Rupert D'Oyly Carte (3 November 1876 – 12 September 1948) was an English hotelier, theatre owner and impresario, best known as proprietor of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and Savoy Hotel from 1913 to 1948.
An impresario is a person who organizes and often finances concerts, plays, or operas, performing a role similar to that of an artist manager or a film or television producer. The term “impresario” was used by the Spanish, and then English-speaking settlers of the Pacific Northwest to describe, “one who brought a new community into being and managed affairs to ensure its prosperity.”
The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company is a professional light opera company that staged Gilbert and Sullivan's Savoy operas nearly year-round in the UK and sometimes toured in Europe, North America and elsewhere, from the 1870s until 1982. The company was revived for short seasons and tours from 1988 to 2003, and with Scottish Opera it later co-produced two productions.
The Savoy is a luxury hotel located in the Strand in the City of Westminster in central London, England. Built by the impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte with profits from his Gilbert and Sullivan opera productions, it opened on 6 August 1889. It was the first in the Savoy group of hotels and restaurants owned by Carte's family for over a century. The Savoy was the first luxury hotel in Britain, introducing electric lights throughout the building, electric lifts, bathrooms in most of the lavishly furnished rooms, constant hot and cold running water and many other innovations. Carte hired César Ritz as manager and Auguste Escoffier as chef de cuisine; they established an unprecedented standard of quality in hotel service, entertainment and elegant dining, attracting royalty and other rich and powerful guests and diners.
Son of the impresario and hotelier Richard D'Oyly Carte, Rupert inherited the family businesses from his stepmother Helen. After serving in World War I, he took steps to revitalise the opera company, which had not appeared in Central London since 1909, hiring new designers and conductors to present fresh productions of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas in seasons in the West End. The new productions generally retained the original text and music of the operas. Carte launched international and provincial tours, as well as the London seasons, and he released the first complete recordings of the operas. He also rebuilt the half-century-old Savoy Theatre in 1929, opening the house with a season of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Richard D'Oyly Carte was an English talent agent, theatrical impresario, composer and hotelier during the latter half of the Victorian era. He built two of London's theatres and a hotel empire, while also establishing an opera company that ran continuously for over a hundred years and a management agency representing some of the most important artists of the day.
Helen Carte Boulter, also known as Helen Lenoir, was the second wife of impresario and hotelier Richard D'Oyly Carte. She is best known for her stewardship of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and Savoy Hotel from the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th century.
World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.
As an hotelier, Carte built on his father's legacy, expanding the Savoy Hotel, refreshing the other hotels and restaurants in the Savoy group, including Claridge's and the Berkeley Hotel, and introducing cabaret and dance bands that became internationally famous. He also increased marketing activities, including foreign marketing, of the hotels.
The Berkeley is a five-star deluxe hotel, located in Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London. It is managed by Maybourne Hotel Group, who also manage Claridge's and The Connaught in Mayfair, London.
P. G. Wodehouse based a character in his novels, Psmith, on a Wykehamist schoolboy whom he identified as Rupert D'Oyly Carte. At his death, Carte passed the opera company and hotels to his only surviving child, Bridget D'Oyly Carte. The Gilbert and Sullivan operas, nurtured by Carte and his family for over a century, continue to be produced frequently today throughout the English-speaking world and beyond.
Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was an English author and one of the most widely read humorists of the 20th century. Born in Guildford, the third son of a British magistrate based in Hong Kong, Wodehouse spent happy teenage years at Dulwich College, to which he remained devoted all his life. After leaving school, he was employed by a bank but disliked the work and turned to writing in his spare time. His early novels were mostly school stories, but he later switched to comic fiction, creating several regular characters who became familiar to the public over the years. They include the jolly gentleman of leisure Bertie Wooster and his sagacious valet Jeeves; the immaculate and loquacious Psmith; Lord Emsworth and the Blandings Castle set; the Oldest Member, with stories about golf; and Mr Mulliner, with tall tales on subjects ranging from bibulous bishops to megalomaniac movie moguls.
Rupert Psmith is a recurring fictional character in several novels by British comic writer P. G. Wodehouse, being one of Wodehouse's best-loved characters.
Winchester College is an independent boarding school for boys in the British public school tradition, situated in Winchester, Hampshire. It has existed in its present location for over 600 years. It is the oldest of the original seven English public schools defined by the Clarendon Commission and regulated by the Public Schools Act 1868.
Rupert D'Oyly Carte was born in Hampstead, London, the younger son of the impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte and his first wife Blanche (née Prowse), who died in 1885. Like his brother, Lucas (1872–1907), he was given his father's middle name. He was educated at Winchester College, noted as among the most intellectually rigorous of English public schools.He then worked for a firm of accountants before joining his father as an assistant in 1894.
Hampstead, commonly known as Hampstead Village, is an area of London, England, 4 miles (6.4 km) northwest of Charing Cross. Part of the London Borough of Camden, it is known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary associations and for Hampstead Heath, a large, hilly expanse of parkland. It has some of the most expensive housing in the London area. The village of Hampstead has more millionaires within its boundaries than any other area of the United Kingdom.
In a newspaper interview given in the year of his death, Rupert recalled that as a young man he was entrusted, during his father's illness, with helping W. S. Gilbert with the first revival of The Yeomen of the Guard at the Savoy Theatre.He was elected a director of the Savoy Hotel Limited in 1898, joining his father and Sir Arthur Sullivan, who had served on the board since the Savoy Hotel was built. By 1899 he was assistant managing director. Richard D'Oyly Carte died in 1901, and Rupert's stepmother, the former Helen Lenoir, who had married Richard in 1888, assumed full control of most of the family businesses, which she had increasingly controlled during her husband's decline. Rupert's elder brother, Lucas, a barrister, was not involved in the family businesses and died of tuberculosis, aged 34.
Sir William Schwenck Gilbert was an English dramatist, librettist, poet and illustrator best known for his collaboration with composer Arthur Sullivan, which produced fourteen comic operas. The most famous of these include H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and one of the most frequently performed works in the history of musical theatre, The Mikado. The popularity of these works was supported for over a century by year-round performances of them, in Britain and abroad, by the repertory company that Gilbert, Sullivan and their producer Richard D'Oyly Carte founded, the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. These Savoy operas continue to be frequently performed in the English-speaking world and beyond.
The Yeomen of the Guard; or, The Merryman and His Maid, is a Savoy Opera, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It premiered at the Savoy Theatre on 3 October 1888, and ran for 423 performances. This was the eleventh collaboration of fourteen between Gilbert and Sullivan.
The Savoy Theatre is a West End theatre in the Strand in the City of Westminster, London, England. The theatre opened on 10 October 1881 and was built by Richard D'Oyly Carte on the site of the old Savoy Palace as a showcase for the popular series of comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, which became known as the Savoy operas as a result.
In 1903, at the age of 27, Rupert took over his late father's role as chairman of the Savoy group, which included the Savoy Hotel, Claridge's, The Berkeley Hotel, Simpson's-in-the-Strand and the Grand Hotel in Rome. At this time, the whole group was officially valued at £2,221,708.He immediately issued £300,000 of debentures to raise capital for a large extension to the Savoy (the "East Block"). Like his father, Carte was willing to go to great lengths to secure the best employees for his hotels. When Claridge's needed a new chef in 1904, he secured the services of François Bonnaure, formerly chef at the Élysée Palace in Paris. The press speculated on how much Carte must have paid to persuade Bonnaure to join him, and compared the younger Carte's audacity with his father's coup in securing Paris's most famous maître d'hôtel, M. Joseph, a few years earlier.
Between 1906 and 1909, Helen Carte,Rupert's stepmother, staged two repertory seasons at the Savoy Theatre. Directed by Gilbert and received with much success, they revitalised the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which had been in decline after Richard D'Oyly Carte's death. In 1912, when theatre censorship was under discussion in Britain, Carte was strongly in favour of retaining censorship, because it gave managements complete certainty about what they could or could not stage without fear of interference by the police or others. He joined with other London theatre managers, including Herbert Beerbohm Tree, George Edwardes and Arthur Bourchier in signing a petition for the retention of censorship. In the same year, together with Herbert Sullivan and theatre managers including Beerbohm Tree and Squire Bancroft, Carte was an instigator of a memorial to W. S. Gilbert at Charing Cross. In 1913, Rupert's stepmother Helen Carte died. She left all her holdings in the Savoy Hotel group, the Savoy Theatre and the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company to her stepson.
After London seasons in 1906–07 and 1908–09, the opera company did not perform in the West End again until 1919, although it continued to tour in Great Britain.According to the theatre writer H. M. Walbrook, "Through the years of the Great War they continued to be on tour through the country, drawing large and grateful audiences everywhere. They helped to sustain the spirits of the people during that stern period, and by so doing they helped to win the victory." Nevertheless, Carte later recalled, "I went and watched the Company playing at a rather dreary theatre down in the suburbs of London. I thought the dresses looked dowdy.... I formed the view that new productions should be prepared, with scenery and dresses to the design of first class artists who understood the operas but who would produce a décor attractive to the new generation." In a 1922 memoir, Henry Lytton, having admired Richard D'Oyly Carte's keen eye for stagecraft, added, "That 'eye' for stagecraft ... has been inherited in a quite remarkable degree by his son, Mr. Rupert D'Oyly Carte. He, too, has the gift of taking in the details of a scene at a glance, and knowing instinctively just what must be corrected". In 1911, the company hired J. M. Gordon as stage manager, and Carte later promoted him to director. Gordon, under Carte's supervision, preserved the company's traditions in exacting detail for 28 years.
During World War I Carte served in the Royal Navy,and no renovation work could be undertaken. On his return, he put his aims into effect. In an interview in The Observer in August 1919 he set out his policy for staging the operas: "They will be played precisely in their original form, without any alteration to the words, or any attempt to bring them up to date." This uncompromising declaration was modified in a later interview in which he said, "the plays are all being restaged ... Gilbert's words will be unaltered, though there will be some freshness in the method of rendering them. Artists must have scope for their individuality, and new singers cannot be tied down to imitate slavishly those who made successes in the old days."
Carte's first London season, at the Prince's Theatre, 1919–20, featured ten of the thirteen extant Gilbert and Sullivan operas.These included Princess Ida , which had its first London performances since the original production. The new productions retained the text and music of the original 1870s and 1880s productions, and director J. M. Gordon preserved much of Gilbert's original direction. As his parents had done, Carte licensed the operas to the J. C. Williamson company and to amateur companies, but he required all licensees to present them in approved productions that closely followed the libretto, score and D'Oyly Carte production stagings. In an interview with The Times in 1922, Carte said that the Savoy "tradition" was an expression that was frequently misunderstood: "It did not by any means imply any hidebound stage 'business' or an attempt to standardize the performances of artists so as to check their individual method of expression. All that it implied, in his view, was the highest possible standard of production – with especial attention to clear enunciation.... Many people seemed to think that Gilbert believed in absolutely set methods but this was not by any means the case. He did not hesitate to alter productions when they were revived."
Although he had told the press that the original words and music would not be altered, Carte was willing to make changes in certain cases. In 1919–20, he authorised significant cuts and alterations in both Princess Ida and Ruddigore. In 1921 Cox and Box was produced in a drastically cut-down version, to allow it to be played as a companion piece with the shorter Savoy operas. He also authorised changes to Gilbert's text: he wrote to The Times in 1948, "We found recently in America that much objection was taken by coloured persons to a word used twice in The Mikado." The word in question was Gilbert's reference to "nigger" (blackface) minstrels, and Carte asked A. P. Herbert to suggest an acceptable revision. "He made several alternative suggestions, one of which we adopted in America, and it seems well to go on doing so in the British Empire."
Carte commissioned new costumes and scenery throughout his tenure with the company. For his restagings, Carte hired Charles Ricketts to redesign The Gondoliers and The Mikado , the costumes for the latter, created in 1926, being retained by all the company's subsequent designers. Other redesigns were by Percy Anderson, George Sheringham, Hugo Rumbold and Peter Goffin, a protégé of Carte's daughter, Bridget D'Oyly Carte.
For London seasons, Carte often engaged guest conductors, first Geoffrey Toye, then Malcolm Sargent, who examined Sullivan's manuscript scores and purged the orchestral parts of accretions. So striking was the orchestral sound produced by Sargent that the press thought he had retouched the scores, and Carte had the pleasant duty of correcting their error. In a letter to The Times, he noted that "the details of the orchestration sounded so fresh that some of the critics thought them actually new ... the opera was played last night exactly as written by Sullivan."Carte also hired Harry Norris, who started with the touring company, then was Toye's assistant before becoming musical director. Isidore Godfrey joined the company as assistant musical director in 1925 and became musical director in 1929, remaining in that post until 1968.
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The possibilities of the gramophone appealed to Carte. After World War I, he supervised a series of complete recordings of the scores of the operas on the HMV label, beginning with The Mikado in 1918.The first nine sets, made between 1918 and 1925, were recorded by the early acoustic process. At first, guest singers were chosen who were known for their ability to record well on this technology. Later in this series, more of the regular members of the company were featured. With the introduction of electrical recording and its greatly improved recording process and sound, a new round of recordings began in 1927. For the electrical series, Carte's own singers were mostly used. Carte also recognised the potential of radio and worked with the BBC to relay live broadcasts of D'Oyly Carte productions. A 1926 relay of part of a Savoy Theatre performance of The Mikado was heard by up to eight million people. The London Evening Standard noted that this was "probably the largest audience that has ever heard anything at one time in the history of the world." Under Carte, the company continued to make broadcasts during the interwar years. In 1932, The Yeomen of the Guard became the first Gilbert and Sullivan opera to be broadcast in its entirety.
In 1929 Carte had the 48-year-old Savoy Theatre rebuilt and modernised. It closed on 3 June 1929 and was gutted and completely rebuilt to designs by Frank A. Tugwell with décor by Basil Ionides. The old house had three tiers; the new one had two. The seating capacity (which had decreased to 986 from its original 1,292) was restored nearly completely, to 1,200.The theatre reopened 135 days later on 21 October 1929, with The Gondoliers, designed by Ricketts and conducted by Sargent. The critic Ernest Newman wrote, "I can imagine no gayer or more exhilarating frame for the Gilbert and Sullivan operas than the Savoy as it is now."
Despite its historical connection with Gilbert and Sullivan, most of Carte's London seasons were staged not at the Savoy but at two larger houses: the Prince's (now the Shaftesbury) Theatre (1919–20, 1921–22, 1924, 1926, 1942 and Sadler's Wells (1935, 1936, 1937, 1939, 1947 and 1948).His three Savoy Theatre seasons were in 1929–30, 1932–33, and 1941. In addition to year-round UK tours, Carte mounted tours of North America in 1927, 1928–29, 1934–35, 1936–37, 1939 and 1947–48). During the 1936 tour an American critic wrote, "If there were only some way of keeping them on this side permanently. I humbly suggest to the New Deal that it cancel England's war debt in exchange for the D'Oyly Cartians. We should be much the gainer."
Carte was deeply affected by the death of his son Michael in 1932, discussed below. The actor Martyn Green said, "The heart dropped right out of him. His interest in both the operas and the hotel seemed to fade away."Nevertheless, in 1934 the company made a highly successful eight-month North American tour with Green as its new principal comedian, replacing Henry Lytton. Carte gave approval for, and was closely consulted about, a 1938 film version of The Mikado produced and conducted by Geoffrey Toye, starring Green and released by Universal Pictures, but his only new stage production after 1932 was of The Yeomen of the Guard designed in 1939 by Peter Goffin. The re-staging was regarded as radical, but when Goffin took fright at the storm of controversy, Carte told him, "I don't care what they say about the production. I should care if they said nothing."
On 3 September 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, the British government ordered the immediate and indefinite closure of all theatres. Carte cancelled the autumn tour and disbanded the company.Theatres were permitted to reopen from 9 September, but it took some weeks to re-form the company. The company resumed touring in Edinburgh on Christmas Day 1939. It continued to perform throughout the war, but German bombing destroyed the sets and costumes for five of its productions: Cox and Box, The Sorcerer , H.M.S. Pinafore , Princess Ida and Ruddigore. The old productions of Pinafore and Cox and Box were recreated shortly after the war, but the other two operas took longer to rejoin the company's repertory. On the other hand, for the first wartime season, Peter Goffin designed and directed a new production of The Yeomen of the Guard first seen in January 1940, and his new Ruddigore debuted in 1948, shortly after Carte's death. A return of the Company to the U.S. in 1947 was very successful.
From the beginning of his career, Carte maintained the Savoy group in London, disposing in 1919 of the Grand Hotel, Rome, which his father had acquired in 1896.In the 1920s, he ensured that the Savoy continued to attract a fashionable clientele by a continuous programme of modernisation and the introduction of dancing in the large restaurants. The Savoy Orpheans and the Savoy Havana Band were described by The Times as "probably the best-known bands in Europe". In 1927 Carte appointed his opera company's general manager, Richard Collet, to run the cabaret at the Savoy, which began in April 1929.
Until the 1930s, the Savoy group had not thought it necessary to advertise, but Carte and his manager George Reeves-Smith changed their approach. Reeves-Smith told The Times, "We are endeavouring by intensive propaganda work to get more customers; this work is going on in the U.S.A., in Canada, in the Argentine and in Europe."Towards the end of World War II, Carte added to the Savoy group the bombed-out site near Leicester Square of Stone's Chop House, the freehold of which he purchased with a view to reopening the restaurant there on the lines of the group's Simpson's-in-the-Strand. The revived Stone's reopened after Carte's death.
In 1907, Carte married Lady Dorothy Milner Gathorne-Hardy (1889–1977), the third and youngest daughter of the 2nd Earl of Cranbrook, with whom he had a daughter, Bridget, and a son, Michael (1911–1932). Michael was killed at the age of 21 in a motor accident in Switzerland. In 1925, Carte and his wife had a country house built for them in Kingswear, Devon named Coleton Fishacre.The house is still known for its design features and garden with exotic tropical plants. After her parents' divorce, Bridget D'Oyly Carte took over the house, which her father, who lived in London, would visit for long weekends. She sold the house after his death, and it is now owned by the National Trust.
Carte's private pastimes included gardening, notably at Coleton Fishacre, driving and yachting. He was an early devotee of the motor car and incurred the displeasure of the courts more than once. He was fined £3 for driving at 19 miles an hour in 1902,and the following year he was subject to criminal prosecution for knocking down and injuring a child when driving at the speed of 24 miles an hour. He made "every provision for the comfort of the child", who recovered from the accident. In the years after World War I, he was a frequent competitor in yachting races. From 1919 he raced his yacht "Kali" in the Hamble River class. Later, he owned and raced a 19-ton cutter, "Content".
In 1941, Carte divorced his wife for adultery. The suit was undefended.Lady Dorothy moved to the Bahamas and married St Yves de Verteuil, who had been the co-respondent in the divorce case. De Verteuil died in 1963, and Lady Dorothy de Verteuil died in February 1977.
P. G. Wodehouse based the character Psmith, seen in several of his comic novels, on either Rupert D'Oyly Carte or his brother Lucas. In the introduction to his novel Something Fresh, Wodehouse says that Psmith (originally named Rupert, then Ronald) was "based more or less faithfully on Rupert D'Oyly Carte, son of the Savoy theatre man. He was at school with a cousin of mine, and my cousin happened to tell me about his monocle, his immaculate clothes and his habit, when asked by a master how he was, of replying, 'Sir, I grow thinnah and thinnah'."Bridget D'Oyly Carte, however, believed that the Wykehamist schoolboy described to Wodehouse was not her father but his elder brother Lucas, who was also at Winchester College. Rupert D'Oyly Carte was "shy, reserved and at times distinctly taciturn." Psmith, by contrast, is outgoing and garrulous.
Carte died at the Savoy Hotel, after a brief illness, at the age of 71. A memorial service was held for him at the Savoy Chapel on 23 September 1948.His ashes were scattered on the headland at Coleton Fishacre. He left an estate valued at £228,436. At his death, the family businesses passed to his daughter, Bridget D'Oyly Carte. The Savoy hotel group remained under the control of the Carte family and its associates until 1994. Carte's hotels have remained among the most prestigious in London, with the London Evening Standard calling the Savoy "London's most famous hotel" in 2009. The year after Carte's death, the opera company, which had been the personal possession of Richard and Rupert D'Oyly Carte, became a private company, of which Bridget retained a controlling interest and was chairman and managing director. She inherited a company in strong condition, but the rising costs of mounting professional light opera without any government support eventually became unsustainable, and the company closed in 1982.
The Gilbert and Sullivan operas, nurtured by Carte and his family for over a century, continue to be produced frequently today throughout the English-speaking world and beyond.By keeping the Savoy operas popular throughout the mid-20th century, Carte continued to influence the course of the development of modern musical theatre.
The Gondoliers; or, The King of Barataria is a Savoy Opera, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It premiered at the Savoy Theatre on 7 December 1889 and ran for a very successful 554 performances, closing on 30 June 1891. This was the twelfth comic opera collaboration of fourteen between Gilbert and Sullivan.
Coleton Fishacre is a property consisting of a 24-acre (97,000 m2) garden and a house in the Arts and Crafts style, near Kingswear in Devon, England. The property has been in the ownership of the National Trust since 1982.
Rosina Brandram was an English opera singer and actress primarily known for creating many of the contralto roles in the Savoy operas with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.
Sydney Granville was an English singer and actor, best known for his performances in the Savoy Operas with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.
Derek Oldham was an English singer and actor, best known for his performances in the tenor roles of the Savoy Operas with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.
Leo Sheffield, born Arthur Leo Wilson, was an English singer and actor best known for his performances in baritone roles of the Savoy Operas with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.
Nellie Briercliffe was an English singer and actress best known for her performances in the mezzo-soprano roles of the Savoy Operas with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.
Richard Walker, was an English opera singer and actor, best known for his performances in the baritone roles of the Savoy Operas with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. Between 1932 and 1939 Walker was married to D'Oyly Carte chorister Ena Martin. He married the company's principal soprano Helen Roberts in 1944.
John McRobbie Gordon, néJohn McRobbie was a Scottish singer, actor, stage manager and director, known as an influential stage director of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company after the death of W. S. Gilbert.
Fred Billington was an English singer and actor, best known for his performances in baritone roles of the Savoy Operas with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. His career with the company began in 1879 and continued with brief interruptions until his death in 1917.
Dame Bridget Cicely D'Oyly Carte, DBE, was the granddaughter of impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte and the only daughter of Rupert D'Oyly Carte. She was head of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company from 1948 until 1982.
Helen Florence Roberts, later known as Betty Roberts and by her married name, Betty Walker, was an English singer and actress, best known for her performances in soprano roles of the Savoy Operas with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.
François Arsène Cellier, often called Frank, was an English conductor and composer. He is known for his tenure as musical director and conductor of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company during the original runs and early revivals of the Savoy operas.
Hugh Enes Blackmore was a British opera and concert singer and actor. Known as the 'Iron-Throated Tenor', he is best remembered for his performances of tenor roles with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. His career with D'Oyly Carte spanned almost 30 years, as he briefly became the company's stage manager, and was later a teacher of operatic singing and acting.
Louie René was an English singer and actress best remembered for her performances with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in the Gilbert and Sullivan contralto roles at the turn of the 20th century.