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February 24, 2010

A salute to baritone John Reed, eminent Gilbert and Sullivan specialist

Somehow, even in the age of the instant message and 24-hour news cycle, I failed to notice  reports of John Reed's death on Feb. 13, the English singer/actor's 94th birthday, in Halifax, Yorkshire.

For any fan of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, this comic baritone means a great deal. He was a major presence for decades on the G&S scene, from the early 1950s, when he made his debut with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in London, on into more recent decades as a performer and director in the U.S. and England. He was featured in numerous recordings of the operettas, invariably shining. He just seemed to have the G&S style in his DNA.

After retiring from the stage, he directed the West Yorkshire Savoyards, doing his bit, as long as health permitted, to keep the great tradition alive. He's survived by his partner of 52 years, Nicholas Kerri.

(Mr. Reed's passing reminds me that the G&S operettas have been energetically preserved in Baltimore, where the Young Victorian Theatre Company will celebrate its 40th anniversary season this summer with "Iolanthe.") 

I know some people are resistant to the charms of the G&S canon. They are

to be pitied, poor dears. The rest of us are fortunate that we can get a continued kick out Gilbert's wordplay (if not necessarily all of his plots) and Sullivan's invariably sparkling, elegant music.

We can also consider ourselves fortunate to have recordings and films that document Mr. Reed's extraordinary contribution to the preservation of the G&S legacy. In memory of this endearing artist, here's a sample of his craft:    

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:38 AM | | Comments (2)


This is very sad news indeed, especially for those like me who love G&S and grew up eager to see as many performances as possible. The ultimate for me was the period in the late 60's when the D'Oyly Carte toured the U.S. I saw them in Washington while I was a UM student. John Reed was at his peak in those days and a marvel to watch and listen to.

In 2001 I visited London and saw the "new" D'Oyly Carte at the Savoy in its last season before closing for good. Ironically, the show was Iolanthe, which you mention is coming this summer to Young Vic. That trip reminded me of Mr. Reed's live performances that I saw and the various recordings and videos of him that I have or have seen.

There are those who like to rank the actors in what is referred to as "the Koko roles", which Mr. Reed excelled at. Many say Martyn Green or George Grossmith, but it is undeniable that Mr. Reed belongs in that esteemed company, if not at the top by himself. His passing will be mourned by Gilbert and Sullivan fans worldwide.

Thanks for bringing this sad news to my attention. It will color my thoughts at the Young Vic this summer.

And thank you for taking the time to share your eloquent thoughts. TIM

Tim: I saw John Reed in Iolanthe and (I think) Ruddigore just before the demise of Doyle Carte back in the 70's when they were performing at the Sadler Wells theatre. Had a great time at the Harlequin pub around the corner where I met the violist in the orchestra who introduced me to some of his mates.

Bob G

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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