Thespis; or, The Gods Grown Old - An Introduction

In 2007, director and designer Anthony Baker and conductor Timothy Henty were approached with the idea of presenting a professional performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's lost opera, Thespis; or, The Gods Grown Old in London.

W. S. Gilbert's libretto for the piece - which tells the tale of ageing Greek deities that trade places with a travelling theatre company (with disastrous consequences) - survives in full. However, Sullivan's score for Thespis is all but lost. Only Climbing Over Rocky Mountain, which found its way into the evergreen The Pirates of Penzance, and Little Maid of Arcadee, which survived after having been published as a parlour song, are extant.

There have been several attempts to provide new solutions to performing the piece, and Baker and Henty decided to come up with their own, using music by Sullivan and also the famous French operetta composer Jacques Offenbach. After 14 months of collaboration, with Baker and Henty jointly selecting appropriate musical sources, Baker adapting the libretto and Henty arranging and orchestrating the material, the result was the first fully professional performance of the work since 1872. The production, held at the Normansfield Theatre in London, starred Richard Suart as Thespis and received wide critical acclaim.

L to R - Timothy Henty, Chris Crowcroft (Producer), Anthony Baker

 

 

The score to Baker and Henty's new performing version of the work was published in 2009 and is available for performance globally. As of 2016, there have been seven productions of the Baker/Henty version in the UK, USA and Australia, including a successful presentation at the 2014 International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival by the SavoyNet Performing Group.

 

 

 

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Published by Lulu, the Baker/Henty vocal score comes with the complete libretto, an extensive introduction and performing notes. It is available for purchase here:

 

REVIEWS, PHOTOS AND VIDEOS

Scroll down to see a highlights from the original Normansfield production, reviews and a gallery of photos from various productions.

“The performing edition has been sensitively and intelligently prepared by Anthony Baker and Timothy Henty...
their solutions work nicely, and could well establish themselves as a template”.
— Rupert Christiansen, OPERA, May 2008
“Thespis’ famous ‘Junction Song’ in Act I...complete with whistles, bells and other railway noises, went with great gusto and was a big success. Certainly it is more effective in this adaptation than previous versions I have heard...And so: is Thespis in this version a stageworthy work? Undoubtedly yes”.
— Sir Arthur Sullivan Society Magazine, Spring 2008
...undaunted, Timothy Henty and Anthony Baker have followed up clues left by Sullivan to create a new edition. With the London Kensington Sinfonia conducted by Timothy Henty, the result was a marvel of musical reconstruction, delivered by a 13-strong cast of tiptop G&S performers, playing to three packed houses. The inimitable Richard Suart played the title role...He delivered with terrific panache.
— John Thaxter - THIS IS LOCAL LONDON, 2008
Sullivan’s score is largely lost, but Anthony Baker and Timothy Henty have devised a convincing if speculative reconstruction…the whole thing sparkled gaily. Henty’s spritely conducting and Baker’s witty production provided firm anchorage for a lively team of Savoyards, led by Richard Suart, who were clearly having fun with the topsy-turvy tale of a troupe of travelling actors called upon to deputise for the classical deities on Mount Olympus, with disastrous results.
— Rupert Christiansen, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH, 2008

Gallery of recent productions

Productions:

Normansfield - Original Production (2008), Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Victoria (AUS) 2010, Leatherhead Operatic Society (UK) 2011, SavoyNet at the G&S Festival (International Cast) 2014, Troupers Light Opera (USA) 2016