Richard D'Oyly Carte (3 May 1844 – 3 April 1901) was an English talent agent, theatrical impresario, composer and hotelier during the latter half of the Victorian era. Rising from humble beginnings, Carte built two of London's theatres and a hotel empire, while also establishing an opera company that ran continuously for over a hundred years and a management agency representing some of the most important artists of the day.
Carte started his career in his father's music publishing and musical instrument manufacturing business. As a young man, he conducted and composed music, but he soon turned to promoting the entertainment careers of others through his management agency. Carte believed that a school of wholesome, well-crafted, family-friendly, English comic opera could be as popular as the risqué French works dominating the London musical stage in the 1870s. To that end, he brought together dramatist W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan and nurtured their collaboration on a series of thirteen Savoy Operas. He founded the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and built the state-of-the-art Savoy Theatre to host the Gilbert and Sullivan operas.
Carte also built London's Savoy Hotel and acquired other luxury hotels. In addition, he erected the Palace Theatre, London, which he had intended to be the home of a new school of English grand opera, although this ambition was not realised beyond the production of a single grand opera by Sullivan, Ivanhoe. Nevertheless, his partnership with Gilbert and Sullivan, and his careful management of their operas and relationship, created a series of works whose success was unprecedented in the history of musical theatre. His opera company promoted those works for over a century, and they are still performed regularly today.
Carte was born in Greek Street in the West End of London on 3 May 1844, the eldest of six children. His father, Richard Carte (1808–1891), was a flautist, and his mother was the former Eliza Jones (1814–1885); they had eloped, to the disappointment of her father, Thomas Jones, a clergyman. His siblings were Blanch (1846–1935), Viola (1848–1925), Rose (b. 1854), Henry (1856–1926) and Eliza (1860–1941). Of Welsh and Norman ancestry (D'Oyly is a Norman French name), he was a descendant of Robert D'Oyly. To supplement his income as a performer, Carte's father joined the firm of Rudall, Rose & Co., musical instrument makers and music publishers, in 1850. After he became a partner in the business, it changed its name to Rudall, Rose, Carte and Co. and later to Rudall, Carte & Co.
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