Thespis – 1989




In 1985 the Connecticut Gilbert & Sullivan Society (CG&SS), honoring the centenary of Sullivan’s oratorio, “The Golden Legend,” presented the demanding work at South Congregational Church, Middletown, with Deborah Lyon at the organ, plus timpani and bells. Jonathan Strong attended and was more than pleased with the presentation. A few years later he asked us to consider his recent performing edition of “Thespis, or The Gods Grown Old.” The prospect of doing a world premiere of a “new work” by G&S was Elysian, and the CG&SS board voted to tackle it for the 1989 production.

In addition, Jonathan felt we would do a better job of it than anyone in his Boston area. How could we refuse? Musical director John Dreslin looked at the gigantic challenges of piecing it altogether and coming up with an overture.

The word got out and Kort Frydenborg Videoworks of Guilford recognized the import of the occasion, using three cameras and expert editing skills to memorialize the momentous event without charge, as long as the members of the orchestra and cast signed agreements to waive remuneration from the sale of the video. It was my suggestion that only Frydenborg, Strong and Dreslin share any future rewards, should there be any realized. I was especially pleased when the video was so well received at a Sir Arthur Sullivan Society convention in Brighton, England, shortly thereafter, with a request that the video be played a second time for those who had missed it.

The credits shown during the playing of Dr. Dreslin’s overture fill in the rest of the gaps. As we view it nearly a quarter of a century later, it is sad to see all the wonderful people in the chorus who are no longer with us. To wit:

Kort Frydenborg in association with CG&SS presents a 20th-century performing edition of “Thespis, or The Gods Grown Old,” newly arranged by Jonathan Strong, directed for the stage by Robert Cumming, orchestrated by John Dreslin, conductor of the Connecticut Sinfonia Society

1989 Thespis Cast

Program and Cast List for CG&SS Thespis, 1989
(Click on graphic to enlarge)

“Thespis,” Gilbert & Sullivan’s first collaboration, had a total of 63 performances in 1871 and 1872 but was never revived. A libretto with obvious inaccuracies, and the music for one song, “Little Maid of Arcadee,” were published but with the exception of one chorus, “Climbing over rocky mountain,”—later used in “The Pirates of Penzance”—the original score has vanished.

Did Sullivan destroy the rest of the music? Or did he disguise other “Thespis” material in later operas? On this speculation, Jonathan Strong, of Tufts University, has searched the entire repertory for appropriate settings to “Thespis” lyrics, as well as borrowing some of Sullivan’s ballet music, and a lyric from Gilbert’s opera, “Happy Arcadia.” Working with Strong, Dr. Dreslin has composed a distinctly Sullivanesque overture combining the two surviving numbers to achieve this performing edition of “Thespis.”

Two performances of “Thespis” were given in Hartford’s Wallace Stevens Theatre (of The Hartford Insurance Group” on October 20 and 21, 1989, with two performances (where the video was taken) on October 27 and 28 at the Haddam-Killingworth High School in Higganum. Deborah Lyon was the accompanist/organist. Michael Trueb was in charge of sets and lighting with Mary Trueb as stage manager. It was a unique experience.

–Robert Cumming 12/21/2011