ALL Souls’ Amateur Operatic Society began in 1961 when a small group of people got together to see how much interest there would be in putting on a musical production at All Souls’ Church, Haley Hill, Halifax.
The first show, The Mikado, was performed the following year and... the rest is history!
For the first few years only Gilbert & Sullivan shows were performed but a break from tradition came with Jacques Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne in 1969. Ironically, it was a repeat of this show in 1984 that led to the society moving out of All Souls’ Church.
All Souls’ information officer Jean Murphy says: “Alternative rehearsal rooms were found in Halifax town centre, and the premises were renovated by members of the society for the building and storing of scenery, storing of costumes and, most importantly, rehearsals and social events.
“Unfortunately, this was burnt down in 1992 and a new place, also refurbished for use, subsequently suffered from a fire in 1998. I hasten to add that neither fire was the fault of the society! We now build scenery only in the re-roofed portion of that building – known as Scene III – and rehearse at the Studio Rooms, St James Street.”
Jean says the overall performance and musicianship of the society has been widely acclaimed and members strive to maintain high standards of performance and musicianship.
“In the past we have been awarded the Halifax Plc Shield for the best local performance in 1993 for The Merry Widow, in 1995 for La Belle Helene and in 1997 for Die Fledermaus,” she says.
“The society has also ‘premiered’ a number of shows in the area over the years, namely Karl Millocker’s The Beggar Student and Jacques Offenbach’s Bluebeard.”
As the years have flown past, many stalwart members have decided to take a bit more of a back seat.
Sheila Moulds, a founding member of the society, retired from the society two years ago, missing only one show in all her years as musical director.
But the society was then fortunate to secure the services of Colin Akers in that role.
A number of other long-serving members - Arthur and Norma Talbot, Geoff Taylor, Richard Sanderson and Elizabeth Wood, to name but a few - also retired recently, which was a great loss to the society, says Jean. Only one member who joined the society in the 1960s, Alison Shedden, is still taking to the stage.
Jean says: “We are pleased, however, that Sheila Moulds and Arthur Talbot are now joint presidents of the society, a position that had been vacant since the death of the previous President, The Lord Savile, in 2008.
“The society is also known for having two grand pianos as its ‘orchestra’ for shows, and it was with regret that well known and respected local pianist, Peter Greenwood, who accompanied the society for many years, retired three years ago due to ill health.
“We now have a young talented 17 year old, Matthew MacGregor, playing the piano for rehearsals and he will be joined at The Playhouse for the 50th Anniversary production of The Merry Widow by Christopher Pulleyn, who comes back to the society after a number of years - his mother played Anna in the 2003 production of The Merry Widow.
“Although the society makes every effort to fill as many roles as possible from its own membership, open auditions attract new members, singers, actors and helpers. Unfortunately, new and more recent shows continue to attract and monopolise the younger singers/actors and it is becoming increasingly difficult, and expensive, to put on the type of show for which All Souls’ is known.”
In addition to the annual show in March/April (dates allocated by The Playhouse) the society also performs concerts in October – its annual Accent on Song evening – bringing together a range of music from musicals to opera, from traditional to classical, including a taste of the following year’s show.
The society itself is a registered charity, but regularly donates cash from these concerts to other well-deserving local charities.
Jean says: “I joined the society for an Accent on Song at the Civic Theatre in 1982 and have only missed one show since then.
“I enjoy going to rehearsals on a Thursday, not only because of the friendship and fun, but also because concentrating on the music makes me forget the stresses of work.
“I enjoy being on stage – preferably mingling in the chorus – as I can pretend to be somebody completely different.
“Learning the music and words can be difficult and frustrating, but the performances make it all worthwhile.”
HALIFAX All Souls’ AOS production of The Merry Widow, by Franz Lehar, opens on Tuesday at The Playhouse, King Cross Street, Halifax (7.15pm) and runs until next Saturday. Ring 01484 721617 for advance tickets (£13.50 and £11 concessions) or call The Playhouse box office on 01422 365998. Jean says: “Having now seen a full run through of the show it seems that Judith, the producer, has introduced a lot of humour into the show – Women, Women, Women is not to be missed!”