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The Yeomen of the Guard

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Gilbert and Sullivan Society · Exeter · Devon

Written by W S Gilbert

Composed by Arthur Sullivan



    The story concerns intrigue and treachery in the England of Henry VIII. Colonel Fairfax is imprisoned in the Tower of London on a trumped-up charge of sorcery. Sergeant Meryll, of the yeomen of the guard, and many of his colleagues owe the Colonel debts of gratitude for the many occasions over the years when, in battle, the Colonel has fearlessly saved them from certain death.

    Meryll together with his daughter Phœbe and son Leonard, hatch a plot to rescue Fairfax from his prison cell in the hope that by delaying the Colonel’s execution, set for seven o’clock that evening, they may be able to gain enough time for an expected reprieve to arrive from the King. Phœbe has an admirer, Wilfred Shadbolt, head jailor and assistant tormentor of the tower, and she undertakes to abstract the key to the Colonel’s cell from Wilfred’s belt.

    Knowing nothing of this, Colonel Fairfax has been explaining to the Lieutenant of the tower, Sir Richard Cholmondely (a real-life character who commanded the Tower of London during the reign of Henry VIII), that he is in this situation merely because his cousin, a secretary of state, wishes to inherit his fortune. The Colonel asks Sir Richard to find him a wife without delay.

    Into this milieu come Jack Point, a strolling jester, and his companion Elsie Maynard, a strolling singer and the object of Point’s affection. The Lieutenant immediately seizes on the opportunity to suggest that Elsie becomes Fairfax’s bride; he has but an hour to live and she will inherit 100 crowns, more than enough to buy much needed medicine for Elsie’s ailing mother. Elsie is led blindfold to her marriage ceremony whilst Point displays his talents as a Jester in the hopes of gaining a post in the Lieutenant’s household.

    Meanwhile Phœbe slyly removes Wilfred’s keys and keeps him occupied whilst Meryll releases Fairfax. The yeomen parade for the execution, Fairfax (masquerading as Leonard Meryll) is sent to bring the prisoner forth, but, of course, he is not there. The Lieutenant threatens to execute Wilfred instead and the entire scene descends into utter confusion, Point realising that he may have lost Elsie, and Elsie herself fainting into the arms of Fairfax.

    At night two days later, there is still no sign of Fairfax and Dame Carruthers, the formidable housekeeper to the tower, mercilessly upbraids the yeomen warders. Point and Shadbolt, both depressed for varying reasons, hatch a plot. In return for Point teaching Shadbolt to become a Jester, Shadbolt will concoct a story of his shooting an escaping Fairfax as he tried to swim the river.

    Fairfax has the unusual opportunity to test the virtue of his wife. Still disguised as Leonard Meryll he attempts to woo her. Their tete-a-tete is interrupted by the sound of an arquebus being fired and the entire community is regaled by Wilfred’s story of the shooting of Fairfax. This gives Point the opportunity to woo Elsie once again, but so ungainly are his attempts that Fairfax intervenes and subsequently gains Elsie for himself, leaving Point a broken man and Phœbe angry.

    So angry is Phœbe that she inadvertently reveals the secret to Wilfred and so has to agree to marry him. At this point the real Leonard arrives with the long-awaited reprieve. Conversations are overheard by the ever present Dame Carruthers whom Meryll has managed to avoid for years, but now there is no help for it, the price of her silence is Meryll.

    As all the characters assemble for a triple wedding, the Lieutenant arrives to inform Elsie that her husband lives and claims her as his bride. Heartbroken, Elsie cannot look at Fairfax as she sings her farewell to Leonard, but when she turns around and realises that, to her, Leonard and Fairfax are one, she cannot contain her joy. The only loser is poor Jack Point who, as the curtain descends, falls dead at their feet of a broken heart.


    ACT 1

    When maiden loves, she sits and sighs

    Tower warders, under orders
    Crowd and Yeomen, solo Second Yeoman

    When our gallant Norman foes
    Dame Carruthers and Yeomen

    Alas! I waver to and fro
    Phœbe, Leonard and Meryll

    Is life a boon?

    Here’s a man of jollity

    I have a song to sing, O!
    (or, ‘The Merryman and his Maid’)
    Point, Elsie, and chorus

    How say you, maiden, will you wed?
    Lieutenant, Elsie, Point

    I've jibe and joke

    ’Tis done! I am a bride!

    Were I thy bride

    Finale Act I
    Oh, Sergeant Meryll, is it true?
    To thy fraternal care, thy sister I commend
    The pris’ner comes to meet his doom
    M’lord, m’lord… As escort for the prisoner
    All frenzied, frenzied with despair they rave

    ACT 2

    Night has spread her pall once more
    People, Dame Carruthers, Yeomen

    Oh! a private buffoon is a light-hearted loon

    Hereupon we're both agreed
    Point and Wilfred

    Free from his fetters grim

    Strange adventure
    Kate, Dame Carruthers, Fairfax, Meryll

    ‘Hark! What was that, sir?’ …
    ‘Like a ghost his vigil keeping’
    Meryll, Fairfax, Lieutenant, Wilfred, Point, Ensemble

    A man who would woo a fair maid
    Fairfax, Elsie, Phœbe

    When a wooer goes a-wooing
    Elsie, Fairfax, Phœbe, Point

    Rapture, rapture
    Dame Carruthers, Sergeant Meryll

    Finale Act II
    Comes the pretty young bride
    Oh, day of terror!
    Leonard, my loved one, come to me
    I have a song to sing, O!


    Sir Richard Cholmondeley
    (pronounced Chum’lee), Lieutenant of the Tower (baritone)

    Colonel Fairfax
    under sentence of death (tenor)

    Sergeant Meryll of the Yeomen of the Guard

    Leonard Meryll
    his son (tenor)

    Jack Point
    a strolling jester (comic baritone)

    Wilfred Shadbolt
    Head Jailer and Assistant Tormentor (bass-baritone or baritone)

    The Headsman

    First Yeoman

    Second Yeoman

    First Citizen

    Second Citizen

    Elsie Maynard
    a strolling singer (soprano)

    Phœbe Meryll
    Sergeant Meryll’s daughter (mezzo-soprano)

    Dame Carruthers
    Housekeeper to the Tower (contralto)

    her niece (soprano)


    Chorus of Yeomen Warders, gentlemen, citizens, etc.



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      Annotated libretto of The Yeomen of the Guard


      Combined libretto and vocal score of The Yeomen of the Guard, courtesy of the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, contains the deleted songs ‘When jealous torments’, and ‘A laughing boy’ plus the extra couplets for the 3rd and 4th Yeomen in the Act One finale. Also included are both the D major and E flat major versions of ‘I have a song’, Elsie and Point’s lines in the Act One Finale and the original version of the Act Two finale (as an appendix).


      Combined vocal score and libretto of The Yeomen of the Guard, courtesy of Troupers Light Opera, containing the deleted songs ‘When jealous torments’, and ‘A laughing boy’


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    Please Note: St David’s Players are not responsible for the content or availability of content on external websites

    Reviews currently included here have been posted by contributor, Ian Bond, and are his personal views, and these may not necessarily represent the views of St David’s Players

    Substantial recordings of The Yeoman of the Guard of the Guard began to appear as early as 1907 when the recording company Pathé issued a set of 9 discs containing 15 numbers from the opera including a virtually complete Act One finale. Perhaps the greatest interest of this recording lies in the presence of Amy Evans as Elsie. Miss Evans would replace Nancy McIntosh as Selene, the Fairy Queen in Gilbert’s last opera, Fallen Fairies, at the Savoy during December 1909. For those interested in hearing this recording it is available on the Symposium label, catalogue number 1267. The disc also contains the 1907 recording of HMS Pinafore.

    HMV began recording complete versions of the operas as early as 1918. At this stage the recordings were cast mainly from contracted singers, and when Yeoman of the Guard entered the recording studio in 1920 the only D’Oyly Carte singer to be engaged was Derek Oldham as Fairfax.

    Those interested in hearing this recording transferred by Chris Webster on the Sounds on CD label, VGS201, can obtain it from 78s2cd, there is also the facility to download in
    MP3 format.

    Just nine years after the commencement of complete recordings by HMV, the acoustic recording process was replaced by the new electrical method and HMV began to re-record the operas. Yeoman of the Guard returned to the recording studio in 1928.

    By this time the cast consists mainly of D’Oyly Carte singers and the musical director is also a D’Oyly Carte stalwart of the 20’s and 30’s in the form of Dr Malcolm Sargent.

    The expertise and experience of D’Oyly Carte professionals from what many consider to be a ‘golden age’ shines through in this performance.

    There is a purity and clarity in the voice of Winifred Lawson which is quite remarkable and her exciting performance of
    ‘’Tis done! I am a bride’ is surely a benchmark even for a performance now over 80 years old, despite the fact that the number is shorn of a verse. No doubt it was still a difficult job to fit numbers onto the maximum 4 minute side of each 78 rpm disc.

    Nellie Briercliffe as Phoebe, also oozes charm, mischief and sparkle and brings across the ‘twinkle in the eye’.

    The remainder of the cast are no less persuasive. There are some musical cuts within numbers, but when one considers that this recording runs for some 79 minutes, this is no mean feat and does preserve an important recording which, in style, seems very modern.

    The two non D’Oyly Carte singers are George Baker as Jack Point and Peter Dawson as Meryll, both highly respected and experienced singers. Baker in particular had a long association with Gilbert and Sullivan, despite the fact that he was never a member of D’Oyly Carte.

    The recording has been reissued by a number of companies. Sounds on CD VGS228, Pro-Arte - CDD 3417, and other sources and labels.

    After the 2nd world war, D’Oyly Carte returned to the recording studio, but now with a new company - DECCA. A new set of recordings began in 1949 and this series, affectionately known as the ‘DECCA 1st Series’ contained recordings of all the operas from Trial to Gondoliers and was completed in 1955.

    Yeoman of the Guard was recorded in one day on 18th July 1950 and represented the current staging of the opera in which the couplets ‘Didst thou not’ are foreshortened, and the duet ‘Rapture, rapture’ is omitted altogether.

    For many years the beauty of this series of recordings lay hidden under the pops, crackles and surface noise of, often, inferior vinyl. It was not until the recordings passed into public domain and several record companies started to transfer to CD, that the digital process began to reveal the glories beneath.

    The surprise for me of this recording, is just how good Leonard Osborne as Fairfax actually is. It is a commanding performance delivered in ringing tone and without the overtly nasal sound that is present on some of his recordings.

    Ann Drummond-Grant (wife of musical director Isidore Godfrey), started with the company as a soprano and would later become a much respected and well-loved contralto. Here she has reached the halfway point as a mezzo and is a delightfully cheeky Phoebe.

    The ever dependable Muriel Harding is on top form as Elsie and the ever reliable Darrel Fancourt plays Meryll.

    The slight disappointment for me is Martyn Green’s Jack Point. This was Green’s second stint with the company, and here he sounds too old for the part.

    Chorus and orchestra are excellent and, of course, are in the ever capable hands of dear old ‘Goddie’ (Isidore Godfrey).

    The recording has appeared on a number of labels. Sounds on CD VGS223. Naxos in one of their better transfers, 8.110293-94 coupled with orchestral excerpts from Mikado, Gondoliers, Ruddigore, Utopia and Iolanthe. Regis - RRC 3003 couple the opera with the 1950 Gondoliers and highlights from the 1950 Ruddigore, and there are a number of other issues both in CD and MP3 format.

    I have in the past, been quite lukewarm about the ‘Glyndebourne’ series under the baton of Sir Malcolm Sargent, and this recording does nothing to dispel my misgivings about this series in general, certainly in the earlier recordings. The series began in 1956 and although first published in 1958, this recording of Yeoman of the Guard was actually made in 1957.

    The main problem here as with most of the early recordings in the series, is one of pace. When one listens to Sargent’s recordings of the 1920’s and 1930’s, they are so lively and bright. Indeed as Sargent was one of D’Oyly Carte’s musical directors at that time, his experience of directing in live performance is evident in those recordings. Somewhere in the intervening 20 years he has forgotten this. All the recordings are musically excellent, both instrumentally and vocally, but there is often no spark and no excitement.

    The entire series has gone through multiple manifestations - they were issued at least twice on LP, some of them three times, each issue in different packaging. On CD there have been four issues all of which (with the exception of the 16 CD box set) have used derivatives of the artwork from the final LP issues.

    Vocally there is, sadly, one serious miscasting. Sir Geraint Evans has a wonderful voice and has proved magnificent on the opera stages of the world, but his voice is far too heavy for the role of Jack Point.

    The current issue is on the
    Classics for Pleasure label.

    In 1964, Sir Malcolm was back in the recording studio, this time with D’Oyly Carte and the combination of being back with a familiar company and indeed, a company steeped in actual performance of the work, produces a completely different result.

    The recording falls only three minutes or so short of the timing of the ‘Glyndebourne’ set, but this is thrilling stuff with a full-on theatrical feel to it, and therefore seemingly speeds by.

    Of all the Colonel Fairfax performances, Philip Potter has to be regarded as possible the best on record. Philip was always excellent on stage and that excellence is evident here in an easy, clear, resounding performance.

    John Reed, who had by this time officially inhabited the ‘patter’ roles for just 5 years, has clearly and unforgettably made Jack Point his own and from personal experience of his performance in the theatre, he was well able to pull at the heartstrings in the final scene and reduce practically an entire audience to tears. Even here, on record, you can feel that pathos coming across.

    Kenneth Sandford as ever, is practicably unbeatable as Shadbolt. Gillian Knight as Dame Carruthers and Elizabeth Harwood as Elsie are both on top form as are the D’Oyly Carte chorus and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

    The recording is on the DECCA label,
    catalogue number 473 665-2.

    1st choice recording


    Yeoman of the Guard did return to the recording studio until 1979 when DECCA again recorded the opera with D’Oyly Carte as part of the unfinished ‘third series’ - in fact, this was the last complete recording the original D’Oyly Carte Opera Company would make.

    Again, the Royal Philharmonic and the D’Oyly Carte chorus are on good form, although it has to be said that there are some ragged moments from both.

    Jane Metcalf is a beautifully studied Phoebe and Barbara Lilley is excellent as Elsie, giving a thrilling account of ‘’Tis done! I am a bride’. Geoffrey Shovelton with his clear bright tenor voice comes across as a very chivalrous Colonel Fairfax, whilst Patricia Leonard gives a superb account of Dame Carruthers which culminates in a joyous ‘Rapture, rapture’.

    The long partnership of Kenneth Sandford and John Reed is evident in their work together during Act Two, and that John’s performance had grown and matured over the years is fully evident in the heart-rending conclusion to the Act Two finale.

    This recording is also notable as it is the first to include Meryll’s ‘A laughing boy but yesterday’ performed in it’s correct position in Act One. It was, at this time, being included in D’Oyly Carte performances for the first time in 90 years and is beautifully rendered here by John Ayldon.

    Not, maybe, a first choice of recording, but I for one would certainly not wish to be without it.

    It is issued by Sounds on CD VGS 253 (under licence from DECCA) and at the time of writing can be obtained from 78s2cd

    With the demise of the original D’Oyly Carte Opera Company in 1982, things looked bleak. But as is sometimes the case, a tragic event proves the catalyst for a positive outcome. A gift in the will of Dame Bridget D’Oyly Carte, who died in May 1985, was substantial enough for the D’Oyly Carte Trust to form a new performing company, and although this company would be very different to the original (and indeed, continue to perform only until 2002), the productions and musical standards were of a very high quality.

    The beauty of the seven recordings that the new company made during their 15 years of existence is that they allow us for the first time ever to hear Sullivan’s orchestrations as he intended them, stripped of all later unauthorised emendations. Each set of new orchestral parts was prepared by Dr David Russell Hulme from Sullivan’s autographed manuscript full scores.

    This is a magnificent recording of the 1992 production, expertly and very sensitively conducted by John Owen Edwards who draws an exciting and compelling performance from principals, chorus and orchestra alike. That Fenton Gray as Jack Point can’t quite erase memories of John Reed is not his fault, or indeed a failing - how could anyone expect to follow ‘dear John’ in the eyes and ears of those who saw him?

    The rest of the cast is exceptionally strong with Lesley Echo Ross on magnificent form as Elsie and Jill Pert as dependable as ever in the role of Dame Carruthers.

    That I can’t give this recording first place is entirely due to the fact that, despite the inclusion of both Wilfred’s ‘When jealous torments’ and Meryll’s ‘A laughing boy’ on the recording, it is as an appendix rather than in their rightful position. Such a pity as there is plenty of room on disc 1 for this to have been done and, indeed, both numbers were being included in stage performances. The couplets for the 3rd and 4th Yeoman of the Guard are included in the Act One Finale as are the original words for Point and Elsie in the final chorus. An extra bonus in the appendix however, is the presence of the first version of ‘Is life a boon?’ in six-eight.

    So despite the quibbles, this is the most complete (musically) Yeoman of the Guard to date and it is a magnificent one.

    The recording appears on the TER label - CDTER2 1195.

    The New D’Oyly Carte recording (above) seemed to be the signal for a spate of recordings with Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy and Chrous of St Martin’s in the Fields being the next to visit the studios of Philips in 1993, with a principal cast of top flight opera singers. This was also the first Yeoman of the Guard to include dialogue.

    Herein lies one of the two main problems with this recording. For some reason, the decision was taken to abridge the dialogue of Act One, but to leave it complete in Act Two. The reasons for this are unclear. If it had been a question that with the dialogue left intact Act One would have needed to spill over onto the second disc, that might be a reason. However, the first disc only runs to 64:04 leaving a good 15 minutes of space - more than enough to accommodate the missing material.

    The second problem is the fact that despite the inclusion of Wilfred’s and Meryll’s ‘lost’ songs on the D’Oyly Carte discs one year earlier, and the fact that they were being included in stage performance, both are omitted here, as indeed are the couplets for the 3rd and 4th Yeoman of the Guard in the Act One finale.

    All this amounts to a great disappointment as the performances
    are top flight and in general there has to be a feeling that an opportunity was missed on this occasion.

    Thomas Allen and Bryn Terfel make an excellent team as Point and Shadbolt. Sylvia McNair is a thrilling Elsie and Jean Rigby brings out the minx in Phoebe. Anne Collins, an experienced G & S performer, is a forbidding Dame Carruthers.

    The recording is currently available on the Philips Classics ‘Duo’ series - 462 508-2.

    No sooner had Marriner recorded the opera than Sir Charles Mackerras and the forces of Welsh National Opera also visited the recording studios. This time the recording results from a stage production and, in fact, has the distinction of being the only Sullivan production to date (apart from Ivanhoe in 1910) to have played at the Royal Opera House.

    Sir Charles was, of course, a highly experienced conductor of Sullivan’s music, and this come across in a radiant and loving performance. Again the ‘lost’ songs are excluded, but the couplets for the 3rd and 4th Yeoman of the Guard are present.

    A highly experienced cast gives a magnificent performance with the awesome talents of ex-D’Oyly Carte bass Donald Adams in his familiar role as Sergent Meryll. Another ex-D’Oyly Carte performer, tenor Ralph Mason, appears as one of the solo Yeoman of the Guard.

    Love him or loath him, Richard Suart is excellent in the role of Jack Point and he is ably partnered in Act Two by the wonderful Donald Maxwell as Shadbolt.

    There must be something about the role of Dame Carruthers that attracts our most accomplished contraltos, in this case Felicity Palmer.

    No dialogue, but a fizzing performance.

    On the TELARC label - 2CD-80404 coupled with Trial by Jury.

    The Ohio Light Opera Company have issued a number of Gilbert and Sullivan recordings of varying quality. The first of these was a complete Princess Ida which was, to say the least, dire. Their Utopia was quite another matter, whilst other offerings, including complete recordings of Sorcerer, Mikado, Ruddigore and Gondoliers (all with dialogue) are of varying merits.

    Ohio insist on billing each of their recordings as ‘Complete’! But beware - in this case that is hardly an accurate description. Not only are the ‘lost’ songs omitted, as are the extended couplets in the Act One finale, but even Phoebe’s ‘Were I thy bride’ - a completely unfathomable omission of one of the most famous songs from the opera.

    As with Ida, the American accent is also a considerable drawback in this recording. This was a problem that seemed to have been eradicated in Utopia, Grand Duke, Sorcerer and Gondoliers, but here it resurfaces with a vengeance.

    To add to all this, Sandra Ross as Dame Carruthers, bucks the trend of all other recordings in that she is far too lightweight for the role.

    If you must sample this recording it is available on the Albany label - TROY 643/44, but it is probably best to save money by buying it as a download from Amazon or iTunes at half the normal price.

    The Brent Walker series of Gilbert and Sullivan operas issued originally on VHS between 1982 - 1985 were, to say the least, patchy. Yeoman of the Guard, whilst well sung, has to be accounted one of the worst of the series for a number of reasons.

    Not only do the producers advance the action to the time of Charles I (making the costumes for the Yeoman of the Guard themselves rather less spectacular than usual), but there are numerous cuts; Phoebe loses the 1st verse of her opening number, the act one trio ‘Alas I waiver’ and Fairfax’s ballad are both missing. Fairfax’s act two ballad, ‘Strange Adventure’, ‘When a wooer goes a-wooing’, and ‘Rapture, rapture’ are absent. The excuse for this was that the piece needed to run no longer than two hours for the purposes of television broadcast, and yet when the production was first broadcast on the BBC and on CBS, much of the missing material was present. Strange too that, although not the longest of the works, none of the other operas in the series suffered cuts of a similar magnitude.

    The insistence on using ‘star’ names in this series also has an incongruous effect with Jack Point, a quintessentially English character, being played by Joel Gray, an American, whose strong accent grates throughout the entire piece, despite the fact that he is essentially very good.

    One to be avoided, but if you must see it, apart from being part of the 10 disc box set, it should be available singly on the Universal label - 822 870-4.

    In recent years the Carl Rose Opera Company have very much assumed the mantle of the original D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, and although they do not tend to tour a number of operas in repertoire, they do bring at least one G & S production a year to the provinces and, indeed, in recent years, to the USA also.

    Their production of Yeoman of the Guard was filmed at the Buxton Opera House in August 2007 during the annual International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival.

    This is a beautiful production, well paced and excellently sung.
    If one has a gripe it would be the omission of Shadbolt’s
    ‘When jealous torments’ and the couplets for the 3rd and 4th Yeoman of the Guard - and this despite the fact that Meryll’s ‘A laughing boy’ - which is generally accepted as holding the action up - is included. The ending, also, is peculiar, with Point being prevented from approaching Elsie and Fairfax by a cordon of Yeoman of the Guard, and therefore throwing, what can only be described, as a major, childish, tantrum. Why it was felt necessary to do this I cannot begin to guess - Gilbert’s ending, whether falling insensible or dying, is at least final - this ending is not.

    Overall however, this is a good account of the most serious of the G & S operas.

    The DVD may be purchased direct from Carl Rose either separately or as part of a 3 DVD bundle together with their Iolanthe and Mikado.