details below.

While Girton Operatic has enriched the cultural life of the village for two decades, it is very conscious of help received from the Girton Town Charity, the Girton Glebe School, the Orchard Close and St Vincent's Close Community Centres (for rehearsal) and both the Girton Post Office and Walkers Newsagents (for ticket sales).

The next production is The Mikado at Girton Glebe School on 3, 4 and 5 March 2011, with evening performances at 7.30 pm and a matinee on Saturday 5 March at 2.30 pm. Tickets are available from Girton Post Office in Dodford Lane and Walkers Newsagents in Thornton Road, or from Mrs Morrison (276807). Adult tickets are £8.00 and children's tickets are £5.00. As a special offer for the matinee, up to two extra children are included in the £5.00 ticket.

Contact: Helen Wilson (Chairman), 2 Bandon Road, Girton, Cambridge CB3 0LU. Tel. 276940
Contact: Bob Ball (Business Manager), 11 Recreation Close, Milton, Cambridge CB24 6ZF. Tel. 575191

"Focus on Girton" is a series of occasional articles on the organisations of Girton. The first series ran from September 2005 to April 2007 and concentrated on public service and commercial organisations. This present series covers the community and voluntary organisations of the village.

Articles are written independently by members of the editorial team of the Girton Parish News, with the consent and cooperation of the organisation concerned. The selection of organisations featured is entirely at the discretion of the editorial team. The articles do not in themselves represent an endorsement of the aims or activities of organisations. No link exists between the publication of an article and any advertising in the Girton Parish News, whether in the same issue or more generally.