Stratford Videos
H.M.S. Pinafore (1981)
The Mikado (1982)
Gondoliers (1983)
Iolanthe (1984)
Pirates (1985)
Opera Australia Videos
The Mikado (1988)
Gondoliers (1989)
Patience (1995)
Trial (2005)
Pinafore (2005)
Pirates (2006)

The Stratford Festival Videos

In the 1980s, several new G&S productions were given at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. All were extremely creative productions that took vast liberties with the text and orchestration. Most G&S fans dislike them, because the liberties seem to be taken for their own sake, rather than for any compelling reason. Five Stratford productions have been released on video: H.M.S. Pinafore, The Mikado, The Gondoliers, Iolanthe, and The Pirates of Penzance.

Scott Hurst clarified the chronology of the productions (as opposed to the video releases):

Stratford DVD Cover
DVD box set containing three of the Stratford videos

The first of the G&S operettas to be presented at the Stratford in the 1980s, (1981 to be exact) was H.M.S. Pinafore, which was choreographed by Brian Macdonald and was televised on the CBC. Then in 1982 Brian directed and choreographed his remarkable production of The Mikado for the first time. It was filmed in studio after the season ended, unfortunately without the benefit of a live audience for timing or energy. The next season, 1983, the Festival remounted The Mikado and mounted a new production of The Gondoliers in rep. This too was televised by the CBC, though this time it was filmed live in performance which, for my taste, made for a far superior remembrance of a lovely production. Then in 1984 the Festival brought back both of these shows and had Brian mount a new production of Iolanthe This too was televised, with some scenes done live and others shot later in the theatre itself.

Then in 1985 (I know because I was in that production) the Festival mounted Brian's final G&S production of the 1980s, The Pirates of Penzance. It was shot totally live in performance and had a good deal of energy to it. The only odd thing about the broadcast version is that they chose to use different underscoring for the curtain call, which was very fast paced and staged to within an inch of it's life... the music they chose to use was totally contrary to the mood of the curtain call.

Anyhow, the long and the short of it is that the filming and chronology of those five Stratford (Brian Macdonald) musicals is: H.M.S. Pinafore, The Mikado, The Gondoliers, Iolanthe and The Pirates of Penzance.

The conventional wisdom on these productions is exemplified by these comments from Bruce Miller:

Stratford DVD Cover

These productions typify a current trend in theater, in which we see the rise of the director-as-auteur. Stage Director Brian Macdonald goes far beyond presenting the operas as left to us by the authors. He has decided to "improve" them by altering not only the text but the kind of humor and satire in the pieces to suit his tastes, which are inferior to those of both Gilbert and Sullivan. The musical alterations are uniformly inferior to Sullivan's original orchestration; they are glitzy and unsubtle, and add nothing to the originals.

It is unfortunate that the director could not leave well enough alone, for his actors are thoroughly committed and often brilliant in their characterizations, and much of Macdonald's production has excellence in technique and presentation, for which he and the producing company deserve much credit. Unfortunately, Macdonald is not the brilliant author he obviously thinks he is.

The Stratford Festival videos are available at their web site,

The site also lists a 57-minute video from the National Film Board of Canada, Musical Magic, described thus:

Internationally renowned stage director and choreographer Brian Macdonald is featured in this exhilarating look at behind-the-scenes activity as The Stratford Festival Theatre mounts three Gilbert and Sulllivan operettas for its 1984 season.

I believe that this documentary is included as an extra on the DVD of the Stratford Mikado.

The Opera Australia Videos

Opera Australia have also done a number of G&S productions, although they seem invariably to import the staging from somewhere else. Their Mikado and Gondoliers are almost exactly the same productions as their Stratford counterparts, while their 1995 Patience is based on the 1967 English National Opera production. I believe their Pirates (2006) has been seen in a number of other cities, as well. There is also a 2005 production of Pinafore and Trial, for which I lack detailed information.

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