Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



ANDREW CROWTHER: I'd like to point out that the Arthur Jacobs biography of Sullivan, quotes a long letter in which Gilbert himself refers to The Yeoman of the Guard, more than once.

GENE LEONARDI: It really does seem as if The Yeomen Of The Guard may be the most truly contemporary of all the G&S works. The finale of Act II is downright nihilistic in its effect. Of all the G&S finales, this is the only one that really gets "out of control", the one in which events both musically and dramatically take on lives of their own. All the plotting and counterplotting go by the boards and what was a pat "set piece" of musical entertainment in the first act is shown to be merely "sound and fury," a tale "told by an idiot, signifying nothing." My Shakespearean quote may be off, but the feeling is definitely there.

ROBERT JONES: The Yeomen Of The Guard should probably not be advertised as a comic opera. Perhaps publicity could tell people that it's "G&S's only serious opera", or something similar, to reduce false expectations.

And this is one example of Yeomen's theme of yin and yang. Throughout the work, characters sing of dilemmas, of unresolved (but often balanced) dichotomies. From Phoebe's "Heigh-ho" and "Ah me" through to the end, where joy unalloyed turns into Point's grief, sharply contrasting ideas are presented: some being simple choices; others co-existing opposites, indeed two sides of a coin.

It's a cleverly constructed work, and it's refreshing to find this much depth in what purports to be "light entertainment".

RONALD ORENSTEIN: I think the biggest problem with Yeomen as a text (and I love the piece) is that, though it takes a much more "realistic" view of its subject-matter, it retains the "topsy-turvy" constructions and illogicalities of the more outrightly comic operas. Others have pointed out how many elements in it are the same as those in the other pieces-Point's love for Elsie parallels Bunthorne's for Patience, the emphasis on executions and torture show up in The Mikado and again in The Gondoliers, Point's allowing Elsie to marry Fairfax parallels Ko-ko's allowing Yum-Yum to marry Nanki-Poo, etc-but in Yeomen we are expected to take them, and their surroundings, seriously.

We can overlook the difference between Ralph's age and Josephine's in the interest of a good laugh and because we know that the world of Pinafore, however realistic its setting, is the world of comic fantasy. It is harder to accept that no one will recognize Fairfax without his beard, or that Wilfred will know about Elsie's engagement within minutes of its taking place, or that Elsie's wedding to Leonard seems set to take place at around 3 AM, because we are expected to treat Yeomen as a serious story about real people.

PETER ZAVON: As to not recognizing Fairfax without a beard, I have worked with fellows who wore neatly trimmed full beards. Two of them have gone to clean-shaven status without notice or fanfare in the last 10 years-and they literally had to introduce themselves to people they worked with on a weekly basis. Without the beard, they really were not recognized.

DAVID DUFFEY: The narrative and dramatic structure is very similar to that of The Mikado in the following particulars:

ANDREW CROWTHER: I can't think of much actually wrong with The Yeomen Of The Guard. The lyrics are excellent; the music is, my untutored ear and those who know tell me, among Sullivan's best. The plot is melodramatic-but, given the period, we must expect that from "serious" drama. The characterization is good enough to provide endless food for debate. The ending was a very big risk, given the audience expectation of something much more jolly and up-beat-I count risk-taking as another factor in favour of the piece. And yet....

I don't like the overall concept. G&S decide to do something more serious-fine. So what do they do? They go back to Tudor times for their plot, Gilbert goes overboard with the pseudo- Shakespearean language, and we're transported to Ye Olde Englande, prithee, sirra and by my troth. It isn't quite Merrie England, thank God, and Gilbert retains his bite, but I don't like the assumption that opera can only go "serious" by going safely back in time. (As someone says in Gilbert's play Foggerty's Fairy: "Romance died the day before yesterday.")

This is what I wish had happened: I wish Gilbert had said: "All right, Sullivan, let's do something serious and heartfelt, and damn the critics. Let's try something set in the present day, but dealing seriously with some modern problem. Something on the lines of my An Old Score or Charity." Fat chance of such a thing having happened, of course, but I wish he had.

There's a lot to say in support of Yeomen. There's much to enjoy. But I don't like the English Heritage aspect of it all.

HARRIET MEYER: Perhaps this is touristy of me, but I like the English Heritage aspect of Yeomen.

ROBERT JONES: I don't think it was beyond Gilbert to write a less comic work set in the present: Yeomen just happens to be set in the past.

NEIL ELLENOFF: I like and respect Yeomen a lot. However, there are certain things it isn't. It isn't a great tragedy. It is a comic opera that doesn't end completely happily.

Gilbert was wonderful. However, characterizations are not his strong suit. In a play with music there isn't enough time to develop a character unless the dramatist is very adroit or the piece is very long. Gilbert is very good at doing a caricature. E.g. Gama, Stanley, or Jack Point. But, for example, one doesn't know much more about Point at the end than after his first whine. Gilbert's method is to have the character tell about himself. This works well in G&S, but is not the stuff of great drama.

The plot is an excellent operatic plot but I don't think Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill, or Alan Ayckborn have much to fear. Verdi, or Mascagni or Puccini would have loved it though.

WILLIAM FLORESCU: Characterizations not Gilbert's strong suit? I'm not sure if I agree with that point...and in any case, it's not a fair comparison to say that Gilbert writing for Sullivan doesn't compare with O''s a different mediums. To compare Yeomen to a great drama is unfair to both. He was and is the best at what he did. His influence on the writing of lyrics is so enormous that I can think of nothing with which to compare it. His humor and use of the English language is without peer (or Peri) except perhaps Shakespeare.

GENE LEONARDI: If Yeomen wasn't a G&S work (admittedly a well crafted one) would anyone even remotely consider reviving a piece that is filled with so much "gloom and doom" and downright unpleasant sentiments? Just look objectively at the individual pieces (and I certainly won't list 'em all) In Act One alone:

And Elsie! Well, really read "Tis done, I am a bride." This is heavy stuff. She talks about loveless marriages of convenience and (battered?) wives who would be happy to be widows "no matter how".

I could go on but there are images of grief, despair and death everywhere you look. Even what I consider the most traditional G&S example of patter in the work (the act II Point and Wilfred "Like a ghost his vigil keeping" duet) talks about the supposed death of Fairfax. Am I alone in finding the use of chirpy patter music rather unsettling in this context? "Anyhow the man is dead and whether stone or lump of lead" Indeed!

BRUCE WALTON: Are you seriously suggesting that cheeriness, happy endings and pleasant sentiment are the only things which people look for when they go to the theatre? OK, so Yeomen is very different to the other works of G&S in this respect, but compared to lots and lots of plays, movies and TV series, Yeomen is positively bubbling over with happiness!

Great works contain contrast and balance between happiness and sadness, light and shade. I think that the presence of a dark side in The Yeomen Of The Guard is the mark of it being superior to the others as a work of drama.

RICA MENDES: I think of all the canon, Yeomen really is the most appealing in that it covers all emotions and sources of great plot lines from true love, false love, betrayal, potential execution, mistaken identity and lots of neat machines that cause pain. There is a sympathetic villain (whether it be Shadbolt or Fairfax), fair maidens, voluptuous and entertaining... And, of all the canon, I also think that it is the most realistic. And in this day and age, theatrically, The Yeomen Of The Guard is the most tangible, I think, in that the characters are the most relatable-how many people can relate to the spoiled daughter of a sea captain choosing between a high officer and a lowly sailor? Or the son of an Emperor fleeing the grasp of an old coot in the guise of a musician?

My point is that, if it weren't an "under-exposed" opera ("over" being Mikado, Pinafore and Gondoliers), I think you would see a little more clearly that of all the operas, it is the most appealing.

TOM GROVES: Most appealing....hmmmmm.....I'm now in rehearsal for Yeoman and have done some pondering on this subject. Many of my friends who are not G&S fanatics find it the least appealing. They like Pirates, Mikado, Pinafore etc. but find Yeoman somewhat dark and boring. It has also often been said (by those who shall remain nameless) that it's much more fun to be in Yeoman than to actually sit through it. I think that the plot is particularly obtuse, and if you nod off during Meryll's "Now to prove thy words" dialog you might as well go home because you won't be able to figure out what's going on. Also, some have found the "overheard dream" to be Gilbert's plotting at it's weakest. I love Yeoman myself and playing Shadbolt is second only to Pooh-Bah as bass parts go, yet I continue to hear negative things about Yeoman from the uninitiated.

JUDITH WEIS: Well, my husband, despite years and years of my trying to educate his palate, generally tolerates most of the G&S works. But he actually likes Yeomen (maybe that's an exaggeration...) But he actually helped out VLOG with box office a couple of times and saw the show two additional times besides the one which he "had to" see with friends in the audience. He wouldn't do that with the other shows.

SAM L. CLAPP: Despite all its outward doom & gloom, is not Yeomen really a thorough examination of many types of men and women and the ways in which they interact? Imagine the same relationships set up in an adolescent setting (Mind you, I would never stage it this way): Elsie the beautiful, entertaining girl, loved by Jack Point, upon whom she looks as more of a confidant. Fairfax the jock easily gets her. Phoebe, the conspirator, hooks up not totally unwillingly (I think, but this is opined) with tough-guy Shadbolt. Friendly old teacher Meryll hooks up with wretched (chemistry) teacher Carruthers....

The relationships would work in any setting, really, and that's what Yeomen is really all about!

"When a wooer goes a-wooing " is extremely perceptive in its delineation of the science of flirting, etc.

RICHARD BLIGHT: Am I alone in disliking the ending of Yeomen for its loose ends? All the cast are aware that the person they once thought was Leonard is in fact Fairfax-hence the Merylls must all have been lying to save a criminal and should be thrown into Wilfred's dungeons. Yet the only people who Gilbert takes the pains to mollify are Dame Carruthers and Wilfred, by being given the hands of Sgt Meryll and Phoebe. What about the Lieutenant, those yeomen and townspeople?

Given that Gilbert was one of the first writers to involve the chorus in the action of the plot rather than just being on the sidelines to sing where necessary, does this not strike people as odd? A loose end? Or just dramatic license?

ARTHUR ROBINSON: We know that Gilbert originally wrote a scene tying up the loose end of the rivalry of Scaphio and Phantis for Zara in Utopia, but dropped it because Sullivan disliked it. Maybe he originally wrote a different ending for Yeomen which ended with the entire Meryll family being forthwith beheaded (beheaded, behea-ea-ea-ea-ded), along with Dame Carruthers and Wilfred as accessories after the fact. Or maybe when Fairfax comes on in the last scene he's disguised himself by wearing spectacles (hey, it worked for Clark Kent).

ROBERT JONES: Presumably, the populace is so happy that Fairfax is alive and that he and Elsie make such a lovely couple, they're not going to worry about how it all came to pass. And since all the skullduggery was done by those in charge, who's going to take them to task? Still doesn't explain why Wilfred wasn't punished. Dramatic license, indeed!

Page created 6 June 1997