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date: 04 June 2020

Yeomen of the Guard, The [The Yeomen of the Guard; or, The Merryman and his Maid]locked

  • David Russell Hulme

Extract

[The Yeomen of the Guard; or, The Merryman and his Maid]

Operetta in two acts by Arthur Sullivan to a libretto by W(illiam) S(chwenck) Gilbert ; London, Savoy Theatre, 3 October 1888.

For Gilbert this essentially romantic rather than comic libretto represented a new departure, and one which satisfied Sullivan’s desire to set what he had called ‘a story of human interest and probability’. The story, similar to that of Wallace’s Maritana, is set within the Tower of London during the 16th century. Falsely accused, Colonel Fairfax (tenor) eludes the headsman through the intervention of Sergeant Meryll (baritone) and his daughter Phoebe (mezzo-soprano). Eventually reprieved, Fairfax finds happiness with his new-found love, the strolling player Elsie Maynard (soprano), but at tragic cost to her devoted jester partner Jack Point (baritone), whose collapse at his rejection is treated with tragic simplicity.

Sullivan’s setting is notably more serious and operatic than those of his other Gilbert collaborations. Although there are fine individual numbers, including the ballad ‘Is life a boon?’, Phoebe’s ‘When maiden loves’ and ‘Were I thy bride’, the quartet ‘When a wooer goes a-wooing’ and the celebrated duet ‘I have a song to sing, O!’ (the setting of whose successively lengthening stanzas caused Sullivan much trouble), the work impresses most by its unity of musical style and atmosphere for, as Gervase Hughes observed, ‘the spirit of the grim old Tower indefinably pervades the music from the first bar of the overture to the final ...

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