|Gilbert and Sullivan Archive
Trial by Jury
You are here: > > > Page 4-1
TRIAL BY JURY IN PERFORMANCE
ANDREW CROWTHER: How do performers deal with the opera? Its brevity and lack of dialogue mean that we know much less about the characters they're much less fleshedout. In the fulllength operas we see the major characters in various moods, whereas in Trial they remain little more than "types" the womanising rogue, the jilted moneygrabber, etc.
I have been interested, amused, and sometimes bemused, by the discussions of Savoynet performers about how they build up their portrayal of whichever character they are playing, including the use of invented "back histories".
Do such techniques hold good with Trial? Or is it better simply to play the "types" to the hilt, without bothering too much about deep psychological motivation?
LOUIS WERNICK: To me, the most important thing about performing Trial is that most of the principal characters have "short snatches" in which they must sing in an operatic manner, but true opera singers may feel that most of their roles are wasted.
The Foreman is surprisingly short for a principal role. The Counsel must sing out on "With a sense of deep emotion" and "In the reign of James the Second". Angelina must sing out for "O'er the season vernal" and in the fullcounterpointwithmordents in the sextet.
Edwin really sings out only in the sextet. The Judge is a patterbaritonecomic for his opening song, but does not have to readdress this mode again later. Hence, a performance "without operatic voices" may seem a bit pale, while a performance "with operatic voices" may require extra musical direction for the 24 minutes or so any character has to be onstage without singing grand opera.
THEODORE C. RICE: I think that to play the characters in Trial as more than the shallow archetypes that they are is to subvert Gilbert's intention. Too much psychology, like too much toffee, can be deadly!
RICA MENDES: Oh, Ted, your comments pain me! No archetype is unworthy of depth! (Otherwise, Jung would have been out of a job...) I think that the Trial by Jury characters have been neglected because Trial by Jury is so darned quick and it is, most likely, paired with a more "significant" piece Trial by Jury, though unworthy of this status, seems to be regarded as a "throw away". I don't think it is because the characters are any more shallow than those in other G&S operas.
I think what makes these characters difficult to establish is that you have to establish who they are, what their motives are, etc. as soon as they walk onto stage there is no time for the character to grow into itself, as you can do with, say, Elsie Maynard (a fairly complex character, IMHO). She evolves throughout Yeomen, whereas Angelina just kind of quickly peels off her layers like an onion. Does that mean that there isn't a deeper character there? No. But she can't linger in one level of her personality.
Usher: This man is tired, not too bright (otherwise he would have a higher rank in the courts), and is basically like the umpire at a ball game he is unappreciated by the public since he constantly tells them to "Sit down! Shut up!" (for those Howard Stern fans), the Judge loves to remind him that he was too stupid to come anywhere near the bar, let alone pass it, and the attorneys don't even notice he's there (unless, of course, he forgets to come in for "A Nice Dilemma"). So he can't really be too cheerful (unless you decide to have a drunken usher).
Judge: Cad. Cad. Cad. He's a cad. He slept his way through the courts. Which means that, in actuality, he isn't much brighter than the Usher, just more ambitious. And a braggart. He treats his courtroom like a locker room. He airs his dirty laundry, boasts about "had her, been there, done that", slobbers over anything with a pair of... er... legs and just sees his bench as a glorified waterbed. He should have a chest rug. And a big gold necklace. And, of course, a big stupid ring that looks like a ruby. In other words, as is the term in Israel, he is a "chahkchahk" or an "arse" (a "cockroach" or a "pimp" what we fine ladies call men with shirts open to their belly buttons, icky slicked back hair, chests so hairy that they have to brush and part their hair, big gold chains that would make Mr. T envious, and the belief that they are god's gift to women) in a long black dress and a wig.
Angelina: Well, at first we see her as a "broken flower", but it is obvious she is quite melodramatic, is aware of her womanly wiles and is anything but averse to using them. I think that, at first, she was very broken hearted by the broken engagement, but, as they say, "hell hath no wrath... " and, at the coaxing of her girlfriends (not the bridesmaids), and her attorney friend (looking for a cut), her sadness quickly turned to the Marianne vs. Dr. Dick of "Cybill" approach, if he's gonna give it to another woman, better destroy "it", stalk "it" and milk "it" for all "it's" got ("it" defined as Dr. Dick, his estate and any body part whose function could bring satisfaction to Dr. Dick and company). And, of course, the Judge is turned on by this, since: a) getting her and breaking her would be like the "Taming of the Shrew"; b) she's quite the minxie, c) she shares the same philosophy when it comes to justice; and d) again, she has quite a pair of... er... legs that has walked into the room.
Council: This could be interpreted any number of ways: 1) Money grubbing ambulance chaser looking for a new field to get in on the money; 2) A social minded attorney who is seeking to set precedence for the female society and a way to define engagements as business contracts; 3) A friend of Angelina who knows that she "has to go through this" to break ties; 4) A friend of Angelina who wants to be her knight in shining armour to get into her knickers, much distraught by the fact that: a) she wants Edwin; b) she'll take the judge; c) she'd take the jurors before she'd take him (thus getting flustered and blurting out "burglaree" instead of "bigamy" and feeling rather stupid at the outburst, but he realizes that it's too late to correct himself).
Well, I'll get to the Defendant, the Bridesmaids and the Jury later... I'm getting burnt out as I have too much work right now...
THEODORE C. RICE: Rica, dear, I agree with all your characterisations of the principals so far as you've gone but yet I don't see how the analysis helps to define the characters better than Gilbert, himself, has done.
Angie is a golddigger cares not who she gets, so long as he's reasonably rich. That's clear from one of her first lines: "I am no unhappy maid." A latter day, transported, Scarlett O'Hara.
Counsel is simply a barrister trying to earn a living a stuffed shirt, maybe, but sincere. (I don't think "burglaree" is a mistake; it simply shows his level of intelligence is on a par with the Judge. Perry Mason, he ain't!)
The Judge? A rogue, a man who doubtless has hands that wander as far as his eyes, and who has little time for the niceties of the law. He tells us so from the first. He'll never get to try an Oscar Wilde!
Poor old Usher! Perhaps a superannuated copper, or a civil servant approaching the age of discretion, and given a sinecure to reward his faithful service. His background isn't germane; he knows enough to pound his staff and cry "Silence!" at most of the proper points. What more do we need to know than what WSG paints? A "Gentle, simpleminded usher."
Please go on with your analysis. I'm not sneering; I just disagree with the notion that the characters need any more analysis than appears on the surface.
STEVE SULLIVAN: Edwin is a bounder and a cad to the end. His final line:
I wonder whether
shows that he undergoes no sort of redemption during the operetta.
MARC SHEPHERD: My view of Edwin has always been that the man has a point: he is a singularly poor matrimonial candidate, and Angelina probably would be very unhappy with him. Her lawsuit seems a bit of hypocrisy: her love for him clearly is not genuine, given her eagerness to jump to the "rich as Gurneys" Judge.
ARTHUR ROBINSON: Yes, but he's hypocritical too. Maybe Angelina would be unhappy with him, but when he sings "I smoke like a furnace" etc. his purpose is solely to convince the jury that since he would be such a rotten husband, Angelina shouldn't get substantial damages to compensate her. He is a cad but a funny one. (The Judge's "Let's make him tipsy, gentlemen, and try" is a great line, but I think Edwin tops it with "I don't object!")
LOUIS WERNICK: I once did a production of Trial in which the Edwin was told beforehand that "the cards were stacked against him" the moment he entered the courtroom. Indeed, we had real constables/police on duty for a strange reason, and they, for comedy, tightly escorted Edwin when he came in.
The counsel demanded that the constables stay on his case and seat him as soon as he finished a line, and the whole thing was hilarious. Another strange thing about Edwin is that his moving line in the sextet is the strongest "tenor line" in the role, and the sextet seems to work best when comic threads are stopped for the time it takes to sing it and it is sung with the limpid soprano line, stalwart tenor line and contrapuntal lines of the judge and counsel against the essential chorus support of the remaining two singers.
BRUCE I. MILLER: It seems to be a "tradition" that when the Judge in Trial sings "The rich attorney my character high tried vainly to disparage", the chorus must say a shocked "No!", and the judge respond with an aggrieved "Yes!". Now, to my mind, the joke was already quite clear; emphasizing it that way weakens the joke, rather than strengthening it.
There is no direct evidence that this business was sanctioned by Gilbert. It's not included in the principal text of the Broude critical edition but is listed among the variant "traditional" readings in the Apparatus, where it states "This tradition has never been reflected in the published or manuscript sources, but it appears on all the D'Oyly Carte recordings going back to ." The point of the business is, apparently, to give an added punch by including the chorus as a responsible party to the
hypocrisy, which would not be as clear without their interjection; but it's not something which, to me, makes or breaks a production of Trial by Jury.
DANIEL KRAVETZ: My impression of the exchange in the old Leo Sheffield recording is that the chorus's "Noooooo!" is long and downward in pitch, suggesting a form or sadness and pathetic disbelief, something like the way a person might respond to the news that Jimmy Stewart had died. The Judge then reflects the same emotion in his "Yeeesss" response. The judge is already so beloved by the jury during his song that the news of his fatherinlaw trying to besmirch their hero's good name makes them wonder how the rich attorney could stoop so low. That's my take on the earliest available evidence on how this supposedly was meant to go.
MITCHELL SCOTT GILLETT: The recording of the Judge's Song (1909 I think) has this break of the small chorus going "No". But C.H. Workman speaks something like "He did indeed!". Though Workman had been directed by Gilbert and was running a season or two of the operas at the Savoy, he was on the outs with him at the time he did the recordings.
PHILIP de VOIL: Just as a variation on the way Trial can be produced... A few years back Leicester G&SOS put on "Trial by Jury 2: The Whole Truth and Nothing Like the Truth" which kept the basic plot of Trial and all its music, but fleshed it out into a complete evening's show by bringing in characters and songs from other G&S operas to fit the story. Hence Angelina's parents came to the courtroom as "MajorGeneral & Mrs HopeWaning" giving the opportunity for the MajorGeneral's song.
Also they introduced a traffic warden (who objected to the Judge's car in the noparking zone outside the Court) named Hyacinth Bucket (nonUK readers will probably not understand the name) who sang "When I first put this uniform on / I said as I looked in the glass / It's one to a million that every civilian / Will give me abuse as I pass" and so on.
It was very cleverly done as a oneoff but sadly I cannot remember all of the "extras" they wove into the basic Trial plot.
Page updated 13 November 2004