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a. Everyone Loves Trial by Jury
b. Some Inconclusive Historical Background
i) The Birth of Trial by Jury
ii) Fred Sullivan


ROBERT JONES: Trial by Jury is a scintillating little gem sitting proudly amidst G&S's collaborations. I can't recall reading a word against it. So any of you who have been quietly hiding their hatred of it now have the opportunity to speak up.

I believe that Trial is an experience of pure delight from start to finish, and I would be very interested to hear the ridiculous ramblings of anyone who claims to think otherwise.

IAN BOND: Personally, I have always considered Trial by Jury to be as near perfect as any operatic work can be. It is light, witty, entertaining, delightful, inoffensive, charming and what is even better a sure fire box office success especially if you want to top the coffers up.

JOHN J. GENZANO: My first experience with Trial was in December of 1995, when I was hustled into the chorus/jury by a need for men. I fell in love with the show almost instantly, and have performed it (as a juryman) three other times since, once for another local company and once at the festival in Philadelphia (I was the juryman who went "over the rail" when Angelina exposed her ankle).

The show is quick and funny, yet is complicated musically (anyone who says Sullivan's music is easy has obviously never sung it). It has its typically Gilbertian moments when the chorus changes direction (about its feelings toward Edwin) in a flash, which makes no sense to anyone but is not supposed to. That is all part of the hilarity.

Overall, I think it is one of their best jobs. Its length possibly leaves a little to be desired, but then again that is some of what makes it special.

MARC SHEPHERD: I concur that Trial by Jury is the most perfect of the G&S operas. I, too, have never heard anything bad said about it.

PHILIP STERNENBERG: The only thing bad I've ever had to say about it is that there's not enough of it, so it can't be a complete evening's entertainment. And since its brevity is also one of its selling points, it's not a "bad" thing at all.

Also, it doesn't have a subtitle. As I once suggested, how about "The Misery That Edwin Brewed"?

[See A Subtitle for Trial by Jury]

CHARLES SCHLOTTER: Trial by Jury has many elements in common with later works in The Canon but does it have that frequent Gilbertian device: lyrics using (and twisting) popular catch phrases?

I think the Defendant may use a few catch phrases here and there "my riches at her feet I threw" and "I smoke like a furnace." But this seems an embryonic form of the technique. Does the Plaintiff's verse "I love him, I love him, with fervour unceasing" etc. come closer?

What say you, Gentlemen and Ladies of the Jury?



[We pick up the story as Paul McShane and Marc Shepherd drift off from their discussion of the Court of the Exchequer.]

PAUL McSHANE: Trial by Jury was a very early piece of Gilbert's (predating Thespis), written before his taste for exact faultless fact amounted to a disease.

MARC SHEPHERD: I'm not sure that Gilbert's taste for faultless fact ever DID amount to a disease. Oh, and Trial by Jury did NOT predate Thespis; it followed Thespis by more than three years.

PAUL McSHANE: Yes, of course as an opera. But I was alluding to Gilbert's storyline, which he had published (I believe) as a ballad in Fun several years before D'Oyly Carte brought him and Sullivan together. I have read that he told Carte and Sullivan that he had the script already written. Can anyone verify this and if so, was the operatic script identical to the original?

NEIL ELLENOFF: I think it has been determined that the first Gilbert and Sullivan opera was The Pirates and G and S used one of the numbers for the subsequent Thespis. (If you will believe this you will believe anything.)


Page 39 of Alan Jefferson's G&S Opera guide reveals a small facsimile print of page 54 of Fun, dated April 11, 1868. It is entitled "Trial by Jury, an operetta." Scene: A court of law at Westminster. Opening chorus of Counsel, Attorneys and populace. This was a skit on a breach of promise case and WSG supplied the drawings.

Jefferson goes on to say that 5 years later in 1873, Gilbert submitted an expanded scenario to Carl Rosa for his Drury Lane season. It was intended for Mme Rosa but she died early in 1874 so Gilbert's libretto was returned to him.

JIM PARR: Peter Haining in "The Lost Stories of W.S. Gilbert" (London, 1982, Robson Books), presents verses published in Fun of what purports to be the origin of Trial by Jury. It's a very short piece, beginning with "Hark! The hour..." followed by a chorus of barristers; Counsel's song ("With a sense of deep emotion..."); a short solo by the Judge who declares that he will marry Angelina, and his invitation to breakfast the wedding breakfast, no doubt.

Haining, in his introduction, draws upon Hesketh Pearson, ("Gilbert and Sullivan", London, 1953 I think Hamish Hamilton) who recounts that the music was originally to be written by Carl Rosa; but on the death of Mrs. Rosa the libretto was returned. Gilbert, who had already met Carte, following the failure of Thespis, let Carte read it. The rest is history.

My apologies if what I've already reviewed is equally well known.

However, assuming the authenticity of Haining's edition of Trial by Jury, there was only the bare thread of plot. The scene is "A Court of Law at Westminster", (not, you'll note, The Court of the Exchequer). The opening chorus is of "Counsel, Attorneys, and Populace" no mention of a Jury, despite the title and although Counsel directs, through recitative, his remarks to them. Apart from the opening chorus, Counsel's song, the words "Trial la law", and one or two couplets, the rest of Trial by Jury as we know it is an elaboration and what a skillful one! of the original, slender piece.

Nor should we be surprised! A Bab Ballad was sometimes the source from which the inspiration for an entire opera sprang.

ANDREW CROWTHER: You're right to be cautious Haining is not always to be trusted on matters of fact, and one of the "lost stories" he includes is actually by Tom Hood, as Jane Stedman mentions in her Gilbert biography. However, he is accurate about the text of Trial by Jury he provides: he is confirmed by James Ellis, who includes the UrTrial in his edition of "The Bab Ballads" (2nd edition, 1980). It was originally published in Fun, 11 April, 1868.

The agreement with Rosa apparently took place near the end of 1873. According to Stedman the original plan was for it to share the bill with Lohengrin, which is rather a sobering thought. So it seems that the libretto (or a form of it) was over a year old when Carte approached Gilbert for a one act filler.

I can't resist mentioning the story Sullivan told of Gilbert visiting him at his home and reading him the libretto of Trial "in a perturbed sort of way, with a gradual crescendo of indignation, in the manner of a man considerably disappointed with what he had written. As soon as he had come to the last word he closed up the manuscript violently, apparently unconscious of the fact that he had achieved his purpose so far as I was concerned, in as much as I was screaming with laughter the whole time." It's a very graphic reminder that there was a time when the two men really did collaborate in a spirit of sheer enjoyment.

Something has just occurred to me. As far as I can see, Trial was a completely new departure for Gilbert and not only because of the absence of dialogue. If you look at his previous libretti, you can classify them by genre (e.g. No Cards as a one act farce with music) or characterise them by their parody of theatrical conventions. The point is that they all feed off OTHER stage works in some sense. But try to characterise Trial in the same way, and what do we find? It isn't set in a bucolic idyll as in Creatures of Impulse; it isn't a burlesque of mythology, like Thespis; it isn't set in a fantasy land, like Topsyturvydom. It is set in a local and familiar setting, and it is simply drawn from Gilbert's direct experience of life though admittedly filtered through his own unique style to create the strange inversions of the end result. I can't think of another instance of a Gilbert libretto being drawn so directly from Gilbert's personal experience. I wonder, does this contribute to its unique feel?

Gilbert had, after all, been nurturing the idea since 1868, seven years before, and the full libretto had been lying around for over a year when Sullivan set it. Was it, perhaps, a project which was particularly close to Gilbert's heart? I can't help imagine Gilbert the barrister sitting through one of his few trials, bored, and idling away the time by imagining Judge, lawyers, defendant, etc., suddenly brought to life in song and dance. (Cf. Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective.)

PAUL McSHANE: Thanks, Andrew this covers my earlier posting to a great extent. However, a bit of a puzzle still remains the inference from various pieces of literature seems to be that Gilbert had the whole opera ready when Carte first approached him. Had he really rewritten it from the earlier ballad in Fun, or was the idea of a rewrite into a comic opera just buzzing around in his mind at that time?

ANDREW CROWTHER: I see no reason to doubt the story about its being written up for Carl Rosa. Edith Browne gives this account in her book "W.S. Gilbert" (London: John Lane, 1907), which was written after several interviews with Gilbert and was proofread by Gilbert to correct "historical details":

"Trial by Jury had already been published in Fun by Bab. Gilbert elaborated it for the Parepa Rosa Opera Company and it was set to music by Carl Rosa, but the arrangements for producing it fell through owing to the death of Parepa Rosa, Carl Rosa's wife. Gilbert then took the libretto to Sullivan..." (p55)

I wonder if that detail is right about Rosa having actually set the libretto before the deal was cancelled? If so, what a curiosity the score would be if it could be found!

MARC SHEPHERD: I think it is doubtful that Carl Rosa set Trial by Jury to music. Rosa was an impresario, not a composer. Had he set Trial by Jury, it apparently would have been his first and only composition. I made this observation on Savoynet a couple of years ago, and I believe Don Smith researched it further and confirmed that Carl Rosa is not known to have composed anything. Leslie Baily, along with most of the history books, says only that Rosa intended to compose the opera, not that he actually completed it.

Baily perhaps over dramatizes the genesis of Thespis when he describes Gilbert's visit to D'Oyly Carte's office at the Royalty Theatre:

"...Gilbert glared down at Mr. Carte [how do we know he glared?], who had barely mentioned his invitation to write a curtain raiser [Trial was an afterpiece] when Gilbert said the libretto was already written! ....Would Mr. Carte like to see it? and Gilbert fished it out of his pocket."

It all seems a bit too convenient Gilbert paying an unplanned social call on Carte and just happening to have the libretto with him. However, there is no reason to doubt that a version of the libretto was already written at this point, because we have Sullivan's corroborating story that Gilbert came to visit and read him the piece "in a perturbed sort of a the manner of a man considerably disappointed with what he had written."

Trial opened in just a matter of weeks after that, but of course, there were the usual adjustments to the text before opening. For example, the license copy has ballads for both the Foreman and the Usher (the tune for the latter becoming Carboy's aria in The Zoo).

The Defendant's second aria originally had a third verse. And, there were various other small bits of text that got cut or altered.

J. DONALD SMITH: Like most good stories, this one [about Carl Rosa] seems to have a grain of truth which has gotten distorted over the past century. As Marc Shepherd has noted, Carl Rosa was not a composer. According to the New Grove Dictionary of Opera, he was not known to have composed anything!!!

What he attempted to do, and only succeeded in doing later, was to establish a school of English Opera (sound familiar). To that end, he apparently approached Gilbert (and Sullivan!) to write such an opera for the Carl Rosa Opera Company in 1874. With the death of his wife, Mme. Parepa Rosa, at that time, he effectively shut down his opera company for several years. When he reestablished it, he commissioned and performed a number of major English works during the last two decades of the 19th Century as well as presenting the first performances in English of many continental operas. He, unlike D'Oyly Carte, may be regarded as having established the school of modern English opera. Thus, Gilbert had an opera at hand when he was approached by D'Oyly Carte.

MICHAEL WALTERS: David Eden has suggested that Gilbert had a "crush" on Parepa Rosa, and may well have written the libretto in the hope that she would perform it.

Although not necessarily agreeing with everything Eden says (!), I think the most likely scenario is that he did submit it to the Rosas, and that Carl Rosa planned to arrange to have someone set it but what evidence is there that Rosa approached Sullivan to set it? None that I know of. All the available evidence suggests that the first Sullivan knew of the project was when Carte and Gilbert approached him.


CHRIS WEBSTER: As we all know, Arthur Sullivan's brother Fred was the original Judge in Trial. I know very little of Fred, but I am interested in learning more.

As far as legend goes, had he not died, Fred would have carried on playing the comic leads in any future operas, but is this so? Did Fred know that there may have been further operas? I don't know exactly when he died, but would he have been aware of plans for The Sorcerer? If so, do we have any evidence that he would have taken an active role in it, and any future shows? How did he become involved in Trial? Except for the obvious family connection, what performing credits did he have under his belt when Trial came about that landed him with the Judge's role?

RONALD ORENSTEIN: For one thing, Fred was the original Apollo in Thespis.

CHRIS WEBSTER: So many questions to be answered. Can anyone provide some answers or thoughts, or offer suggestions for further reading on Fred Sullivan?

Another thought. Did Grossmith ever see a performance of Trial by Jury with or without Fred, before he became part of the DC/G/S family of performers?

MARC SHEPHERD: I can't find the exact dates, but Fred Sullivan died within a month or so of the appearance of Gilbert's short story, "The Elixir of Love," on which The Sorcerer was based.

At the point of Fred's final illness, therefore, plans for The Sorcerer, if they had begun at all, would have been extremely embryonic. It is certainly not reasonable to suppose that any role in The Sorcerer was SPECIFICALLY designed with Fred Sullivan in mind, as some books state. (The history books diverge on whether it was Dr. Daly or J. W. Wells that Sullivan would have played, had he lived; I've never seen concrete evidence that they had EITHER role in mind for him.)

However, as he had evidently been a success in Thespis and Trial by Jury, there is no reason to doubt that he would have had a role in The Sorcerer and future operas.

J. DONALD SMITH: Fred Sullivan died on the night of February 17/18, 1877. On March 1, 1877 there was a benefit performance at the Drury Lane Theatre for "The Celebrated Comedian Mr. Compton." On that program was a complete performance of Trial by Jury with Sullivan conducting. In the chorus on that occasion was George Grossmith. I believe that at that time, plans for The Sorcerer were proceeding apace (it opened 17 November 1877). With Fred's death only two weeks before the benefit, it is probable that Grossmith came to G&S's attention at that time. The Judge at this benefit was W.S. Penley (later to make his fame as "Charley's Aunt"). He was apparently too much of a comedian, rather than a performer, for Gilbert's taste.

PHILIP WALSH: Fred Sullivan died on 18th January 1877. According to Leslie Baily, he was 39 but S.J. Adair Fitzgerald in his book "The Story of the Savoy Opera" says he was 36. I think 36 is the right age.

The latter says: "Gilbert and Sullivan had resolved that had poor Frederic Sullivan lived he was to have been the chief comedian of their operas, and would of course, have had all the characters that George Grossmith afterwards enacted with so much humour and ability."

According to Baily, Gilbert already had allocated to Fred Sullivan the principal comedy part in The Sorcerer. Now as Gilbert got his idea from "An Elixir of Love" published in The Graphic in Christmas 1876, his ideas must have been well advanced within that short period before the death of Fred.

Perhaps Gilbert had just promised him a part whatever the next opera was going to be.

Page updated 13 November 2004