“The Yeomen of the Guard,” or “The Merryman and His Maid,” a comic opera in two acts with music by Sir Arthur Sullivan and text by W. S. Gilbert was first produced at the Savoy Theatre, London, October 3, 1888.
Sir Richard Cholmondeley, lieutenant of the Tower. Colonel Fairfax, under sentence of death. Sergeant Meryll, of the Yeomen of the Guard. Leonard Meryll, his son. Jack Point, a strolling jester. Wilfred Shadbolt, head jailor and assistant tormentor. The Headsman. First Yeoman. Second Yeoman. Third Yeoman. Fourth Yeoman. First Citizen. Second Citizen. Elsie Maynard, a strolling singer. Phoebe Meryll, Sergeant Meryll’s daughter. Dame Carruthers, housekeeper of the Tower. Kate, her niece. Yeomen of the Guard, gentlemen, citizens.
Through the machinations of a jealous kinsman, the gallant Colonel Fairfax has been sentenced to death for sorcery and is pining in the Tower. He has, however, two stanch friends who do not propose that he shall perish, and these are his daughter Phoebe and Sergeant Meryll, whose life he has twice saved in battle. The Sergeant’s son Leonard lately has been appointed to the Guard and a plan to substitute Fairfax for Leonard in the ranks occurs to them. Fair-fax is brought to the Tower and declares that he is ready to die but that he cherishes one wish before the event, this being to contract a marriage so as to frustrate his wicked kinsman’s plan to succeed to the estate. An impromptu bride is sought in all haste and Elsie Maynard, a strolling singer, who happens along in company with Jack Point, a jester, consents to go through the ceremony blindfolded, like unto a certain Maritana, known, in operatic lore.
The next thing is to get the yeoman suit to Fairfax in his cell. Phoebe brings into use her love affair with Wilfred the head jailor. She steals the keys, releases Fairfax in his yeoman uniform, and returns the stolen implements before their absence has been discovered. Just as the executioners are preparing for the beheading of Fairfax, the first act closes.
In the second act, we find the warders submitting to a tongue-lashing from Dame Carruthers for allowing Fairfax to escape. Wilfred, who is desirous of shining as an amateur comedian, is told by Point that if he will hold a mock execution, i. e., fire off the arquebus and state that it has caused the taking off of Fairfax, he will possess all the essentials of a jester. Accordingly the shot is fired and the governor notified that the prisoner is dead.
The watchful Dame Carruthers, meantime, has made a discovery. She has heard Elsie talking in her sleep and learns from her somnolent remarks that Fairfax is the man she married, and that the little strolling singer is his widow. Fairfax makes love to her in the interest of Point, but as usual in such cases, to his own undoing, for he falls a victim to her winsomeness himself. All is cleared up by the production of the governor’s pardon, which has been held back by the wicked kinsman. Fairfax and Elsie are entirely willing to have their marriage stand; Phoebe and Wilfred make one happy pair and the Sergeant and Dame Carruthers another.
It is interesting to know that of all the charming Gilbert-Sullivan family of operas the ” Yeomen of the Guard ” was the favorite child of its parents. With the public it has never reached the height of popularity occupied by either ” The Mikado ” or ” Pinafore.”
Among the most attractive solos and ensembles are Phoebe’s song, ” When a Maiden loves; ” Dame Carruthers’ ” When our gallant Norman foes ; ” the entrance of the crowd and players, ” Here’s a man of jollity; ” the duet of Elsie and Point, ” I have a song to sing, O ! ” Phoebe’s song, ” Were I thy bride; ” Point’s delightfully funny offering, ” Oh, a private buffoon is a light-headed loon; ” Fairfax’s ballad, ” Free from his fetters grim; ” the trio, ” If he’s made the best use of his time ; ” the song, ” Rapture ! Rapture ! when love’s votary flushed with capture ” and the charming finale.