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Trial by Jury
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ST DAVID’S PLAYERS
Gilbert and Sullivan Society · Exeter · Devon
Written by W S Gilbert
Composed by Arthur Sullivan
Hark, the hour of ten is sounding
Now, Jurymen, hear my advice
Is this the Court of the Exchequer?
When first my old, old love I knew
Defendant and Chorus
Silence in Court!
All hail great Judge!
Chorus and Judge
When I, good friends, was call'd to the Bar
Judge and Chorus
Swear thou the Jury
Oh will you swear by yonder skies
Usher and Chorus
Where is the Plaintiff?
Comes the broken flower
Chorus of Bridesmaids and Plaintiff
Oh, never, never, never, since I joined the human race
Judge, Foreman, Chorus
May it please you, my lud!
Counsel for Plaintiff and Chorus
That she is reeling is plain to see!
Judge, Foreman, Plaintiff, Counsel, and Chorus
Oh, gentlemen, listen, I pray
Defendant and Chorus of Bridesmaids
That seems a reasonable proposition
Judge, Counsel, and Chorus
A nice dilemma we have here
I love him, I love him, with fervour unceasing
Plaintiff, Defendant and Chorus
The question, gentlemen, is one of liquor
Judge and Ensemble
Oh, joy unbounded, with wealth surrounded
The Learned Judge
Counsel for the Plaintiff
Foreman of the Jury
Chorus of Bridesmaids, Gentlemen of the Jury, Barristers, Attorneys and Public.
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Reviews currently included here have been posted by contributor, Ian Bond, and are his personal views, and these may not represent the views of St David’s Players as a Society.
Considering the immense popularity of Trial by Jury from the time of its very first performance in March 1875, it is surprising that no complete recording appeared until 1927. Considering the short length of the opera (approximately 35 minutes), the fact that it was constantly in the repertoire partnering any one of the three shorter two act Gilbert and Sullivan works, and that substantially complete recordings of Pinafore, Mikado and Yeomen had appeared as early as 1907, it is amazing that only the Judge’s Song seems to have made it into the recording studio.
However, with the advent of the new electrical recording process, HMV, who had commenced a series of complete Gilbert and Sullivan recordings (acoustic) in 1918, abandoned this and started a new series from scratch. In September 1927 they at last recorded Trial by Jury.
Although HMV were gradually moving over to using D’Oyly Carte performers, they were at this stage still also using some of their own contracted singers.
Although he never appeared with D’Oyly Carte, George Baker must surely be considered as an honorary ‘Savoyard’ having appeared as Ko-Ko in the 1918 Mikado and still appearing for HMV in 1963 on the Sargent recording of Ruddigore as Sir Ruthven. Here he is a youthful, rich voiced Usher. Another contract singer, Leonard Hubbard is a suitably biased Counsel.
The rest of the cast are D’Oyly Carte (or ex-D’Oyly Carte) regulars and favourites.
By the time of this recording the casting of the company ‘patter baritone’ as the Learned Judge had changed in favour of the principal baritone, usually the player of the Pooh-Bah roles, and the part is here allocated to Leo Sheffield who was playing the role on stage at this period. Sheffield’s career with D’Oyly Carte had begun in 1906 when he sang 2nd Yeoman (Yeomen) and Annibale (Gondoliers) at the Savoy under Gilbert’s direction. By 1908 he had progressed to Pish-Tush (Mikado), Private Willis (Iolanthe) and a number of other roles, and in 1909 created the role of Phyllon in Gilbert’s last opera (Fallen Fairies, music by Edward German). This recording is important therefore as it gives us an insight into Gilbert’s conception of the part.
The role of the Foreman is sung by D’Oyly Carte regular,
T Penry-Hughes, whilst matinee idol favourite, Derek Oldham, not currently in the company, returns to give a ringing account of the Defendant.
The Plaintiff is in the very capable hands of Winifred Lawson whose beautiful soprano voice conveys all the multi-facets of the character.
The chorus is that of D’Oyly Carte and the conductor is the Musical Director of the day, Harry Norris, who draws a sperkling performance from his cast.
There have been a number of re-issues on Compact Disc with various couplings. Of these, technically the best is that on Pearl GEMM CD 9961 (pictured above) which is coupled with the 1927 Gondoliers. These recordings have remarkable clarity for performances committed to disc over 80 years ago and it is generally agreed that this Gondoliers is the best overall performance of that opera on disc.
For a coupling with HMS Pinafore there is the Arabesque issue, Z8052-2. This is also a very fine transfer and the performance of Pinafore from 1930 is also considered to be very fine.
Following the end of the second world war, D’Oyly Carte began a new series of recordings in 1949, this time with DECCA.
Initially issued on 78’s, DECCA were already issuing LP’s in the USA and these began to appear in the UK shortly afterwards. Indeed, by the time the company recorded Iolanthe in 1952, the production was issued on LP only.
For some reason which, as far as I am aware has never been explained, the LP appeared in two completely different sleeves. Whether this was because DECCA changed their printer and the artist of the first sleeve was contracted to the first printer, I do not know, but it is a possibility. The sleeve notes, however, remained the same.
Sadly, the performance is not a patch on that of 1927 and does not compare at all favourably with the D’Oyly Carte recording of 1964.
As the Learned Judge, Richard Watson is almost too weighty and ponderous. Radley Flynn as the Usher is better, but there is still too little sparkle and fun.
Donald Harris is serviceable as the Foreman.
Leonard Osborn was reputedly wonderful on stage, but in the recording studio he has a tendency to be overly nasal in his voice production. In this recording this is all too apparent and his ‘No, no, no’ in the finale is barely acceptable.
The two singers who do make this a recording worth returning to are Leslie Rands, a charismatic baritone with matinee idol looks who unfortunately recorded very little, and the delightful Muriel Harding. These two artists were highly popular in their day and this recording does at least give some idea as to why.
Chorus and orchestra are more than up to the task in hand, but uncharacteristically Isidore Godfrey does not seem to have his customary sparkle.
The recording has appeared in a number of couplings on CD, the best transfer undoubtedly being that on Sounds on CD VGS 214, where it is coupled with the 1950 Pirates. See the links page for suppliers of the Sounds On CD catalogue. NAXOS 8.110196-97 issue the same coupling as also do PEARL GEMS 0097. REGIS RRC2041 couple with the 1950 Mikado , whilst AVID include the recording in their 10 disc box set AMBX 138.
One of the better recordings in the Sargent/Glyndebourne series came in 1961 when George Baker returned to the recording studio to play The Learned Judge.
For once Sargent seems to have caught the gaiety and lightness of Gilbert and Sullivan and this recording appears to be the turning point for this series.
The other singers also seem to capture that spirit of the piece with Elsie Morison and Richard Lewis both in feisty mood as Angelina and Edwin, John Cameron as a suitably dignified Counsel and the delightful and sadly missed Owen Brannigan as a suitably unctuous and ‘in charge’ (almost), Usher. Bernard Turgeon completes the cast in the role of the Foreman.
Chorus and orchestra also catch the spirit of the piece and the recording rattles merrily on it’s way for some 33 minutes or so.
The recording has been reissued on multiple occasions both on LP and on CD. The latest manifestation is on HMV’s budget CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE label 2134332, where it is once again coupled with Sargent’s 1958 recording of HMS Pinafore. This would seem ideal as this is the traditional on-stage partnership. However, this Pinafore recording is one of those in which Sargent appears to be distinctly lacklustre.
Both operas are also included in EMI Classic’s 16cd box set.
Undoubtedly the best recording of Trial to have ever been committed to disc so far was that recorded by DECCA with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company in 1964.
For some years they had reverted to casting the ‘patter baritone’, or his understudy, as the Learned Judge, and although not playing the role on stage at the time, John Reed gives a vintage performance of the role. The familiar chuckle in the voice and the audible ‘twinkle in the eye’ are all there and just as in the theatre, he has his audience in the palm of his hand.
The remainder of the cast is no less stellar. The ever popular Thomas Round gives a magnificent performance as Edwin, ably matched by Ann Hood as Angelina. Dependable as ever Kenneth Sandford gives a solid performance as Counsel and the rich, fruity bass of Donald Adams makes his Usher a portrayal never to be forgotten. The much underrated Anthony Raffell appears as the Foreman.
The D’Oyly Carte chorus and the magnificent Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, are in fizzing form under the ever reliable baton of dear old ‘Goddie’ (Isidore Godfrey).
When first issued on LP the performance was coupled with five excerpts from Utopia. Now in the CD age the piece is coupled with the 1964 recording of Yeomen on DECCA 473 665-2 and is also included as part of DECCA’s magnificent 24 disc box set.
For their centenary year (also that of Trial), the D’Oyly Carte decided to issue another recording of the opera.
Sadly, this is not a patch of the 1964 recording and the cracks that would eventually bring about the demise of the original company just seven years later are beginning to show.
John Reed is back as the Learned Judge, but the spontaneity of the earlier recording is missing and everything now feels forced. Colin Wright and Julia Goss as Edwin and Angelina give good performances as does Michael Rayner as Counsel and, of course, the ever dependable Kenneth Sandford, this time as the Usher, but generally there is something lacking.
DECCA recordings from this period often seem to have a dry and somewhat harsh edge to them and this combined with the unforgiving musical direction of Royston Nash all seems to combine to make this performance an anticlimax.
DECCA themselves have never re-issued this recording, however, it is available from Sounds on CD VGS 250, coupled with the 1978 D’Oyly Carte recording of Cox and Box .
Much more recent is this 1995 recording from Sir Charles Mackerras with the forces of Welsh National Opera. The recording, again coupled with Yeomen is part of what it had hoped would have been a complete G & S cycle, but this issue proved to be the last leaving eight operas unrecorded.
Had the recording been the by product of stage performances then it could have matched the 1964 D’Oyly Carte recording; in the event it just falls short.
That said, Richard Suart (loved by some, loathed by others) is a thoroughly entertaining Learned Judge. Rebecca Evans is delightful as Angelina, and another much underrated singer, Peter Savidge, is in excellent form as Counsel.
Sir Charles is, of course, a great exponent of G & S and of Sullivan in his own right and his enthusiasm and love of these works shines through this recording and it has to be said that at 31:31 this is probably the fastest Trial on record. The accompanying Yeomen has the benefit of stage performance, both on tour, and as the first ever G & S production to appear at the Royal Opera House.
The recording is issued by TELARC 2CD-80404.
This recording issued in 2005, and the latest in a growing list of Sullivan recordings by Chandos was given such a build up that in the event it became something of an anti-climax - especially in the light of one particular omission (dealt with under Cox and Box).
Hearts sink also on reading that the libretto of TRIAL has been ‘Edited by John Bauser’. The immediate reaction to this is - ‘why?’
In the event the extent of the editing seems to be restricted to just two lines - instead of Gilbert’s ‘She may very well pass for forty-three/In the dusk with the light behind her.’ - we are given ‘She’s often been taken for forty-three/In the dusk, with a light behind her.’ If this is some sort of political correctness, then it is political correctness gone absolutely mad. The removal of the offensive ‘n’ word from Mikado and Ida is totally understandable, but this change is totally unfounded.
All this said, the performance is delightful with Rebecca Evans repeating her Angelina of 10 years previously, and Donald Maxwell as an excellent Judge. The Chorus and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales are excellently conducted by the late lamented Richard Hickox - such a sad loss to the world of music and to the music of Sullivan in particular.
The Brent Walker series of videos made in the early 1980’s has come in for a considerable amount of flack over the years. However, with the reissue of the series on DVD by Universal there has been a chance to re-evaluate these performances and it has to be said that Trial is certainly one of the best in the series. It now has the bonus of being coupled with the only complete performance with orchestra in any format of the original version of Cox and Box. The recordings were made during 1982 and were first released in the UK in 1983.
Love him or loathe him, Frankie Howerd actually makes a very decent Learned Judge - the part actually suits him, unlike his appaling Sir Joseph in the same series’ Pinafore.
He is ably backed by a sweet, simpering, but sometimes petulent Kate Flowers as Angelina. Ryland Davies is a handsome, freshvoiced Edwin whi is accompanied on his day in court by a silent Anna Dawson as The Other Woman. Tom McDonnel is a bemused Counsel and Eleanor McCreadie is suitably (but silently) outraged as the Bride’s Mother.
The main action is preceded by Sullivan’s delightful ‘Overture Di Ballo’ during which we see the various characters (including the charwoman who cleans the court) preparing for the forthcoming day.
The Ambrosian Opera Chorus and the London Symphony Orchestra are all ably conducted by Alexander Faris, a frequent guest conductor with D’Oyly Carte.
The DVD is available as part of Universal’s
11 disc boxed set and also singly, catalogue number 823 146-1.
The 2006 double bill of Pinafore/Trial from Australian Opera is excellent all-round entertainment. Treated traditionally without any of the liberties that were taken some years ago with Gondoliers, this is a lively, highly enjoyable production.
Trial is placed at the end of the evening, as indeed Gilbert and Sullivan themselves originally intended it to be performed and presumably why Sullivan never provided this work with an overture.
For this production Pinafore was played without an interval, with the entr’acte being used to accomplish the lighting change to night already commenced in the Act One Finale.
Anthony Warlow, a stalwart of Australian Opera, gives a marvellously comic performance as the Learned Judge, which is somehow quite different to what we are all used to. He is ably backed by a highly experienced cast, although it has to be said that Collette Mann as Buttercup is really out of place, and I understand that after the preniere season in Melbourne, she was replaced.
The Opera Australia Melbourne Chorus and Victoria Orchestra are conducted by Andrew Greene who draws a sparkling performance of both operas from all involved.
The recording is available on the FAVEO label, OA F 4009 D.
The recording is available on the
FAVEO label, OA F 4009 D.