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Gilbert & Sullivan – like Lennon & McCartney

By Adrian Chess, German by Martin Pütter

Alsace-based expat Adrian Chess describes how joining Basel’s Gilbert and Sullivan Society helped him settle in his new environment – and explains that the Victorian operetta creators’ works can be adapted to different times.

I arrived in Hégenheim, Alsace, in January 2013, after 35 years in Nantes doing a fair amount of acting and music. The little village I moved to is very quaint with its typical Alsatian houses, especially in the snow that was blanketing much of the area in Christmas-card ambiance at that time. However, like many newcomers who follow their spouses working in Switzerland, and despite my knowledge of French, I was very apprehensive about finding any (for me, read: theatrical) activity in the area and feared total boredom…

How wrong I was! Within two weeks of arrival, my wife had heard through her Basel work grapevine that the Basel Gilbert and Sullivan Society were in need of male singers for “Trial by Jury”, a 45-minute musical comedy set within the framework of a courtroom in Victorian England. In the months that followed, I went to the rehearsals which were surprisingly nearby, despite being in another country, thanks to Basel’s efficient and frequent trams awaiting me at the border. I performed several times in June as a member of the chorus and have never regretted that decision. I have made many new friends, and that is a real godsend to someone arriving in a new and strange environment.

Gilbert and Sullivan had a synergy like Lennon and McCartney and wrote many wonderful and popular operettas with wonderful sing-along melodies and first-class lyrics. They mocked the hypocrisy that was rampant in British Victorian society, some of which is now obsolete, but much of which remains relevant anywhere in the world today.

The Basel G&S Society describes itself as follows:  “The G&S Society Basel is a friendly international group. Our aim is to promote the traditional British humor and music of G&S in the “Dreilaendereck” region. We organize musical events for everyone, singers and non-singers, young and old. We are primarily a social group, not a choir; no singing or musical ability is required. Come along and enjoy a concert, apéro, sing-along / act along, film night or workshop. All are welcome!”

The Society has come to realize that it has to rejuvenate and increase membership to survive, and above all to attract male singers from the area, so that it can balance the gender of the membership and put on new shows that require an equal mix of male and female performers. G&S is flexible operetta that can be adapted to different times (for example, “Trial by Jury” was set in the sixties). The works are therefore not encapsulated in a bygone era.

After Christmas, the G&S Society will be holding two workshops, at least one of which will focus largely on male singers. If you want any info on these workshops, or to learn more about G&S for yourself or your children, please write to contact@savoyards.ch or visit their website: www.savoyards.ch

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