Opera Scotland

Vicar of Bray The Vicar of Bray

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Edward Solomon (born London, 25 July 1855; died London, 22 January 1895)


Sydney Grundy (1848-1914)





First Performance: London (Globe Theatre), 22 July 1882.

First Performance (revision): London (Savoy Theatre), 28 January 1892.

First Performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Royalty Theatre), 16 May 1892.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.



The title and basic idea of the plot are derived from a familiar 18th century ballad, concerning a cleric who changed his religious and political principles at will in order to maintain his position through five changes of monarch. In Grundy's version, the vicar's rotations between low and high church are more for financial reasons. However the workings of this plot are in other respects unrelated. Solomon was a composer of light opera who enjoyed success in London and New York. His early piece, the 'New and Original Nautical Opera' Billee Taylor does seem heavily influenced by HMS Pinafore. Its successor, The Vicar of Bray, only had a short run in 1882, but a decade later, after his Savoy success with The Nautch Girl, it was dusted down and enjoyed a fair success in London (a six-month run) as well as a provincial tour.

One significant change for this revival was an adjustment to the heroine's name. During the decade since The Vicar of Bray's premiere, the world's musical stages had been swept by Alfred Cellier's 1888 success, called Dorothy. Grundy must also have known that his next collaboration for the Savoy would be Sullivan's Haddon Hall. At least the heroine there, Dorothy Vernon, was a historically recognised character. But to have brought a third Dorothy before the public would have been unfortunate. Winifred has two undoubted virtues. Firstly, she does not sound at all like Dorothy, but, secondly, she has the correct number of syllables, thus keeping to a minimum any musical adjustments.


Main Characters

Rev William Barlow, Vicar of Bray (baritone)

Rev Henry Sandford, his curate (tenor)

Thomas Merton, Esq., of Bray Manor (bass)

Mr Bedford Rowe, a solicitor (baritone)

Winifred (Dorothy), the Vicar's daughter (soprano)

Mrs Merton, a wealthy widow (contralto)

Nellie Bly, a theatrical dancer (mezzo-soprano)


Plot Summary

The Vicar, Rev William Barlow, is a wealthy widower who, some years earlier, to make himself an acceptable suitor, had adjusted his religious beliefs in favour of the morally strict low church. His daughter loves, and is loved by, his curate, Henry, who actually believes in the low church creed which the vicar only borrowed in order to bring about his marriage. Barlow dislikes his curate's pomposity, and intends his daughter to marry the local squire. His solicitor comes up with a plan to get rid of Henry. The vicar should announce his conversion to the ideals of the high church. This works, and Henry, appalled, resigns his curacy and heads off to the South Seas as a missionary. The only difficulty the change causes for the vicar is that he must now be celibate, and is therefore unable to court Mrs Merton, the squire's mother, and another wealthy widow.

Time passes, and Winifred is now being courted by Tom Merton, as her father intended. It is believed that Henry has been consumed by cannibals. Meantime, the vicar has re-acquired his old taste for the finer things of life, including the local theatre. He has taken a particular fancy to Nellie Bly, one of the dancing girls. Henry returns safe and sound, having been converted to a mellower outlook on life by the natives. He marries Winifred, while Tom is happy to pair off with the dancer. The vicar is just about able to endure a reconversion to low church principles which at last permit him to marry Mrs Merton.

The Cast

Bedford Rowe
 a solicitor
Mrs Merton
 a wealthy widow of a West Indian planter
Nellie Bly
 a theatrical danseuse
Rev Henry Sandford
 curate at Bray
Rev William Barlow
 Vicar of Bray
Thomas Merton, Esq.
 of Bray Manor
Winifred Barlow
 the Vicar's daughter

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