Matlock G&S Society to stage opera Haddon Hall

Members of Matlock G&S Society who will be performing in Haddon Hall,
Members of Matlock G&S Society who will be performing in Haddon Hall,

“We rehearse one side of Haddon Hall and perform on the other so this opera was perfect for our society,” said director Max Taylor.

In terms of geographical location, no society in the land is better placed than Matlock G&S to present the rarely-staged Haddon Hall.

The company have spent six months rehearsing in a church hall on Smedley Street, Matlock, in readiness for the big reveal at the Medway Centre, Bakewell next week.

Haddon Hall is a true labour of love for director Max who has reworked the script and produced a score from an adaptation by David Eden and Martin Yates, whose version was premiered in Retford in 1992 and in which Max performed.

Max, 62, who lives in Walton, Chesterfield, said: “They had done it in note form and didn’t produce a score, so I worked from their notes and adapted them to suit a smaller society and a smaller stage. It has taken me every spare minute for about a year.”

Haddon Hall was one of the few operas in which Sullivan didn’t collaborate with Gilbert. The pair had fallen out over artistic differences and Sullivan teamed up with playwright Sydney Grundy to work on Haddon Hall, his first comic opera since his quarrel with Sullivan.

“Haddon Hall was very popular going back to about the beginning of the last century,” said Max. “But the libretto was heavy going, so it fell out of favour. The music is beautiful but more difficult than your average G&S.”

Chorus member Shirley Bowler, of Matlock, said: “The music is fabulous. The songs are bitty and you have to interject so it is not just about remembering the words but remembering where you come in.

“We have some really good singers among the principals.”

These include Andrew Moore, who is playing John Manners, Helen Booker, who is cast as his sweetheart Dorothy Vernon, Liz McKenzie who plays her mother Lady Vernon, director Max as Sir George Vernon, Nic Wilson playing his cousin Rupert and Susan Devaney as maid Dorcas.

Susan Devaney, who lives in Churchtown, Darley Dale, said: “This is the biggest singing part I have done - I feel quite apprehensive.

“Normally when we do a show, 50 percent of the cast have done the show before - but not this one. I think it is really only Max that has been in it before.”

Liz McKenzie will be performing one of the opera’s familiar songs, Queen of the Garden. She said: “The music is lovely. It is nice to be doing this show during my term as chairman of the society.

“We have invited Lord Edward Manners (the owner of Haddon Hall) to come and watch it.”

Haddon Hall is based on a legend about the elopment of Sir John Manners and Dorothy Vernon.

“There have been various versions of the story,” said director Max. “One says they went to Sheffield for the weekend and then went back home, another says that they went to Derby for the weekend and went back home.

“In the opera they spend eight or nine years in France and come back with two children.”

The opera moves the legendary story forward 100 years, setting it in the time of the Civil War when comical Puritans seize Haddon Hall from its rightful owner but then lose it when King Charles II returns to his throne.

One of the Puritans is played by Chris Hannant, from Wirksworth. He is doing his best to keep the identity of his role secret from his wife, enlisting the help of his eight-year-old-daughter Eleanor to help him handle a rather tricky prop.

Chris said: “The hardest part of the role is not telling my wife - I want to see her reaction when she watches the show.”

Without spoiling the surprise too much, he says his character is a fraud and a windbag who enjoys a drink.

Haddon Hall runs at the Medway Centre from June 12-14 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £10 and available from Lesley Kraushaar, tel. 01629 812344 or 07917 881776 or the Medway Centre on 01629 813638.