Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Carte, Richard D'Oyly
CARTE, RICHARD D'OYLY (1844–1901), promoter of English opera, born on 3 May 1844 in Greek Street, Soho, was elder son, in a family of six children, of Richard Carte by his wife Eliza, daughter of the Rev. Thomas Jones of the Chapel Royal, Whitehall, who traced her descent to the D'Oyly family. The father, a well-known flautist, was a partner in the firm of Rudall, Carte & Co., of Berners Street, London, army musical instrument makers, and the founder of the 'Musical Directory.' Carte's grandfather, also Richard, served at Waterloo as quartermaster of the Blues. The Carte family, originally of Leicestershire, claimed Norman origin.
At the age of twelve Richard went to University College, where he remained for four years. Having matriculated at London University in 1861, he entered his father's business. In his leisure hours he studied music and composed with some success one-act operettas. Among these were 'Dr. Ambrosius his Secret,' which was produced at St. George's Hall (Aug. 1868), and 'Marie,' which was produced at the Opera Comique (Aug. 1871). Leaving his father's firm during 1870, he set up as a concert agent in Craig's Court. His first clients included Mario, whose farewell tour in 1870 he organised. The agency proved a permanent success, and later under its auspices Archibald Forbes, Oscar Wilde, Sir Henry Morton Stanley, and many others made popular lecture tours. Meanwhile, theatrical management absorbed most of Carte's energies. In 1875 he was manager for Selina Dolaro, who played 'La Perichole' at the Royalty Theatre. By way of successor D'Oyly Carte produced on 25 March 1875 'Trial by Jury,' a comic opera by (Sir) Arthur Sullivan [q. v. Suppl. I] and (Sir) William Schwenck Gilbert [q. v. Suppl. II]. Owing to the success of this piece Carte formed a small syndicate of music publishers and private capitalists to rent the Opera Comique theatre for the presentation of other light operas by the same author and composer. 'The Sorcerer,' produced on 17 Nov. 1877, ran for one hundred and seventy-five nights, and 'H.M.S. Pinafore,' produced on 25 May 1878, for seven hundred nights. The syndicate was then dissolved, and D'Oyly Carte became the responsible manager of the venture, with Gilbert and Sullivan as partners. The triumph was well maintained by 'The Pirates of Penzance' (produced on 3 April 1880) and 'Patience' (produced on 23 April 1881). The profits of the triumvirate soon reached a total of 60,000l. a year.
Carte invested a portion of his gains in the erection of a more commodious theatre, which, being situated within the precincts of the Savoy, was called by that name. He also formed a company for the erection of an adjoining hotel to be designated similarly. The Savoy Theatre was the first public building in the world to be lighted by electricity, and D'Oyly Carte first applied in England the principle of the queue to the crowds awaiting admission to the pit and gallery (29 Dec. 1882).
The new theatre was opened on 10 Oct. 1881 with 'Patience,' which was transferred from the Opera Comique, and succeeding pieces from the same author and composer were 'Iolanthe' (25 Nov. 1882), 'Princess Ida' (5 Jan. 1884), 'The Mikado' (14 March 1885), 'Ruddigore' (22 Jan. 1887), 'The Yeomen of the Guard' (3 Oct. 1888), and 'The Gondoliers' (7 Dec. 1889). A financial quarrel between Gilbert and himself interrupted the partnership, when 'The Gondoliers' was last performed on 20 June 1891. Other collaborations, 'The Nautch Girl,' by George Dance and Edward Solomon (produced on 30 June 1891), 'Haddon Hall,' by Sydney Grundy and Sullivan (24 Sept. 1892), and 'Jane Annie, or The Good Conduct Prize,' by J. M. Barrie, Conan Doyle, and Ernest Ford (13 May 1893), were only partially successful. But D'Oyly Carte, having made up his disagreement with Gilbert, produced on 7 Oct. 1893 the Gilbert and Sullivan new opera, 'Utopia, Limited.' 'Mirette,' by Carre and Messager (3 July 1894), and 'The Chieftain,' by Burnand and Sullivan (12 Dec. 1894), preceded 'The Grand Duke' (7 March 1896), which was the last work in which Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated. Subsequently Carte depended on revivals of earlier pieces or on fresh combinations in authorship. His latest productions were 'His Majesty,' by Burnand, Lehmann, and Mackenzie (20 Feb. 1897), a new version of Offenbach's 'The Grand Duchess' (4 Dec. 1897), 'The Beauty Stone,' by Pinero, Carr, and Sullivan (28 May 1898), 'The Lucky Star,' by C. H. E. Brookfield and Ivan Caryll (7 Jan. 1899), and 'The Rose of Persia,' by Basil Hood and Sullivan (29 Nov. 1899).
Carte's activity as a light-opera impresario extended to the United States. There he often had five touring companies performing the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. While at the Savoy, Carte, in partnership with John Hollingshead and Michael Gunn, also managed for several seasons leading theatres in Liverpool, Manchester, and elsewhere.
Carte's speculative energy was not exhausted by his work for light English opera. He sought to provide London with a theatre which should be devoted to grand English opera. Here his efforts failed. In the heart of London, at Cambridge Circus, Shaftesbury Avenue, he erected a magnificent Royal English Opera House, which he opened on 31 Jan. with 'Ivanhoe,' a grand opera by Sullivan with libretto by Julian Sturgis. The best singers were engaged, and the orchestra and mounting were both excellent. 'Ivanhoe' ran till 31 July 1891, a longer period than any previous grand opera, but it failed to yield a profit. An English version of Messager's 'La Basoche,' which followed after an interval in November, also proved unremunerative, and in Jan. 1892 the house was temporarily closed. Madame Sarah Bernhardt played Sardou's 'Cleopatra' there (28 May-23 July 1892). By that time D'Oyly Carte had reached the conclusion that his venture was impracticable Had the repertory system been attempted, the result might have been different. Later in 1892 the theatre was sold to Sir Augustus Harris [q. v. Suppl. I] and a syndicate, and, under the new name of the Palace Theatre of Varieties, began a flourishing career as a music-hall on 10 Dec. 1892.
In the course of 1900 Carte's health failed. The death of Sullivan (Nov. 1900) proved a great blow. Carte died on 3 April 1901, and was buried at Fairlight church, Hastings. A cartoon of Carte by 'Spy' appeared in 'Vanity Fair' in 1891.
Carte deserves the main credit of rescuing the light opera stage in England from the slough of French opera-bouffe, and of raising the standard of musical taste in the theatre. Carte also did excellent work by enlisting in his service cultured young singers whose status would not have allowed them to join an opera-bouffe chorus. Many members of the Savoy chorus who began their artistic career under Carte's management became leading artists on the operatic stage. A keen man of business, D'Oyly Carte was a generous employer and a good friend.
D'Oyly Carte married twice. By his first wife, Blanche Prowse, daughter of a piano manufacturer, he had two sons, Lucas, a barrister (d. 1907), and Rupert, now chairman of the Savoy Hotel, Ltd. His second wife, Helen Couper-Black, daughter of the procurator-fiscal of Wigtownshire, matriculated at London University with high honours and was at one time D'Oyly Carte's secretary; she took an active part in the organisation and management of his ventures, and since his death has revived the Gilbert and Sullivan operas at the Savoy Theatre, and has maintained a touring company which performs them in all parts of the British Isles.
[The Times, Daily Telegraph, and Daily News, 4 April 1901; Era, 6 April 1901; University Coll. and London Univ. Registers; Lawrence's Sir Arthur Sullivan, Life-Story, 1899; John Hollingshead's My Life Time, 1895; Grove's Diet, of Musicians; private information.]