The Yeomen of the Guard Trivia

The Yeoman of the Guard Trivia No. 1.

The Yeomen of the Guard is the only opera which opens with a solo number: the curtain rises to reveal Phoebe, the Sergeant’s daughter, sitting alone on the stage. Jessie Bond (who created the part) relates in her memoirs that on the opening night, as she was awaiting the start of the show, a frantic Gilbert kept “fussing about” – “Oh Jessie, are you sure you’re all right?” –  until she exclaimed “For Heaven’s sake, Mr Gilbert, go away and leave me alone, or I shan’t be able to sing a note!”

The Yeoman of the Guard Trivia No. 2.

The Yeomen of the Guard is the only Gilbert and Sullivan opera with a sad ending: the jester Jack Point loses his beloved Elsie to his rival Colonel Fairfax, and according to the stage direction “falls insensible at their feet”. George Grossmith, who created the part, suggested by his comic acting that this fall was not to be taken seriously; but Henry Lytton, playing the part with D’Oyly Carte’s touring company, made it starkly clear that the jester fell dead of a broken heart. Gilbert, surprisingly for such a decisive man, never stated firmly which interpretation was correct; and the ambiguity has provided performers with scope for individual interpretations ever since.

The Yeoman of the Guard Trivia No. 3.

Both Gilbert and Sullivan were firmly of the opinion that their best joint work was The Yeomen of the Guard: certainly it is musically and dramatically their most ambitious.  In writing the duet “I have a song to sing, O”, with the incremental addition of extra lines in each successive verse, Gilbert had in mind a traditional sea-shanty with a similar structure.  Sullivan had so much difficulty setting the lyric that he asked Gilbert to hum the tune of the original song: the only time in the history of the collaboration when Gilbert made a musical as well as a literary contribution.

The Yeoman of the Guard Trivia No. 4.

During a rehearsal for a revival of The Yeomen of the Guard in 1906, Charles Workman, playing Jack Point, was reprimanded by Gilbert during the trio “A man who would woo a fair maid” for kissing Elsie and Phoebe alternately in time to the music.  “Then you would cut the kissing out?” Workman asked.  Gilbert replied  “No, I would not, but I must ask you to.”

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