Richard D'Oyly Carte

Richard D'Oyly Carte

Richard D'Oyly Carte (3 May 1844 – 3 April 1901) was an English talent agent, theatrical impresario and hotelier during the latter half of the Victorian era. He is best known for producing the Savoy Operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, founding the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, and building both the Savoy Theatre and the Savoy Hotel, as well as the Palace Theatre, London.

Life and career

Carte was born in Soho's Greek Street in the West End of London, the eldest of six children. Of Welsh and Norman ancestry (D'Oyly is Norman French), [The name comes from his mother's grandmother who was the daughter of Peregrine D'Oyly of Overbury Hall in Suffolk.] Carte was brought up in a cultured home. His father, Richard Carte (1808–1891), was a flautist, music publisher and musical instrument maker, and his mother was the former Eliza Jones. The younger Carte was raised with a musical background, playing violin and then flute at an early age. The family spoke French at home two days a week. He attended the University College, London, but left in 1861 to work in his father's music publishing and instrument manufacturing business, Rudall, Carte & Co. along with his brother, Henry Williams Carte. He also studied music during this time. ['Oyly.htm Biography of Carte] ]

Carte was married twice. His first wife was Blanche Julia Prowse, the daughter of a piano manufacturer. They married in 1870 and had two sons, Lucas and Rupert. Blanche died in 1885, but she and Carte were separated before her death. Three years later, in 1888, he married Helen Lenoir (born Susan Couper Black), whom he had employed as his secretary in 1877. They wed in the Savoy Chapel with Arthur Sullivan as his best man. [Goodman, Andrew. "Gilbert and Sullivan's London" (1988; 2000) Faber & Faber ISBN 0571200168] Helen Carte became intensely involved in all the business affairs of her husband and had a grasp of detail, organisational ability, diplomacy and acumen that surpassed even her husband's.Stedman, Jane W. [, "Carte, Helen (1852–1913)",] "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, September 2004, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/59169 accessed 12 September 2008] . [Ainger, pp. 111–12] The couple's London home included the first private elevator.

Early career

Between 1868 and 1877, Carte wrote and published the music for a number of his own songs and instrumental works, as well as four comic operas, "Doctor Ambrosias—His Secret" (1868), "Marie (1871)", "The Doctor in Spite of Himself" (1871) and "Happy Hampstead (1877)". The first of these was performed at St. George's Opera House in 1868, the third was produced at the Opera Comique, and the last was first produced for an 1876 provincial tour.

At the same time, from within his father's firm and then from a nearby address in Craig's Court, Charing Cross, Carte was beginning to build an operatic and concert management agency, while also acting as a concert and lecture agent. His two hundred musician and singer clients eventually included Charles Gounod, Jacques Offenbach, Adelina Patti, Clara Schumann, Antoinette Sterling, Edward Lloyd, Mr. and Mrs. German Reed, George Grossmith and Oscar Wilde. [Ainger, p. 130] In 1870, Carte suggested to Arthur Sullivan that he compose a comic opera. Sullivan was busy with other projects, and declined.

Founding his opera company

In 1874, he leased London's Opera Comique, where he presented a Brussels company in the British premiere of the operetta "Giroflé-Giroflà" by Alexandre Charles Lecocq, followed by an English adaptation of Gaston Serpette's "La branche cassée".Jacobs, Arthur. [, "Carte, Richard D'Oyly (1844–1901)",] "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, September 2004, accessed 12 September 2008, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/32311] In 1875, he became the business manager of the Royalty Theatre, under the direction of Madame Selina Dolaro. There he booked Jacques Offenbach's "La Périchole". Because the opera was short, he suggested to W. S. Gilbert that Arthur Sullivan could write the music for a one-act comic opera that Gilbert had written earlier, which would fill out the evening; this became "Trial by Jury". The little piece was witty, tuneful and very "English", in contrast to the burlesques and adaptations of French operettas that dominated the London musical stage at that time. [Ainger, pp. 108–09] [Stedman, pp. 128–29] "Trial by Jury" proved even more popular than "La Périchole","The Times", 29 March 1875, quoted and discussed in Ainger, p. 109] becoming an unexpected hit. [Stedman, pp. 129–30] [Ainger, p. 111]

Knowing that Gilbert and Sullivan shared his vision of increasing the respectability of English theatre, and so broadening its audience through the promotion of family-friendly English light operas, Carte gave Gilbert wider authority as a director than was customary at that time. [ [ Vorder Bruegge, Andrew "W. S. Gilbert: Antiquarian Authenticity and Artistic Autocracy" (Associate Professor, Department Chair, Department of Theatre and Dance, Winthrop University). Professor Vorder Bruegge presented this paper at the Victorian Interdisciplinary Studies Association of the Western United States annual conference in October 2002] , accessed March 26, 2008] Building on the success of "Trial", Carte found four backers and formed the Comedy Opera Company to produce the future works of Gilbert and Sullivan, along with the works of other British lyricist/composer teams. Carte leased the Opera Comique, a small theatre off The Strand. The first comic opera produced by the new partnership was Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Sorcerer" in 1877. Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte were able to select their own cast, instead of using the players under contract to the theatre where the work was produced, as had been the case with their earlier works. They chose talented actors, most of whom were not well-known stars, and Carte's agency provided many of the artists to perform in the new work. [Jacobs, p. 111; Ainger, pp. 133-34] The success of this piece showed Carte, Gilbert and Sullivan that there was a future in English comic opera. [Ainger, pp. 141–48] [Jacobs, pp. 113-14]

"The Sorcerer" was followed by "H.M.S. Pinafore" in 1878. Business for the new opera was slow at first. [Ainger, p. 160] Carte's partners in the Comedy Opera Company advocated cutting their losses and closing the show. Carte persuaded the author and composer that a business partnership among the three of them would be profitable. He used the enforced closure of the Opera Comique for repairs to evoke a contract clause reverting the rights of "Pinafore" and "Sorcerer" to Gilbert and Sullivan, who entrusted them to him. The three each put up £1,000 and formed a new partnership under the name "Mr Richard D'Oyly Carte's Opera Company", and the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, as it later came to be called, became the sole producer of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. [Ainger, pp. 162–67] Under the partnership agreement, once the expenses of mounting the productions had been deducted, each of the three men was entitled to one third of the profits. "Pinafore" became a hit in both Britain and America, and Carte's former partners attempted to repossess the production by force during a performance, causing a celebrated fracas. [ [ Article on the celebrated fracas backstage at "H.M.S. Pinafore"] ] [Ainger, p. 170]

"Pinafore" was so popular that over a hundred unauthorised productions sprang up in America alone. [Prestige, Colin. "D'Oyly Carte and the Pirates", a paper presented at the International Conference of G&S held at the University of Kansas, May 1970] To try to counter this piracy, Carte travelled to New York with Gilbert, Sullivan and the company to present "authentic" productions of "Pinafore" there beginning in December 1879, together with their new opera, "The Pirates of Penzance", which they opened prior to its London production. [Ainger, pp. 182–83] The American productions were profitable, but Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte tried for many years to control the American performance copyrights over their operas, without success. [See [ this article about international copyright pirating, focusing on Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte's efforts to combat it] and [ this article on the pirating of G&S operas (and other works) and the development of performance copyrights] ]

During the years when the Gilbert and Sullivan operas were being written, Richard D'Oyly Carte also produced operas by other composer–librettist teams, either as curtain-raisers to the G&S pieces, or to fill the theatre in between G&S pieces and to broaden the offerings of his touring companies. Carte also introduced the practice of licensing amateur theatrical societies to present works for which he had the rights, increasing their popularity and the sales of scores and libretti, as well as the rental of band parts.

According to Henry Lytton, "Mr. Carte was a great stage manager. He could take in the details of a scene with one sweep of his eagle eye and say unerringly just what was wrong." [ [ Lytton, Henry. "Secrets of a Savoyard" (1922), chapter 4] ]

Real estate interests

Pirates was followed by another successful Gilbert and Sullivan opera, "Patience", in 1881. With profits from the success of the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership and his concert and lecture agency, Carte bought property further East along the Strand with frontage onto the Thames Embankment, where he built the Savoy Theatre (1881) and the elaborate Savoy Hotel, which opened in 1889. He chose the name to memorialize the history of the property: In 1246, King Henry III granted the land to Peter, Count of Savoy, the uncle of his wife, Eleanor of Provence. The Savoy Palace, a very large and elegant palace, was built on the property. It later passed to John of Gaunt, 2nd Duke of Lancaster, and was burned during the Peasants' Revolt in 1381. The Savoy Hotel became a well-known luxury hotel and would generate more income and contribute more to the D'Oyly Carte fortunes than any other enterprise, including the opera companies. Throughout the 1890's Carte acquired and refurbished Claridge's (1894), Simpsons-in-the-Strand (1898) and The Berkeley (1901).

"Patience" transferred to the new theatre on 10 October 1881. At the time, the Savoy seated nearly 1,300 people and was the first public building to be lit entirely with electric light. At a performance shortly after it opened, Carte stepped on stage and broke a glowing lightbulb to demonstrate the safety of the new technology. "Iolanthe" was the first opera to open at the Savoy Theatre.

Carte also owned a small island in the River Thames, between Weybridge and Shepperton, located near Shepperton Lock. He built a house on the island. [ [ Article with information about Carte's island in the Thames] ] Originally, Carte intended the structure to be a hotel, but he could not obtain the proper license and so converted it into a private home. [Barrington, Rutland (1908). "Rutland Barrington: A Record of 35 Years' Experience on the English Stage, By Himself", p. 73. Available online here] ]

End of the partnership; Royal English Opera House

The Carte, Gilbert and Sullivan partnership continued to flourish through the 1880s, producing such hits as "Iolanthe" (1882), "The Mikado" (1885, which ran for an astonishing 672 consecutive performances); "The Yeomen of the Guard" (1888) and "The Gondoliers" (1889). Carte's high production values, and the quality of the operas, created a national and international taste for them, as he sent touring companies throughout the provinces, to America and Europe, and licensed the works to high-quality foreign companies such as J. C. Williamson's in Australia.

Nevertheless, Gilbert and Sullivan had an often tumultuous relationship, and Carte frequently had to smooth over their differences with a mixture of friendship and business acumen. Carte was able to coax five more comic operas out of his partners in the 1880s. The musical establishment and Sullivan's friends put pressure on the composer to abandon comic opera, and Sullivan asked to be released from the partnership on several occasions.

During the run of the last Gilbert and Sullivan success, "The Gondoliers", the three partners quarreled over production costs, including the cost of a new carpet for the Savoy Theatre lobby. The partnership temporarily ended in acrimony. Gilbert brought suit, and Sullivan sided with Carte — Carte was building the Royal English Opera House in Cambridge Circus, London, close to Covent Garden, to present Sullivan's forthcoming grand opera.

Carte's first production at the Royal English Opera House was of Sullivan's only grand opera, "Ivanhoe" opening in January 1891. The opera was a success, playing for 155 performances, but no other operas shared the new opera house with it. Instead, "Ivanhoe" was presented every night with alternating casts. When "Ivanhoe" finally closed in July, Carte had no new work ready to play at the opera house, and it had to close. The opera house re-opened in November, with André Messager's "La Basoche" (originally produced in 1890 at the Opéra Comique in Paris) at first alternating in repertory with "Ivanhoe", and then "La Basoche" alone, closing in January 1892.

There was no new opera to fill the house, and the venture soon failed. Sir Henry Wood, who had been répétiteur for the production, recalled in his autobiography that " [i] f D'Oyly Carte had had a repertory of six operas instead of only one, I believe he would have established English opera in London for all time. Towards the end of the run of "Ivanhoe" I was already preparing "The Flying Dutchman" with Eugène Oudin in the name part. He would have been superb. However, plans were altered and the "Dutchman" was shelved." [Wood, Henry, "My Life of Music", Victor Gollancz Ltd., London (1938)] Carte leased the theatre to Sarah Bernhardt for a season and finally abandoned the project. He sold the huge opera house at a loss to producer Augustus Harris. It was then converted into a music hall:the Palace Theatre of Varieties and later became the Palace Theatre.

Later years

After the carpet quarrel, with "The Gondoliers" closing in 1891 and no more Gilbert and Sullivan operas being written, Carte turned to old friends George Dance, Frank Desprez and Edward Solomon for his next piece, "The Nautch Girl", which ran for a satisfying 200 performances in 1891-92. Carte next revived Solomon and Sydney Grundy's "The Vicar of Bray", which ran through the summer of 1892 until Grundy and Sullivan's "Haddon Hall" was ready. This held the stage until April 1893.

Carte and his wife, Helen (with help from their music publisher Tom Chappell) were finally able to convince Gilbert and Sullivan to collaborate on another piece, "Utopia, Limited". Until it was ready, "Jane Annie", by J. M. Barrie and Arthur Conan Doyle, with music by Ernest Ford, was produced as a stop-gap. "Utopia" opened in 1893, but it was the partnership's most expensive production to date, and it ran for a comparatively disappointing 245 performances, until June 1894. The Savoy then played first "Mirette", with music by André Messager, then "The Chieftain", by F. C. Burnand and Sullivan. This was followed by "The Grand Duke", in 1896, which ran for only 123 performances and was the last collaboration between Gilbert and Sullivan.

Throughout the later 1890s, Carte's health was in decline, and Mrs. Carte assumed more and more of the responsibilities for the opera company. She profitably managed the theatre and the provincial touring companies. The Savoy put on a number of shows for comparatively short runs, including Sullivan's "The Beauty Stone", in 1898. In 1899, Carte finally had a success again, with Sullivan and Basil Hood's "The Rose of Persia". Neither Carte nor Sullivan lived to see the success of "The Emerald Isle" for which Edward German completed the score.

In 1894, Carte hired his son, Rupert D'Oyly Carte as an assistant. Rupert's older brother, Lucas, a barrister, was not involved in the family businesses and died of tuberculosis in 1907.

Carte died at his London home, from dropsy and heart disease, just short of his 57th birthday. He is buried in the churchyard of St. Andrew's church in Fairlight, East Sussex, near his parents' graves. A memorial service for him was held at the Chapel Royal of the Savoy. He left an estate valued at a princely £250,000.


Richard left the theatre, opera company and hotel to Helen, who assumed full control of the family businesses. She leased the Savoy Theatre to William Greet in 1901 and oversaw his management of the company's revival of "Iolanthe", and several new comic operas. Rupert took over his late father's role as Chairman of the Savoy Hotel in 1903, which Helen continued to own. The years between 1901 and 1906 saw a decline in the fortunes of the opera company. In late 1906, Helen re-acquired the performing rights to the Gilbert and Sullivan operas from Gilbert (she already had Sullivan's) and staged a repertory season at the Savoy Theatre, reviving the opera company and leasing the Savoy to herself. Rupert assisted Mrs. Carte and W. S. Gilbert with the first revival of "The Yeomen of the Guard" at the Savoy in May 1897. ["New York Post", 7 January 1948] The season, and the following one, were tremendous successes, revitalizing the company. After the repertory seasons in 1906-1908, however, the company did not perform in London again until 1919, only touring throughout Britain during that time.

At her death in 1913, Helen passed the family businesses to Carte's son, Rupert, who revived the company with refreshed productions and London seasons, beginning in 1919, as well as provincial and foreign tours. Rupert left 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.

Primary works as a composer

*"Dr. Ambrosius — His Secret" (1868)
*"Marie" (1871)
*"The Doctor in Spite of Himself" (1871) (based on a Molière work)
*"Happy Hampstead" (1876), with librettist Frank Desprez

Carte's Parlour songs include:
*"Stars of the Summer Night" Serenade, with poetry by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
*"Questions" Song, with words by Desprez
*"Twilight" Canzonet
*"Pourquoi?" Chansonette, dedicated to Selina Dolaro
*"The Maiden's Watch" Song with words by Amy Thornton, composed for and sung by Adelaide Newton
*"The Mountain Boy", sung by Florence Lancia



*Gänzl, Kurt. "The British musical theatre", 2 vols. (1986)
*Goodman, Andrew: "Gilbert and Sullivan’s London", Spellmount Ltd, London, 1988, ISBN 0-946771-31-6
*cite book|last=Joseph|first=Tony|year=1994|title=D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 1875-1982: An Unofficial History|location=London|publisher=Bunthorne Books ISBN 0-950-79921-1
*cite book|last=Joseph|first=Tony|year=1994|title=D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 1875-1982: An Unofficial History|location=London|publisher=Bunthorne Books ISBN 0-950-79921-1
*Mander, Raymond and Joe Mitchenson (1968). "Lost Theatres of London", Hart Davis Macgibbon. ISBN 0246644702
* Seeley, Paul. "Who Was Helen Lenoir?", "The Savoyard", September 1982 - Vol XXI No. 2
*"The Stage", 4 April 1901
*"The Stage", 11 April 1901

External links

* [ Article on the Carte family]
* [ Biography of Richard D'Oyly Carte]
* [ Article on Richard D'Oyly Carte]
* ['Oyly.htm Profile of Richard D'Oyly Carte]
* [ Account of the "Fracas at the Opera Comique" in 1879]

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  • Richard D’Oyly Carte — (* 3. Mai 1844 in London; † 3. April 1901 in London) war ein englischer Theateragent, Impresario, Komponist und Hotelbesitzer. Carte erbaute das Savoy Theatre und das Palace Theatre sowie das Savoy Hotel. Seine O …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Richard D'Oyly Carte — noun English impresario who brought Gilbert and Sullivan together and produced many of their operettas in London (1844 1901) • Syn: ↑D Oyly Carte • Instance Hypernyms: ↑showman, ↑promoter, ↑impresario * * * Richard D’Oyly Carte [ …   Useful english dictionary

  • Richard D’Oyly Carte — ➡ D’Oyly Carte * * * …   Universalium

  • Carte,Richard D'Oyly — Carte (kärt), Richard D Oyly. 1844 1901. British theatrical producer associated with the works of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. * * * …   Universalium

  • Carte, Richard D'Oyly — ▪ English impresario born May 3, 1844, London, Eng. died April 3, 1901, London       English impresario remembered for having managed the first productions of operas by Sir W. S. Gilbert (Gilbert, Sir W.S.) and Sir Arthur Sullivan (Sullivan, Sir… …   Universalium

  • Rupert D'Oyly Carte — from 1913 to 1948. Carte s opera company continued to promote the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas that had originally been produced by his father, keeping them before the public by launching major London seasons, as well as touring… …   Wikipedia

  • D'Oyly Carte Opera Company — Publicity poster for The Mikado, 1919 The D Oyly Carte Opera Company was a professional light opera company that staged Gilbert and Sullivan s Savoy operas. The company performed nearly year round in the UK and sometimes toured in Europe, North… …   Wikipedia

  • D'Oyly Carte Island — from Desborough Island D Oyly Carte Island is a small island in the River Thames, England, on the reach above Sunbury Lock and just below Shepperton Lock. It is located between Weybridge and Shepperton. Eyot House is a large house and garden on… …   Wikipedia

  • D'Oyly Carte — /doy lee kahrt / 1. Richard, 1844 1901, English theatrical producer. 2. an English light opera company founded in London in 1881 by Richard D Oyly Carte primarily for the presentation of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. * * * …   Universalium

  • D'Oyly Carte — noun English impresario who brought Gilbert and Sullivan together and produced many of their operettas in London (1844 1901) • Syn: ↑Richard D Oyly Carte • Instance Hypernyms: ↑showman, ↑promoter, ↑impresario …   Useful english dictionary

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