A Gilbert & Sullivan junkie’s take on how the Savoy Operas became part of Australia’s theatrical DNA.

Australia’s love affair with G&S (and let’s face it, how many creators are instantly recognised by their initials alone?) is almost as enduring as the works themselves. In the 1870s, when policing copyright was much trickier than it is now, two rival “pirate” productions of H.M.S. Pinaforewere playing across the street from one another in Melbourne.

After that, the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company licensed all G&S productions in Australia to J. C. Williamson, granting them exclusive rights to present the works in productions based on D’Oyly Carte originals. So up-to-date were we that the first “official” production of The Mikadoplayed here only six months after the London premiere.

At the end of 1961, the copyright on the Gilbert & Sullivan operas expired, and companies all over the world relished the prospect of new productions, freed from D’Oyly Carte’s stylistic guidelines.

Since then, the operas have been reimagined in countless out-there guises, including “hot”, “black” and “swing” Mikados; an episode of The Simpsonsin which Bart sings excerpts of Pinaforeto calm a murderous Sideshow Bob;...

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