The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and Chorus was founded by Richard D'Oyly Carte (1844-1901), a composer possessed of a vision that England should have her own indigenous brand of light opera. His attempts to this end being frustrated by failure, Carte turned his attentions to Artist Management, and by 1870 had built a reputable agency. 1875 found him faced with the prospect of coming up with a curtain-raiser for Offenbach's La Perichole. Carte remembered an 1871 Christmas pageant written by composer Arthur Sullivan and librettist William S. Gilbert. Though the two hadn't spoken in the interim, Carte asked them to contribute the needed opener; the result was Trial By Jury, which remained in production past the closing of the Offenbach. Assembling his own backers, Carte staged Gilbert & Sullivan's The Sorcerer in November 1877, following it with H.M.S. Pinafore in May 1878. The latter show was a hit, and still running in July 1879 when Carte took control of the production from his investors. Reorganizing as Mr. D'Oyly Carte's Opera Company, the venture launched in New York with the premiere of The Pirates of Penzance on December 31, 1879. In 1881, Carte opened the Savoy Theater in London; members of the D'Oyly Carte cast soon became known as "Savoyards." Gilbert and Sullivan produced thirteen operettas for the D'Oyly Carte Company, including The Mikado and The Yeoman of the Guard, the Company holding exclusive performance rights to these and the others.
Upon Carte's death, management of the company fell to his widow; when she died in 1913, Carte's son Rupert succeeded. In 1917, HMV engaged Rupert D'Oyly Carte as consultant on their Gilbert and Sullivan sets, but it wasn't until the advent of electrical recording in 1925 that HMV agreed to record the operettas with all-Cartesian casts. The D'Oyly Carte Company completed the task of recording their first cycle of the operettas by 1933. In 1939, the D'Oyly Carte participated in a film of The Mikado, the first Technicolor feature made in Britain.
With Rupert D'Oyly Carte's death in 1948, the Company passed to his daughter Bridget. The copyright in the Gilbert & Sullivan works was to expire in 1961, and in 1949-51, a hasty schedule of recording was set up for another cycle with Decca London. With the introduction of stereophonic sound in 1957, the D'Oyly Carte began yet another cycle, completing it in 1965. In 1973, the BBC televised the Company in The Pirates of Penzance, and by that time standards of set dressing and performance within the D'Oyly Carte had slipped to an unprecedented low. Despite eleventh hour appeals seeking to save it, the "old" D'Oyly Carte Opera Company closed for good on February 27, 1981.
With an endowment left at her death in 1987, Bridget D'Oyly Carte provided the means to raise a reorganized D'Oyly Carte Company. To cut costs, the New Company moved to Birmingham in 1991. A cycle of recorded operettas undertaken with Sony was interrupted in 1995. In April 2000, the New D'Oyly Carte Opera Company resumed the cycle with H.M.S. Pinafore, concurrent with the announcement of their planned return to the Savoy Theatre.