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Trial by Jury
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TRIAL BY JURY IN PERFORMANCE (Continued)
FRASER CHARLTON: The past two productions of Trial by Jury that I've been in had a female counsel to balance up the parts a bit. It worked splendidly both times, although "Oh man of learning" had to be changed. The first time it was "Oh, so much learning!". The second time, at my suggestion, it was "Oh, learned lawyer", as no rhyme is needed and alliteration is, IMHO, a Good Thing. Anyone else got other solutions?
MARYJO KELLEHER: Female counsel? Yes! In our one and only production of Trial by Jury, not only was our Counsel for the Plaintiff female, she was also the twin sister of the Plaintiff. If I recall correctly, she was referred to as "oh wise attorney".
IAN BOND: The casting of a female Counsel is by no means unusual these days, in fact it has been done in every amateur company Trial I have encountered in this part of the world since 1979. The accepted alteration to the words in this area seems to be "Oh maid of learning".
CLIVE WOODS: Standard here is "Oh fount of learning".
ANDREW SOLOVAY: The last Stanford Savoyards Trial by Jury used "Oh, learned lady!" as I recall. (This was their renowned Marx Bros. Trial the Counsel was played as the Margaret Dumont character.)
PHILIP STERNENBERG: 1) Could a woman have been a counsel in a real British court in 1875?
IAN BOND: Yes!
PHILIP STERNENBERG: ...2) Can a woman be a counsel in a real British court today?
IAN BOND: No!
PHILIP STERNENBERG: ...3) Doesn't such crossgender casting violate Sullivan's intentions?
IAN BOND: Probably but considering the great difficulty some UK companies have to get a decent number of men for their productions, especially principals, it is sometimes necessary.
BRUCE I. MILLER: Very likely, yes. The Counsel's role is a high baritone; having a woman sing it by transposing it up an octave assumes that Sullivan would have approved musically he might well have conceived it very differently, on vocal grounds alone. The other option, having a "female tenor" sing it in the octave it's written, would be even more suspect, as the tessitura as sung by a woman sounds very different than when sung by a man. I suppose someone will now chime in with the Ruby Helder example, but even she is identifiable as a woman singing tenor.
MARYJO KELLEHER: But with more male than female roles, and more female than male auditioners, sometimes it's the way to get a better performance than honoring those intentions would get you.
IAN BOND: Utopia is a prime example. The production last year by my local company just would not have been staged if they hadn't cast a DAME Bailey Barre and a MRS Blushington.
Not in the same league I know, but many amateur companies in this country who perform Offenbach insist on casting (in the opposite direction) men in male characters traditionally performed by women. Orestes in Belle Helene and Mercury in Orpheus for instance and, horror of horrors I have even heard of one production of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro with a male Cherubino.
MARYJO KELLEHER: Is taking a high note down an octave, or a low note up an octave, also a violation? Transposing?
BRUCE I. MILLER: These are not by any means as severe violations of intent as transposing up or down an octave, or changing the role from baritone to mezzo soprano. Handel, of course, did this in Messiah, but we must remember that it was he who authorized it; not all composers would necessarily feel the same with their compositions.
There's nothing preventing anyone from doing it, of course. But you can't have it both ways. If you're going to make such a radical alteration, at least have the intellectual honesty to admit that what you're doing may very well be in direct violation of what the composer (and author) might have wanted. Rationalize it all you want, but you can't get away from that fact.
IAN BOND: To be quite honest I don't see what all the fuss is about. If Gilbert were writing today no doubt we would have had a female Counsel, female Flowers of Progress including an air force commander, and, of course Peeresses. No one, particularly myself, would suggest that the operas should be 'modernised', certainly as far as libretto, music, settings, costumes etc. are concerned, but people on the net must realise that in certain areas of this planet, companies have considerable problems in this day and age in finding enough men of principal standard to take part in productions. Therefore, unless we produce Fallen Fairies every year, there are not going to be enough good singers/actors to cover.
In a double bill of Trial and Pinafore, if we adhere to the original voice ranges there are 4 female roles against 12 male roles. Surely it is far better to adjust the balance by casting the Counsel as a female. After all, Hebe is something and nothing as it is.
With Utopia (to which there is very little in the way of "tradition" attached), in which we have 11 male roles and 7 female roles, it seems entirely logical to assign 1 or 2 of the Flowers to females, making it a 10/8 or 9/9 split. The effect musically is very minimal as Blushington and Barre have very little in the way of solo music.
After all, if it's a case of presenting Utopia with an adjusted cast or not presenting it at all and therefore depriving the public in your area of seeing the work, which would you choose? Netters really must take into account the fact that there are certain parts of the world (the southwest of England is one of them) where the population is spread very thin, and finding enough principals to cover is very difficult.
So, in conclusion, far better have a female Counsel or female Flowers and stage Trial or Utopia easily and well (WELL BEING THE POINT), than insist on male singers that you haven't got and stage them badly or not at all.
LOUIS WERNICK: Several people have mentioned the trouble with doing a double bill regarding Trial, specifically that more casting and directing effort is put into the longer piece that Trial is paired with, leaving a haphazard cast and direction for Trial. Here is the silliest way I can think of to do a double bill of Trial and Pinafore with a limited cast. If anyone can think of anything sillier, please post it so we all can have a good laugh.
Soprano: Stands backstage during Trial to take over the soprano line once the six parts in the sextet start doing their counterpoint, singing the mordents et al operatically. She then does Josephine in Pinafore.
Mezzo I: Appears onstage as Angelina, for example, singing "In the season vernal" et al. However, once she has sung the opening "free line" in the sextet, mouths the rest of the piece so the strong soprano can sing out backstage, then returns to Angelina after the sextet. She also sings Hebe in Pinafore.
Contralto: Sort of attempts whatever women's chorus there is in Trial, singing whichever line in the split parts she feels like, then getting some netter once describing herself as a lump of a girl to volunteer for chorus and sing whatever parts she isn't doing. This contralto then takes Buttercup in Pinafore.
Tenor I: Stands backstage during Trial to sing in the sextet only, then sings Rafe in Pinafore.
Lyric Baritone: Sings Edwin except for the sextet, where he mouths while the tenor sings backstage, then sings the Captain in Pinafore.
Bass: Sings Usher in Trial followed by Deadeye in Pinafore.
Comic Baritone: This is easiest, because he sings Judge and Admiral, and many people in this fach probably have done both roles at one performance.
Second Baritone: Sings Foreman and Bosun.
Men's chorus: One tenor and bass to try to handle all chorus parts in both operettas as best they can, the bass also singing Carpenter in Pinafore.
If anyone can think of a sillier casting, please let us know.
ANDREW SOLOVAY: Golly. The only way I can think of to respond to this inspired lunacy is with a grand Net tradition, the Irrelevant Nitpick. Forthwith:
Sir Joseph Porter (KCB) isn't an "Admiral". He's the First Lord of the Admiralty, which is a civilian office. (The First Lord of the Sea, OTOH, is an admiral.)
RONALD ORENSTEIN: I believe that, before my time, St Pat's Players did a double bill of Trial by Jury and Sorcerer in which Sorcerer was done first with Edwin and Angelina as chorus members who got together and broke up in the end, with the final curtain involving the Counsel presenting a jilted Angelina with his card.
RICHARD BLIGHT: Louis Wernick describes the casting for a double bill of Trial/Pinafore. Recently I have been wondering about the feasibility of casting a Pinafore, solely for home consumption, with 3 voices soprano, tenor, bass. (These are somewhat constrained by the voices of myself and two nearby friends. I hasten to add that I am not the soprano.)
Soprano: sings Josephine, Buttercup, Hebe, soprano line of female chorus, probably Ralph in "British Tar".
Tenor: sings Ralph, Joseph P, Corcoran (sometimes), Bosun (sometimes), tenor chorus, alto line of female chorus where possible.
Bass: sings Deadeye, Corcoran (sometimes), Bosun (sometimes), Carpenter, bass chorus, alto line of female chorus where possible.
Role changes would probably best be managed by having a large and distinctive Hat for each character, which could be donned at the suitable time. Variations on this theme, such as an eye patch for Deadeye or a cat o'ninetails for Corcoran, might also be possible.
MICHAEL WALTERS: I have received permission to send this to the net. The Wooing of Angelina is a oneact play without music written by Iris Pritchard with the intention of its being performed by amateur companies as a prequel to Trial by Jury. Copies of the script are available from her son, John G. Pritchard, 34 St. Leonard's Avenue, Blandford, Dorset DT11 7NY, UK. Tel & fax: Int code + 01258453185.
Obviously he will expect reimbursement for printing and postage, but he says nothing about any fee for performance. He writes in his letter to me: "My mother would have liked to think her play was being performed again."
Page updated 13 November 2004