Llangollen & District Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society

How it all started - based on extracts from contemporary editions of the Llangollen Advertiser

IT STARTED as an idea floated in the local paper. And seven months later it became dramatic and musical reality on the stage of the town's pavilion.

Llangollen and District Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society was born out of an article published in the Llangollen Advertiser on September 25, 1908. In the slot headed "Topic of the Week", the unidentified writer describes how, at the last of that year's Al Fresco Concerts a few evenings earlier, a Mr James Clarke had suggested that during the coming winter months the musicians of the town - orchestral as well as vocal - "should institute a series of practises with a view to catering for the public taste for light opera in the locality." This, said the writer of the article, was "unquestionably a field worthy of exploitation." He added: "We trust (it) might be taken to heart in the right quarters and effectively acted upon." The author goes on to give several good reasons why the idea for a new society might work for the town:  An "excellent orchestra" had been organised and had already given performances of "a very high order". So meritorious, in fact, that praise had been drawn from some of the "highest musical authorities". Enthusiasm for choral singing in Llangollen had reached a "high water mark" - the recent visit of the National Eisteddfod being said to be accountable for this - and it was believed that unless something positive was done to hold together the "splendid choir" that had been organised, it might soon become "little more than a very pleasant memory." What was needed now, the article went on to suggest, was a talented organiser to weld together the best singers from that choir. It is here that the concept of having the proposed new society exercise its talents on the then enormously popular operas of Gilbert and Sullivan is first mentioned. The writer says: "A certain amount of histrionic and elocutionary ability is, of course, necessary in order to make any of Gilbert and Sullivan's operas 'go' with the requisite 'swing' but this is all procurable and might be readily trained in Llangollen and, in Mr Clarke's opinion, such training would mean a very valuable educational experience for the young people of the town and district  ... all this need not detract in any way from the cultivation of the higher forms of classical music or of those other departments of combined singing in which Welsh choirs excel."

The article in the Advertiser must have sounded the right note with those of a musical bent in the area because a few weeks later, in its edition of October 16, the paper published a public notice stating that a meeting was to be held in the board room of the town hall at 8pm the following Wednesday to "consider the desirability of forming an amateur operatic society for Llangollen and district" and cordially inviting all those interested in the proposed movement to attend.

In its edition two days after the meeting was held at the town, the Advertiser was reporting that it had been "very largely and influentially" attended by musicians and others, all presided over by Mr Henry Lloyd, of Glandwr. At the meeting it had been decided to consider the best steps to take towards the formation of an operatic society. A number of fine speeches had been delivered in which it was pointed out that several towns in North Wales, "with not a tithe of the musical and histrionic ability that Llangollen could command" already had their own societies which were giving high-class performances of operatic works. Amid cheers, it had been announced at the meeting that the services of Mr C Morton Bailey had been secured as musical director and those of Mr Henry Ninnis as stage manager. It was also agreed that the new society's first production should be Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore.

The Advertiser's edition of November 13 carried a public notice - for the first time under the heading of "Llangollen Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society" - stating that the first rehearsal for HMS Pinafore would be held at the pavilion the following Monday at 8pm and that "ladies and gentlemen desirous of joining" were requested to attend the second test on the same evening at 7.30pm." It was signed by J Percy Clarke and J E Thomas, Joint Hon. Secretaries.

Those first rehearsals must have gone well because in its editions of March 26 and April 9, 1909, the Llangollen Advertiser carried advertisements for the "Grand Performance" of HMS Pinafore to be staged by the newly-formed society at the pavilion on Thursday and Friday evenings, April 15 and 16. Providing the musical accompaniment would be "members of the Liverpool Symphony Orchestra."

And so it was that in its edition of April 23, 1909 the Advertiser carried an extremely lengthy criticism of that very first production by the society. The reviewer writes that the show had been an "outstanding success" and that "competent musical critics declare the performances by Llangollen Society to have been fully equal to anything produced by amateurs outside London, and superior to a good deal for which professional touring companies are responsible." The reviewer heaps lavish praise on Henry Lloyd, who played the part of Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty. Mr Lloyd, it was said, "had evidently gained by careful study of the character an adequate conception of the whimsical intentions of its creator." In common with every other principle character, Mr Lloyd had received recalls to the stage "too numerous to call" by the audience, which had been "most thoroughly and completely deserved." Also singled out for praise was Ilid Thomas in the part of Ralph Rackstraw whose "tenor voice of singular sweetness" had rung out from the stage "despite an affection of the throat." Of the ladies in the production, Blodwen Edwards, appearing as Josephine, was lauded by the reviewer for her soprano voice of "great sweetness and purity." The orchestra was described as "splendid" and the costumes, supplied by Messrs G C and W May, were said to be "in every way worthy of the high reputation of the firm." The man who was in charge of dramatic management and also prepared the scenery, Mr Ninnis, also receives a warm pat on the back for his efforts from the reviewer, who ends by saying: "We understand that a repetition of the opera will be given in autumn and in the meantime another work may be taken in hand, and from the taste of the quality as a musical organiser Mr G Morton Bailey ... we feel justified in predicting further triumphs for the society under his able guidance."

Edited by Phil Robinson,

Transcribed by Michael Jones.

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