Opera Scotland

Yeomen of the Guard The Yeomen of the Guard, or The Merryman and his Maid

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Sir Arthur Sullivan (born London, 13 May 1842; died London, 22 November 1900)


William S Gilbert (1836-1911)





First Performance: London (Savoy Theatre), 3 October 1888.

First Performance in Scotland: tbc 1889.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.



The Yeomen of the Guard was the nearest that Sullivan's long collaboration with Gilbert came to producing a serious opera - an ambition which was at last fulfilled when Julian Sturgis provided a rather less expert libretto for Ivanhoe. At the time, Gilbert was widely criticized for the weakness of the plot device whereby Fairfax and Elsie are married immediately before the groom's expected execution. It was pointed out that the identical device was used some forty years earlier by Edward Fitzball in his libretto for Wallace's Maritana - at the time one of the most loved, and frequently performed, operas in the repertoire, at least in Britain. More than a century later, Maritana has disappeared without trace, in spite of its attractive music. Perhaps it was the Gilbert and Sullivan piece that saw off the earlier work.

The Yeomen of the Guard has, on a number of occasions, received summertime performances in the open air at the Tower of London itself. It is also the only Gilbert and Sullivan work to have been given at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, during a visit by Welsh National Opera.


Main Characters

Sir Richard Cholmondeley, Lieutenant of the Tower (bass-baritone).

Colonel Fairfax, under sentence of death (tenor)

Sergeant Meryll, of the Yeomen (bass)

Leonard Meryll, his son (tenor)

Jack Point, a strolling Jester (baritone)

Wilfrid Shadbolt, Head Jailor (bass-baritone)

Elsie Maynard, a strolling Player (soprano)

Phoebe Meryll, Sergeant Meryll's Daughter (mezzo-soprano)

Dame Carruthers, Housekeeper to the Tower (contralto)


Plot Summary

In the Tower of London, preparations are in hand for the execution, later that day, of Colonel Fairfax. Dame Carruthers is devoted to the Tower, having lived there since childhood, and is unaffected by this event. Sergeant Meryll is very distressed, since the Colonel had saved his life in battle. The Colonel has no objection to dying, but does not wish his property to be inherited by the relation whose conspiracy has caused him to be condemned. He wishes to marry so that his widow may inherit, and the identity of the lady is unimportant, given the promised brevity of the marriage. Two strolling players arrive, Jack Point and Elsie Maynard. The latter is seen by Meryll as the ideal candidate, and with Point's agreement, she is led off to her wedding. Meryll is determined to save the Colonel, and the arrival of his son to join the Yeomen provides the opportunity, since Leonard feels the same sense of loyalty to the Colonel. It is agreed that he leave once more, and the Colonel, minus beard and plus uniform, will take his place. Phoebe takes advantage of the jailer Shadbolt's desire for her to purloin his keys for a few moments, so that the Sergeant can release the prisoner. The time for the execution arrives, and there is consternation when his cell is found to be empty. Elsie is appalled because she is not, after all, a widow, but is already falling for the man she takes to be Leonard. Jack Point and Wilfrid Shadbolt are both appalled, the one at losing the woman he had expected to marry, the other at losing his prisoner by methods he doesn't understand.

Jack and Wilfred try to convince people that they have shot the Colonel as he dived into the river. Their narrative is unconvincing, but the conspirators eventually have other problems due to their careless talk being overheard. In order to keep Dame Carruthers quiet, the Sergeant, a target she has long held in her sights, is obliged to propose to her. Phoebe also finds herself revealing too much of the plot to Wilfrid and sees no alternative to marrying him. Elsie believes she is now free to marry 'Leonard', who is delighted at the identity of his wife and courts her assiduously. But the real Leonard arrives with news that the original plot has been unmasked and the Colonel pardoned. As the newly undisguised Colonel arrives to retrieve his wife, Elsie begs to be released, until she discovers, to her delight, who her husband really is. Jack is unable to cope with this final blow.

The Cast

Colonel Fairfax
 under sentence of death
Dame Carruthers
 Housekeeper to the Tower
Elsie Maynard
 a Strolling Singer
First Citizen
First Yeoman
Jack Point
 a Strolling Jester
 Dame Carruthers' Niece
Leonard Meryll
 Sergeant Meryll's Son
Phoebe Meryll
 Sergeant Meryll's Daughter
Second Citizen
Second Yeoman
Sergeant Meryll
 of the Yeomen of the Guard
Sir Richard Cholmondeley
 Lieutenant of the Tower
Wilfred Shadbolt
 Head Jailer and Assistant Tormentor

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