The marriage between Leslie Rands and Marjorie Eyre early in their careers with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company set the seal on what was to be one of the happiest and most successful partnerships in the world of theatre. With a joint dedicated service to Gilbert and Sullivan's operas of over forty years and together covering nearly as many roles, their contribution to them from the middle 1920s through the 1930s and the arduous war years until their retirement in 1947 cannot be overestimated.
Leslie Rands, a former Chichester Cathedral chorister, was trained by Dr. Arnold Smith of the Royal School of Music, and was for twenty years leading baritone of the D'Oyly Carte Company.
Marjorie Eyre, who trained with Lawrence Lee of Derby and Dr. Arnold Smith, began her career in the Company as a soprano before taking over the soubrette parts with which she is generally associated.
Although Leslie will always be remembered for his portrayal of the baritone leads, he had also played, amongst others, the Mikado, the Pirate King, Sir Roderic, and the Colonel on the professional stage. Everyone has his own personal choice of an artist's best role (and what a difficult choice it is with such a versatile performer!) but his Archibald Grosvenor was nothing short of superb.
What fun he introduced into the Judge in Trial, and how he revelled in the top G in the song! Was there ever a better exponent at manipulating a fan than he? I am sure he completely mystified the majority of the audience during Pish-Tush's song. Every inch a Noble Lord, his portrayal of this not over-rewarding role was certainly one of the highlights of "The Mikado". Referred to in one newspaper as "the incredibly handsome Leslie Rands", his attention to detail in make-up and wearing of costume in every part he played was impeccable. Leslie Rands died on 6th December 1972.
Marjorie Eyre, whether "filled to the brim with girlish glee" (as she invariably was) or handling the difficult changes of mood necessary in the characterisation of Phoebe Meryll, was the complete artist. With an admirable economy of gesture, the wealth of meaning she would convey by merely raising a forefinger was a sheer delight to watch. Her timing was perfect. Never wasting a line, one could almost hear her mind scheming as she delivered the line, "Yes, they've all got colds", or the complete resignation to the situation when saying "and I helped that man to escape". Her spine-chilling entrance as Mad Margaret in Act I of "Ruddigore" is never to be forgotten. (Let us remember the soubrette parts were not shared in those days!)
When acting as partners in "The Gondoliers" or "Princess Ida" or dancing together in the finale of Act I of "The Mikado", they extracted all the possible fun from the situations without ever distracting from the main action by excessive by-play. Refinement, an essential ingredient in the playing of every Gilbert and Sullivan role, was to them second nature, and both had a clarity of diction it would be difficult to emulate.
They delighted audiences in all the major towns in the British Isles, played in a number of London and New York seasons, and toured the United States and Canada. After retiring from the Company they played in the operas in Australia and New Zealand. A small departure from Gilbert and Sullivan came in 1952, when they generously agreed to play the Earl of Essex and Jill-All-Alone in a week's run of "Merrie England" in aid of charity in Priory Park, Chichester (Leslie's home town). As always, they were outstanding. (It is interesting to note that Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler were also in this production, the remainder of the principals being drawn from the Chichester Amateur Operatic Society and Societies from the surrounding districts.)
It would be difficult to assess the loss to Gilbert and Sullivan lovers had they accepted a very persuasive offer by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during the 1934/35 New York season.
These two delightful people, whose sincerity and self-discipline both on and off the stage could be held up as an example to most, must rank as two of the "all-time greats" in the world of Gilbert and Sullivan in general and the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in particular.
G & S Recordings (Leslie Rands)
G & S Recordings(Marjorie Eyre)
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