D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and the application of some of Appia's concepts under Rupert D'Oyly Carte


3.   Mikado 1926


5 .Yeomen

6. Lyceum



Richard D'Oyly Carte and the d'Oyly Carte Opera Company.

1.   Richard D'Oyly Carte.  (1844 – 1901)

Date: Unknown.
Photographer: Ellis & Walery, scanned from page 6 of the 1914 edition of Cellier & Bridgeman's Gilbert and Sullivan and Their Operas.

2.    Finale of Act II of The Mikado by W. S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan with .  D'Oyly Carte's Opera Company. from the Prince's Theatre Seasons 1919-22.  Darrell Fancourt as the Mikado and Henry Lytton as Ko-Ko

Date: 1885
Photographer : Unknown.  Based on an image in the Boise State University D'Oyly Carte Archive.

3.   The 1926 costume designs for The Mikado by Charles Ricketts.   Pitti-Sing (Aileen Davies), The Mikado (Darrell Fancourt) and Katisha (Bertha Lewis). 

Date: 1926
Photographer: Unknown.

4.    Peter Goffin's design for Act 1 of Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Mikado'.  The arrival of the Mikado. (Darrell Fancourt as The Mikado and Ann Drummond-Grant as Katisha,).  Rickett's Costumes are still in use at this time.

Date: 1952.  
Photographer: Unknown.   ©D'Oyly Carte archive. 

5.Peter Goffin's design for Act 1 of Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Yeoman of the Guard', introducing his scenic panels and inserts.  Performances at Sadler's Wells Theatre,

Date: 1948.  
Photographer: Unknown.   ©D'Oyly Carte archive.

6.    Poster for an 1985 performance of ' The Mikado' by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. D'Oyly Carte's Opera Company. Printed by The Strobridge Lithographer Co., Cincinnati], New] York], London. Copyrighted by John Stetson 1885. 

Date: 1885
Lithographer: Stetson, London.   (Original in the Weir Collection at the National Library of Scotland.  This version of the image in the public domain).

7.   Durward Lely, creator of the role of Nanki Poo, in Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado.  

Date: 1885
Photographer: Unknown.  [Image in the public domain]

Richard D'Oyly Carte (1844 –  1901)

Richard D'Oyly Carte was one of the most successful theatrical impresarios the latter half of the Victorian era. Rising from humble beginnings, Carte built two of London's theatres and a hotel empire, while also establishing an opera company that ran continuously for over a hundred years and a management agency representing some of the most important artists of the day.  

Carte started his career in his father's music publishing and musical instrument manufacturing business. As a young man, he conducted and composed music, but he soon turned to promoting the entertainment careers of others through his management agency. Carte believed that a school of wholesome, well-crafted, family-friendly, English comic opera could be as popular as the risqué French works dominating the London musical stage in the 1870s. To that end, He brought together the dramatist W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan and, together with his wife Helen Carte, he nurtured their collaboration on a series of thirteen Savoy operas. He founded the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and built the state-of-the-art Savoy Theatre to host the Gilbert and Sullivan operas.

Carte's opera company, later operated by Helen and then by his son, Rupert, and granddaughter, Bridget, promoted the Savoy Operas for over a century, and they are still performed regularly today.

Carte's cultured mother exposed her family to art, music and poetry, and young Carte studied the violin and then the flute at an early age. The family spoke French at home two days a week, and his parents often took their children to the theatre.  He was educated at University College School and University College, London.

Between 1868 and 1877, Carte wrote and published the music for a number of his own songs and instrumental works, as well as several comic operas.  On tour in 1871, Carte conducted 'Cox and Box' by composer Arthur Sullivan and dramatist F. C. Burnand.

In 1874, Carte leased the Opera Comique, a small theatre off the Strand, where he presented a Brussels company in the British premiere of the operetta 'Giroflé-Giroflà' by Charles Lecocq.  In 1875, Carte became the business manager of the Royalty Theatre, under the direction of his client, the popular singing actress Madame Selina Dolaro. There he programmed Offenbach's 'La Périchole', supplemented by 'Trial by Jury' that he commissioned from Gilbert and Sullivan.

Carte managed the first tour of 'Trial by Jury', which stopped at the Theatre Royal in Dublin, Ireland, in September 1875. Here, Helen Lenoir joined his theatrical organisation as his secretary.  Carte and Lenoir married in 1888, three years after the death of his first wife.

Carte had been planning to build a new theatre for several years to promote English comic opera and, in particular, the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. With profits from the Gilbert and Sullivan operas and his concert and lecture agency, he bought property along the Strand in 1880 with frontage onto the Thames Embankment, where he built the Savoy Theatre in 1881. The Savoy Theatre was a state-of-the-art facility, setting a new standard for technology, comfort and decor. It was the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electric lights and seated nearly 1,300 people (compared to the Opera Comique's 862).

In Carte's obituary, The Times noted, "By his refined taste he raised the reputation of the mise en scène of the Savoy operas to a very high pitch. He set a high standard". Beyond this, however, Carte's influence, through the production of the Savoy operas, heavily influenced the course of the development of modern musical theatre.

Carte left the theatre, opera company, hotels and his other business interests to Helen. Her London and touring companies continued to present the Savoy Operas in Britain and overseas. In 1901 she leased the Savoy Theatre to William Greet, overseeing his management of a revival of 'Iolanthe' and several new comic operas. Rupert became chairman of the Savoy Hotel by 1903, which Helen continued to own.

At her death in 1913, Helen passed the family businesses to Carte's son, Rupert. The Savoy Group remained under the control of the Carte family and its associates until 1994.

Rupert D'Oyly Carte refreshed the opera company's productions and added London seasons, beginning in 1919, as well as provincial and foreign tours. In 1948 Rupert died, leaving a strong company to his daughter Bridget D'Oyly Carte. However, the rising costs of mounting professional light opera without any government support eventually became too much for the company. Bridget was forced to close the company in 1982.


Peter Goffin FRSA (1906 - 74)

Born in Plymouth, the son of William Earl Goffin and Elizabeth Goffin, Goffin was an English set and costume designer and stage manager, known for his work with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.

Goffin was introduced to Rupert D'Oyly Carte, who commissioned him to redesign the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company's production of 'The Yeomen of the Guard' in 1938. Goffin's new set, which provided a basic format for future touring designs, caused dissent among traditionalists because it did not depict the familiar backdrop of the White Tower.

As a young man, Goffin was taken on by the local repertory theatre in Plymouth as a designer, going on to Dartington Hall from 1931-34 where he took over responsibility for staging, costumes and lighting of the Dance-Drama Group.

In 1936, Goffin went to the Westminster Theatre in London, working with Harley Granville Barker and Michael MacOwan on a range of productions, from classics such as 'Volpone', 'Uncle Vanya' and 'Troilus and Cressida', to modern works including 'Mourning Becomes Electra', 'Heartbreak House', and T. S. Eliot's 'The Family Reunion'. In 1938 Goffin was invited by the government to supervise a course on stagecraft and to lecture on the subject.  For Rupert and later Bridget D'Oyly Carte, he designed new sets and costumes for 'Ruddigore' (1948), 'Patience' (1957), 'The Mikado' (1958 – sets only, most of the celebrated Charles Ricketts costumes being retained), 'The Gondoliers' (1958), 'Trial by Jury' (1959), 'H.M.S. Pinafore' (1961), and 'Iolanthe' (1961), all incorporated into his unit set – a framework on which the sets for each opera could easily be interchanged.

[Text based, in part, on The Studio, Tabs in the Rank Strand Archive, The Savoyard and other material in the public domain.]