Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial By Jury: A Rough Guide for the M.D.

July 22, 2014

Trial By JuryA Word About The Piece:

Trial By Jury is the earliest Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta for which we still have the complete score. Thespis predates it, but the music is lost, and by all accounts, it wouldn’t fit very well with the rest of the canon, because it isn’t the same kind of music theatre they were known for, and they had not established what would become their successful collaborative method or stylistic hallmarks for which they are much beloved today. 3 years after Thespis, they wrote this delightful trifle.

It’s an exceedingly brief piece, timing in at under 40 minutes if you’re moving tempi ahead, it has some lovely music, and isn’t impossibly taxing musically. That makes this a terrific place to start for a company beginning to tackle G&S for the first time: It’s short, your audience will like it, its position as first surviving piece in the canon makes it a great opener, and it is also very portable, requiring minimal set and costumes. The Savoy Company, which I music direct, chose Trial as its first production in 1901. It is usually paired with another G&S show. Savoy pairs it with The Sorcerer, and you will see my Sorcerer guide soon. I believe D’Oyly Carte had it in repertory with HMS Pinafore or Pirates. There is much more to say about the history of Trial, but it’s better said elsewhere by others.

Before You Start:

The popular Schirmer edition of Trial By Jury is widely available and many G&S companies already own copies of this edition. There are a number of errata in this edition, which you should correct in your copy before you start. Many of them are minor, but some are not! The invaluable Boise State errata list by Steven Lichtenstein will prove invaluable. Should you prefer your score pre-corrected and if your cast does not already own a heavily marked Schirmer score, I suggest you purchase the terrific Broude edition, wonderfully edited by my friend Steven Ledbetter. The new Broude editions of the G&S shows appear to be on hold, which is a shame; we could really use new editions for many of these shows. The Boise State site also has its own edition.

You might well get some recordings, and there are many good options out there for you. It’s so short, it often comes bundled with another G&S opera, so it might suit your needs to choose based on what other G&S shows you’re missing. The Oldest recording, paired with Gondoliers. This very theatrical and vibrant recording, paired with Pinafore, or this 1964 D’Oyly Carte recording, paired with Yeoman. I think these are your best choices, but there are many good recordings out there. This fine discography can guide you further.

If you’re going to be Music Directing Gilbert and Sullivan, you’ll want to begin building a library of reference materials. I recommend getting these, as you are able:

The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan by Ian Bradley. You should probably get this one ASAP. There were many times where a question was answered by referring to this book.

A Most Ingenious Paradox: The Art of Gilbert and Sullivan by Gayden Wren: Very thoughtful analysis and big picture connections.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Lexicon by Harry Benford: in which you will find the definitions of all those words you don’t understand.

After you have procured some of these, set aside a number of hours to do the following:

1) Listen to the soundtracks with the score in hand, marking things that strike you as interesting. The show is fairly straightforward, but it’s nice to have an idea of what accepted tempi are, particularly using historical recordings as a benchmark.

2) Take the Lexicon book and copy in pencil all the definitions into the score where you don’t already know the meanings.

If you find yourself looking for still more information in this really quite straightforward show, avail yourself of this incredible resource, which includes the full autograph score you can poke through.

As You’re Casting:

It’s a small cast, and if you live in a city like Philadelphia with a very strong G&S community, you will likely find many people who have already done the show. As I was working on the double bill with The Sorcerer, I found that my music rehearsals for trial were almost perfunctory; most of the cast already knew every note.

The Learned Judge

This role was created by the composer’s brother Fred. Should be a commanding stage presence, and should be able to negotiate, “When I, good friends was called to the bar…” It’s nice if he has the high G at the end of that number, but not necessary. Otherwise, the judge’s range fits for any average baritone or even a tenor.

The Plaintiff (Angelina)

The demands on Angelina are moderate, with an optional high B flat, but mostly topping out on G with the occasional A, easy work for any soprano with good classical training. A young, pretty ingenue works well, but an older soprano can also be very funny.

The Defendant (Edwin)

Again, there are several ways to go with this role; charming young man or dastardly older man. A flexible tenor is required, and some of the word-work is tricky. Needs a pretty solid A above the staff.

Counsel for the Plaintiff

Listen in the score as a tenor, but only goes above the staff in one place, as I recall, and there only to a G. Could be a high baritone? Certainly doesn’t need to be as high a tenor as the Defendant.


Listed as a Baritone, but it goes down to the low G quite a bit. I’m going to say you need a Bass for this. Stentorian presence, gravitas, diction, and a clear G on the bottom are needed.

Foreman of the Jury

Small feature chorus bass/baritone role.


The chorus part is quite simple. Much of it is in 2 parts, and where it splits into 4, the parts are easily manageable. The public need only be a few people, bridesmaids are featured chorus, and have a featured part to sing together. The gentlemen of the Jury are similarly situated. Probably for most productions, those groups will suffice, but if you’re looking to beef that up, you might add a larger public, who could react and then sing along where the chorus sings generally.  Many productions add ‘the other woman’, who sits next to the Defendant saucily through the whole proceedings. Lest you think that sacrilege, note that Gilbert himself twice played the part of an Associate who sat at a desk below the judges bench silently. That isn’t in the script either. I think you’re okay to have fun with it.

The Musical Materials:

Apart from Vocal Score matters discussed above, there is the matter of orchestral parts. Some dicey hand-written and nearly illegible parts can be downloaded on IMSLP here, but why don’t you spring for an edition by Pete Dorwart here? We used his score and parts, and they worked beautifully. Oh, one more thing: The Schirmer score has no rehearsal letters. You may want to go through your score and add them if you choose to conduct from your piano vocal.

Trouble Spots and Advice:

General Pronunciation Advice:

I copy here my earlier note from The Gondoliers guide, with some slight emendations.

I am still no expert on RP English pronunciation, but I offer here a couple of basic pointers, to which I intend to add as I learn more:

1) Words like “Bath” and “Chance” need to be pronounced with a tall Ah vowel.

2) Rs that begin a word are tripped or rolled. Rs that come before a vowel are tripped. Rs that come after a vowel are generally dropped. At no point is the r pronounced as we Amerrricans pronounce it.

3) Mary, Merry, and Marry (two of which appear in close proximity in this show) employ three different vowel sounds. Where I come from, they are pronounced identically. In Philadelphia, they are pronounced as three different vowels, but they aren’t the same vowels. Interesting chart on this matter:http://www4.uwm.edu/FLL/linguistics/dialect/staticmaps/q_15.html In G&S, you’ll want to say Mary with an eh as in air, Merry with eh as in get, and Marry with an ah as in cat. (someone will certainly correct me on this)

4) Many u vowels will need a y sound before them: duty becomes dyewtee, tuning becomes tyooning, new becomes nyoo, and institution becomes instityooshun.

5) Been becomes bean.

6) For words which in American English replace ‘t’s with a d sound, a true ‘t’ sound should be used. “Water” is not pronounced “wadder”, and certainly not wooder, my Philadelphia friends.

That is by no means exhaustive, and I’ve probably gotten some of it wrong, but that’ll get you started.

1. Hark, The Hour Of Ten Is Sounding

The dynamic for the entire chorus is Forte throughout, but you may find you’d like some levels, perhaps bringing the volume down at the return of the main theme, building to the last “For today in this arena…” As always, work for clean diction and clear cutoffs. No American ‘r’ in the words ‘hark’, ‘hour’, ‘hearts’, ‘fears’, ‘for’, ‘stern’, or ‘shortly’. The voice crossing between soprano and alto in the third measure of the chorus part seems fussy and counter-productive to me. No audience member will hear the voice leading. Do as you will there, but one option is to give the sopranos the D# there and in the other places it happens.

The pomposity of the Moderato upon the entrance of the Usher is dependant on the tempo, a mock strut. Don’t let it drag or rush. You may discover your Chorus has trouble remembering the varied lengths of the word ‘tried’, first a dotted quarter, then a quarter, then a half note. Perhaps you’d like to simplify that for them. Note that the rall. on “distress of mind” leads to a phrase that connects over to the downbeat before “from bias free…”. The next one, “…needn’t mind…” does not tie over the bar, and the downbeat is blank. That means you do need to assert a strong downbeat to get everyone together on the a tempo.

1a. Is This The Court Of The Exchequer?

High drama, this. Strong assertion of musical punctuation needed, and accurate rhythm in the singer. This isn’t really colla voce. You may choose to change the lyric on the first page, although it isn’t really dirty. Maybe your audience won’t know that. There are other options; you tube will show them to you. The Jurymen shouldn’t sing “They’re the Jury!” After all, THEY’RE the jury. “We’re the jury” suited our purposes. The descending chromatic line “That’s a very true remark” may cause trouble. It’s all half steps until “On the merits…”, when it slips back to A minor again. Your Defendant tuning the guitar or mandolin should mime to match the notes. I had my concertmistress watch him for those pizzicato cues and the rest of the string section followed suit.

2. When First My Old, Old Love I Knew

This is a delightful and straightforward tenor aria that doesn’t need much explanation. The tinkatanks should be crisp on that final consonant, and work so that the chorus follows you in the fermata on the repeat. Crisp closing consonants in the following section for “lad”, “cad”, “chap”, etc. Note that the word “trial” sometimes gets one, sometimes 2 syllables, and note the dynamics. In G&S closing ritornelli like the 8 measures following the chorus fermata, I like to pick up the tempo. I say to the orchestra, “kick the piece out the door”. I think it sort of juices up the number like an exclamation point.

3. All Hail, Great Judge

This is meant to be a Handel parody, so you want a beautiful choral sound, and clear diction, naturally. Even some of my seasoned G&Sers had learned the “All Hail”s wrong. Note particularly that the tenors sing D,E,E,D in measures 9 and 10, but D, D, C, B in the later iteration of the same passage. Strong “k” at the end of “rank”, and shorten “Banc” to an eighth note so that the k lands together. It also may prove tricky for the singers to remember the different entrance orders for the “He’ll tell us how” fughetta sections, and you’ll want to go over that. Use the dynamics to underscore the joke toward the end of the number. The diminuendo from ff to pp should be big enough that the fortissimo re-entrance of “HE’LL TELL US HOW!” is a hilarious shock, and leads the Usher to put a halt to the proceedings.

4. When I, Good Friends, Was Called To The Bar

There are a lot of words here, but it isn’t really a patter song, it’s just tough to keep it all in your head. But there are a handfull of Savoy men here in Philadelphia that can pull out this whole number any time you ask; so deeply imbedded in the sub-conscious has it become. The opening notes are accompanied by a rap of the gavel in Savoy productions. Observe the rallentando before the big joke of each verse (in the first verse it’s in the “brief which I bought of a booby” and then that same place in every verse).  Savoy Company tradition inserts a company “NO!” followed by the judge saying “Yes!” after “tried vainly to disparage” before “And now if you please…”, and our performance practice also sings the first time through the final repeated section forte, the second piano. Again, I like to speed up the last 5 measures of ‘outro’. I believe the orchestra parts don’t have 2 verses written out at a time; there is an ending for verses 1-4, then a 5th ending to get you off.

5. Swear Thou The Jury

The andante is some great spooky sneaking kind of music. Really, no great difficulties here, except perhaps the chorus trill 4 from the end. I found the transition to the Andante worked if it was L’istesso tempo, the old dotted quarter becoming the new quarter. Observe the cresc./decresc. in the final measure.

6. Where Is The Plaintiff?

I kept wanting to make that allegretto skip along lickety split, but you do have to keep in mind your ideal tempo for the melody that joins it later. The business on the first page is not well explained. It’s an echo effect that could go either way. In no recording or performance have I seen it done the way it is actually written. This needs a conversation with the director. The ladies need a light tone on their entrance, forte marking notwithstanding. Four measure phrases are a must. Note also the straight eighths of the 3rd 4 measure phrase, “Take, O maid these posies…” I switched to a 4 beat pattern a measure before the rall, and at the same place the next time through. Tune the descending arpeggio, “hap-py be thy…”) at the end of the phrase. In the plaintiff’s verse, I think you’re allowed a little more rhythmic flexibility, to follow her phrasing, but of course, don’t allow it to bog down. Your bridesmaids will likely be heading off to some other part of the stage as they finish singing, so be quite sure to make clear where the ‘d’ in maid goes: on the downbeat of the next measure. Again, I like to pick up the tempo for the ending music. Note that in the orchestral parts, the repeat may not be written out as it is in the score, but instead may have a 1st and 2nd ending.

7. Oh, Never, Never, Never

The fermata after “capture” often has a jury huddle in it. Again, another chorus trill, with a turn out of it. I conducted that measure in 4 beats, the first for the dotted quarter, dictating each grace note and the final eighth. The next two measures into the key change are odd, because they’re a tempo into a rallentando that leads to a totally new tempo on a page turn. (in the Schirmer anyway) If you know what you’re doing there, all will be well, but if you don’t, your accompanist and subsequently your orchestra will be totally confused. Work out whatever issues you have there before you get in the rehearsal room. If your Usher misses his entrance at the end, you’ll miss that very subtle joke.

8. May It Please You

This is counsel’s big number. The chorus echos sound rather like a drinking song to me, and the tempo should reflect the easy-going nature of the tune, except when Counsel diverges from the main argument: “Swiftly fled each honeyed hour”, and “Picture then my client naming…” which should pick up a bit. You may also want to play with letting the tempo relax a bit at “Sweetly smiled my client on him…”, and “going from her far away.” That ossia Counsel “Cheer up! Cheer up!” line is a doozy. Unless you have a hot-shot singer, I’d use the large notes. Because the mood is more grave, this number doesn’t need a kick at the end, just the written rall.

9. That She Is Reeling Is Plain To Me

This is very Offenbach/Ponchielli to me, it has that Buffa/Bouffe sensibility about it. The PV is a little misleading though, the melodic figure isn’t really f staccatto, it’s played with two sixteenth repetitions per note in the violins mf. Observe those dynamics.  If you set the right tone for the first part, the Fortissimo chorus entrance should be kind of a shocker! Then the same thing all over again.

10. Oh, Gentlemen, Listen, I Pray

It’s hard to believe, but evidently this was a last minute addition. It seems key to the humor of the piece and to the character of the Defendant; it is the sophistry of the cad. Nearly the identical tempo as his previous number, but with a little more bounce, I think it needs to be delivered with a twinkle in the eye. He is a bad bad boy. The rall. on the “Ah!” is a nice touch, and there is some business to put in there if you are creative.

11. That Seems A Reasonable Proposition

It took me a while to warm up to this number; it felt phoned in to me, like no. 9 with less character. But I came to feel a little gentility there in that introduction, and I think we’re meant to hear the judge’s preposterous consideration of bigamy as doubly hilarious in this courtly manner. The Counsel’s appeal to history and nobility strikes everyone as amazing, and they respond as though he’s Solomon come back from the dead. In other words you have to play up the gentility of the first part and the nobility of the second. The 6/8 feel on the verse “In the reign of James the Second…” is somewhat tricky to maintain. I found it kept feeling like 2. The singer should maintain that quarter-eighth lilt throughout there.

12. A Nice Dilemma

Here is one place where we just can’t hear the joke like they could back in the day. This dilemma ensemble is absolutely par for the course in 19th century comic opera. Everyone puzzles at the end of the first act, and exclaims, “what will we do?”, “my head is spinning!” and so forth. Normally they actually have a real situation to worry about; even when the storyline is preposterously set in a Turkish Harem, there are legitimate stakes in opera, and there are real problems to be solved. Here, the trope is being applied to a situation solved many times in courts every day, but the current cast of characters is too stupid to figure out what to do. The number is made even more comical by the beauty of the music.

Of course if your singers can negotiate the opening coloratura beautifully, they should, but even silly coloratura is welcome here in this opening passage. I don’t know how the Schirmer people ever expected us to just remember which staves belong to 6 characters and a 3 staff chorus for 9 pages without any reminders. Go ahead and take a minute to write them in.  The plaintiff can take a breath pause before her solo “A nice dilemma” in the 18th full measure. Sullivan sure loves the off-beat SAT chorus in this spot in the show, and again, the chorus needs to be reminded not to breathe in every rest and to maintain a strict tempo, because rushing is a real risk here. Unless your singers are all pros, you want to coach them to look down at your beat through that section to avoid slipping into several tempi. If you have some range issues, many of these lower male solo parts are interchangeable, and you can mix and match without worry. There is one place where I eliminated a voice crossing I thought was unnecessary: 4 measures before the 1st ending, between “all our” and “wit, That”, I switched the Counsel’s part and the Judge’s, and I kept them switched until the beat before the first ending. So then the Judge’s part for the 4 measures before the first ending reads C, B, C, B, C, Bb, Ab, Ab, G, F, Bb, Bb, Bb, Ab, G. The Counsel’s part then reads: E, D, E, E, E, E, F, F, Eb, Eb, Eb, G Ab, Bb Bb. Now that I’m looking at it, you could switch them in the earlier measure, but at any rate, you can simplify that whole section register wise.

If you’re not moved at least a little bit by the incredible shift to C major in that passage, I think Gilbert and Sullivan doesn’t hold any charms for you. Note that the Basses in the measures following the second ending (including the foreman) have quarters, and the other choristers are separated by eighth rests. I did shorten the foreman’s “wit” in the 4th measure from the end; he doesn’t need to hold it an extra eighth, after all.

13. I Love Him

I added a little ‘ma non troppo’ after my vivace, because occasionally I got carried away. The mood is definitely sprightly, and should be as fast as you can negotiate the passage work and the language. The chorus part when they come in can be unexpectedly tricky. Have a look. Again, the quarter notes in the Andante can be gavel knocks if you like. They’re not really low Gs, they’re Bass drum strikes, btw. The passage that follows can be done with some freedom. After the Vivace picks back up, make sure Angelina says the line “I do object. Schirmer’s way doesn’t make sense. The subsequent chorus entrance should be loud, crisp and clear, and that linking passage should remain ff, only to drop right back to pp when the judge enters. There’s a perfect length for the fermata at the end of the page that is actually funny, depending on what’s happening on stage.

14. Oh, Joy Unbounded

Watch the dynamics for the very brief (1 measure) introduction, and note that around measure 22, the tenors and principals have long notes, the chorus has separated eighths. Also note the dynamics. Judge sings “I am a judge”, not “now I am a judge”, as earlier. On “-fendant is a snob…”, I switched to conducting in 4, and switched back to 2 after the second fermata. The transition into the exit music section is a little tricky; you have to keep the tempo of “oh, joy unbounded…” in your head as you conduct the fermata. If you need some exit music or bows, you can go right back to the pickup to the tutti vocal “Oh, Joy unbounded” and play to the end.

Your Pit Orchestra:

I’m a little spoiled to have a full professional orchestra at my disposal, which is clearly the way to go if you are able. The Newby reductions are well done. The WVD edition I was mentioning earlier has some wind parts cued into each others books at important moments, and those may work if you’re only eliminating some of the wind parts. You could use a piano and supplement with parts as able, but at that point, your level of quality has dropped considerably. Do try and hire the very best players you can. The oboe work in G&S is often prominent and beautiful, and you don’t want to hear that played badly.

Your audience will love Trial, by itself or in conjunction with another piece. Best of luck in your production!


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