FOR many, asking them to think of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera would conjure images of The Mikado or HMS Pinafore and the multitude of iconic songs and silly, light-hearted plots.

Very few would pick out Castle Bunthorne, the setting of Patience, and its cast of love-sick maidens, aesthetic poets and heavy dragoons. Yet when Patience was first performed it proved to be one of their most popular productions, due to its lampooning of the Aesthetic movement and its many artists, writers and poets, including Oscar Wilde.

This is perhaps one reason why it has not endured in popularity when compared to other Gilbert and Sullivan operas, on account of the topical nature of its subject matter. Nevertheless, the fact this happened is a shame as Patience features one of the pair’s most intimate plots and engaging casts, and displays them at their satirical best. Not to mention it also features some of the finest patter songs in the G&S repertoire.

Having last performed Patience in 1979, York Opera felt the time was right to bring this show back and remind audiences of its timelessness at York Theatre Royal next month.

At its heart is a classic love-triangle story between Patience, Bunthorne and Grosvenor. This is complicated by the chorus of lovesick maidens who are obsessively devoted to first Bunthorne, to his delight, and then to Grosvenor, to his horror, and the chorus of Dragoon guards to whom the lovesick maidens are engaged. The characters flit from love interest to love interest in a suitably ludicrous manner before everything ends happily, for most characters.

The need for a chorus to have a considerable involvement in the show had a huge influence on the decision to perform it. The women drape across the stage in a truly melodramatic manner while the men march in tight formation. There are plenty of opportunities for interaction between the larger-than-life cast, and the music includes some of the most rousing choruses in the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire.

This will be the first Gilbert and Sullivan light opera to be performed by York Opera in the refurbished Theatre Royal, and the first show they will perform there since their golden anniversary celebrations last year. In some respects, it is the first show of a new era for the group, with many new faces joining the group both in the cast and chorus, proving that there continues to be an appetite for the opportunities York Opera provides for performers and audiences in the city.

The show holds strong memories for York Opera chairman and co-director Hilary Dyson, who first performed Patience when she was at school. "It was the first show which exposed me not just to Gilbert and Sullivan, but to opera as a genre," she says.

"Had it not been for my turn as a lovesick maiden and being paired up with my heavy dragoon, then I may never have found an appreciation for opera which ultimately led to me joining this wonderful organisation. We can only hope that this performance similarly inspires others in the audience."

York Opera’s production of Patience will be performed at the York Theatre Royal on November 8 to 10 at 7.30pm and on November 11 at 4.30pm. Tickets can be booked on 01904 623568 or at

By Michael Foster