Review: Newport Operatic Society The First One Hundred Years by David Kenny (Saron Publishing)

Andy Howells reviews a new publication commemorating the first 100 years of Newport Operatic Society.

In the last hundred years there has been a major shift in how we enjoy our entertainment. 100 years ago, a trip to the local theatre was a luxury in escapism for those who could indulge in it, be it a play or a musical. Provincial theatre companies had the task of bringing the great West End shows to your doorstep with a cast of performers that were handpicked from hundreds of would-be performers.

Such was the case for Newport Operatic Society, born in the land of song and originally staging the works of Gilbert & Sullivan. The society frequently delighted full houses at Newport’s legendary Lyceum Theatre and Newport Empire in its formative years with presentations of The Mikado, The Gondoliers and Desert Song among others.  Many of the society’s productions such as White Horse Inn and The Pajama Game have not been performed on stage for decades, purely because times and attitudes have changed, but thanks to David Kenny’s new booklet, Newport Operatic Society – The First Hundred Years such times are recalled and recorded for posterity.

The author himself was a member of the Society for over a quarter of the century, so, has been in a good place to collate stories and recollections of the formative years of The Operatic from several society members over the last five decades.

Newport Operatic Society ladies chorus for the companies debut presentation – The Mikado
Presentation of The Vagabond King Coincided with Royal Historical Event

Like with most theatre productions, we do not have the benefit of watching theatre presentations again. So, recalling long gone theatres and sadly departed performers can be quite difficult. However, David Kenny does manage to take the reader back to the early years of the Operatic with some wonderful anecdotes complimented with photographs of key players in the growth of the society’s success.

Former Operatic members are permitted an encore appearance courtesy of several photographs illustrating the booklet from the societies 100 years, while the occasional performance is recalled via snippets of reviews from Argus critics.

Male chorus from Newport Operatic Society presentation of South Pacific, 1973

The occasional performance is also brought to life, the most vivid, a 1936 presentation of The Vagabond King that takes a literal twist when an important Royal radio broadcast from Edward VIII was scheduled into the interval to prevent Lyceum ticket buyers from staying home. The resulting historical announcement of the King’s abdication contributed to a surreal reaction from the audience for the second half and must have been of absolute anecdotal “I was there” value for anyone in attendance for decades afterwards.

An essential insight into the formative years of Newport Operatic Society and a timely reminder of its importance during the 20th century.

  • Newport Operatic Society – The First 100 years by David Kenny is available from Saron Publishers.

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