Sparkling music and witty words in Rose Hill’s latest G and S production

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Rose Hill Musical Society returns to the stage at Derby’s Guildhall Theatre from March 20-24 with a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Princess Ida.

Written in 1884, this opera is a comment on the emancipation of women. The subject was topical at the time because the universities of Oxford and Cambridge had recently opened ladies’ colleges, but progress towards equality has been very slow. 2018 marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act which granted some women the right to vote in parliamentary elections for the first time.

In the production, Prince Hilarion was betrothed to Princess Ida, daughter of the neighbouring King Gama, when they were both babies. Twenty years later the princess has become a devotee of the rights of women. To promote her ideal she has founded a University at Castle Adamant where all men are excluded on pain of death. Hilarion, determined to claim his bride, gains admission to the university with the help of two friends. They are all disguised as girl students and the deception works for a time, but eventually they are found out and taken prisoner.

Hilarion’s father, King Hildebrand, comes with his army to their rescue. When Ida tries to get her girls to resist them it is soon apparent that they have no stomach for the fight. The only answer appears to be for Ida’s three warrior brothers to fight Hilarion and his friends, with Ida’s hand resting on the issue.

Production of Princess Ida is in the hands of Beverley Graham who is assisted by choreographer Rex Portillano, with Margaret Slater as musical director.

Although most of Rose Hill’s principals are regular favourites, the society is delighted to welcome newcomer Jemma Baldry playing young Melissa who, following the illegal entry of Prince Hilarion and his friends into Castle Adamant, sets eyes on men for the first time and finds them to be not as hideous as she’d been told!

The pivotal role of Princess Ida is played by Nicola Gale with Craig Arme as Prince Hilarion. her aspiring husband. Hilarion’s friends, Cyril and Florian, are played by Melvyn Edwards and Tony Eley respectively. Every Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera seems to feature a contralto who has seen better days; in this production the formidable Lady Blanche is played by Jayne Brewster Beard with her cousin Angela Martin as fellow professor, Lady Psyche. Other girl graduates are played by Paula Bettison, Helen Seelly and Sam Fletcher.

Peter Featherstone and David Fletcher play the rival kings Hildebrand and the disagreeable Gama, with Dave Stapleton, Richard Brierley and Jeremy Crane as Gama’s sons.

The opera contains some of Sullivan’s finest music. A succession of songs in Act Two has come to be known as Sullivan’s “string of pearls” and in Act Three there is wonderful song written in the style of Handel.

Sullivan’s wonderful music will be done full justice by Rose Hill’s splendid 15-piece orchestra, conducted by former musical director Carl Smith, who comes over from his home in France each year specially for the Rose Hill production.

Evening performances for Princess Ida start at 7.30pm and there is a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm.

Tickets (Tuesday £13, Wednesday £14 and Thursday to Saturday £15) are available from Peter Featherstone on 0115 9258717 or via email at

Nicola Gale is pictured in the title role.