Introducing the D’Oyly Carte Archive

Theatre and Performance
August 11, 2016

Curator of Popular Entertainment Catherine Haill gives us a brief history of one of the jewels in the crown of the V&A Theatre and Performance collections.

The D’Oyly Carte Archive is one of the most significant archives in the world relating to the operas of W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) and their production and management by Richard D’Oyly Carte (1844-1901).  Given to the V&A by Dame Bridget D’Oyly Carte (1908-1985), the grand-daughter of Richard D’Oyly Carte, it includes prompt scripts, correspondence, photographs, costume and set designs, legal documents, business books, cuttings albums, music sheets and related ephemera and objects concerning D’Oyly Carte’s production of operas by Gilbert and Sullivan and other composers and librettists, and his general business affairs.

S.2893-2015 Costume design The Mikado; Costume design by Wilhelm for a Japanese Gentleman in The Mikado, Savoy Theatre 14 March 1885 Wilhelm (1858-1925) London 1885 Gouache on board
Costume design for a Japanese Gentleman in The Mikado by Wilhelm (1858-1925)  Gouache on board, 1885.  Museum number: S.2893-2015  Archive ref: THM/73/20/8

Born in London Richard D’Oyly Carte was a musician who started his career working in his father’s music publishing and instrument manufacturing business, and had his own operatic and concert agency by 1874.  It was as the manager of the Royalty Theatre in 1875 though that D’Oyly Carte began his association with Gilbert and Sullivan, commissioning Trial by Jury from them for the theatre, having seen their first work Thespis, or the Gods Grown Old at the Gaiety Theatre in 1871.

Pages from an Iolanthe prompt book, marked with text corrections and movement diagrams by stage manager J. M. Gordon (1856-1944), around 1922-1939.  Archive ref: THM/73/18/22

Without D’Oyly Carte’s diplomacy, tact, business acumen and financial skill it is doubtful whether the collaboration of Gilbert and Sullivan could have started again after Thespis, or lasted so long. Without the brilliance of the operas, D’Oyly Carte would not have been able to build the Savoy Theatre in 1881 to stage their hugely successful works, or the Savoy Hotel he built on the adjacent site in 1888, or the Royal English Opera House, now the Palace Theatre that he opened in 1891.  The collaboration of the three men resulted in worldwide success, the foundation of a British style of comic opera, and a remarkable archive that is catalogued online and can be consulted by appointment at the archives of the V&A’s Department of Theatre & Performance.

Set design for Acts I and II of The Sorcerer, drawn by Percy Home (dates unknown) Charcoal and crayon over pencil on paper, early 20th Century.  Museum number: S.3851-2015 Archive ref: THM/73/20/2

The catalogue for the D’Oyly Carte Archive is available here

See more digitised images of objects from the D’Oyly Carte Archive here

Read more about the process of cataloguing the D’Oyly Carte Archive here


About the author

Theatre and Performance
August 11, 2016

Assistant Curator in the Theatre and Performance collections at Blythe House. Currently cataloguing the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company archive.

More from Veronica Castro
0 comments so far, view or add yours

Add a comment

Please read our privacy policy to understand what we do with your data.


Join today and enjoy unlimited free entry to all V&A exhibitions, Members-only previews and more

Find out more


Find inspiration in our incredible range of exclusive gifts, jewellery, books, fashion, prints & posters and much more...

Find out more