In 1939, with Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas growing an international following since their deaths, a group of Montreal West citizens decided that their town should have its own amateur theatrical company dedicated to the performance of these sparklingly witty works, and our Society was born. The founders, including the then mayor of Montreal West James R. Pearson, invited New Zealand born Harry and Doris Norris to serve as the fledgling society’s first musical director and stage director, respectively. This was an auspicious beginning, as both were veterans of the famed D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, the original, English company of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas: Harry was a former conductor, and Doris had performed onstage as a member of the chorus. The Norris’s approach was to recreate the production style of the D’Oyly Carte company not only in terms of staging and music, but through set and costume design as well.
Montreal West Operatic Society, Canada’s Premier Gilbert & Sullivan Theatre Company, was founded in 1939 by a group of citizens of the Town of Montreal West. Harry Norris, a conductor of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, the parent Gilbert & Sullivan Production Company in England, along with his wife Doris, a former performer with the Company, were the original Music and Stage Directors. Their first production, “The Pirates of Penzance” took place in the spring of 1940 and annual productions, encompassing all the operettas with the exception of two, “The Grand Duke” and “Thespis”, have entertained Montrealers and audiences from many surrounding municipalities ever since. Offstage events include singing Christmas Carols in the streets of Montreal West as well as other concerts and tours.
The inaugural production, The Pirates of Penzance, was presented in the spring of 1940. Since then, in an unbroken string of annual performances, the Society has produced all but two of Gilbert and Sullivan’s fourteen operettas; these two exceptions are Thespis, which cannot be produced in its original version as the only surviving musical score was destroyed in a London fire many years ago; and The Grand Duke, the last (and least popular) Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration, which is rarely performed today. In 1997, another milestone was added to the Society’s history books when we became the first Canadian group to perform at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, Philadelphia, with our production of Utopia Limited, giving us the opportunity to compete against some of the best Gilbert and Sullivan troupes in the world. We were thrilled when our principal, Anita Hayes won their award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of The Lady Sophy.