Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Yeomen of the Guard: A Rough Guide for the M.D.

June 25, 2019


A Word About the Piece:

The Yeomen of the Guard is special. To state the obvious, it is the most serious Savoy Opera, the piece with the highest artistic ambition, the work susceptible to the greatest number of interpretations. It was as far as Gilbert was willing to go in the direction of Grand Opera. Sullivan would head on to Ivanhoe without him. (and without much success)

Sullivan is balancing several opposing aims in Yeomen. He is attempting to reference 16th century music and the Old English styles in particular in order to place the action in time and location. We hear these threads clearly in Here’s a Man of Jollity, I Have a Song to Sing, O, I’ve Jibe and Joke, and Strange Adventure, and perhaps other places I am not noticing. The Times recognizes this in their opening night review:

“The forms of early English music- the madrigal, the part-song, the glee – are as second nature to him, and he produces their modern counterparts with a freedom and faithfulness which alone would account for his unrivaled popularity.”

Against these references to older English styles, Sullivan is trying to elevate the musical language of the piece closer to high music drama, perhaps as exemplified by his favorite Wagner opera, Die Meistersinger, which also takes place in the 16th century. The tension between old Folk England and up to date musical storytelling accounts for a lot of the charm of the opera.

Sullivan is also trying to keep the piece from sounding like a set of discrete numbers. Gayden Wren talks about Sullivan’s frequent use of ‘big endings’, elaborate codas sometimes longer than the numbers to which they are attached, where the music takes the fore, as in the coda of How Say You, Maiden? We certainly feel this elevation in many places in the score, not merely where they normally occur in the finales. And yet as I read Yeomen, Sullivan also seems to downplay the endings of numbers in a curious way, including in the very number Wren uses as an example of his elevated codas. Perhaps Sullivan is attempting to avoid breaking up the action with obligatory applause. Numbers 3,4,8,13, and 20 all end without really asking for applause, number 18 has an instrumental coda long enough for the exit of the character who has just sung an extremely impressive patter song before he can acknowledge audience applause, no. 6 goes without pause into 7, and no. 21 at one point rolled directly into the 2nd act finale with no pause for the audience to acknowledge a moment of purely crowd-pleasing silliness. In no. 18, we also see Sullivan connecting moments in a different way, when he eliminates the first 2 pickup notes of the Tower theme to drop us into the action more abruptly after a gunshot. We also find Sullivan on a smaller scale extending musical phrases past their expected terminations. He had been doing this in other operas for some time, but never more beautifully than in numbers like “A Man Who Would Woo a Fair Maid”

Sullivan also connects material in the opera in a more subtle way that most people miss. For example, this figure, sung by the Yeomen at the top of the Act I finale uses what are sometimes called ‘horn fifths’ because they are playable by 2 natural horns.

Yeomen Example 1

This association gives the idea a regal, military, or hunting connotation historically, which is appropriate to the Yeomen. The Act I finale also ends with another theme based on horn 5ths:

Yeomen Example 2

At the end of the First Act Finale, as Elsie falls into Fairfax’s arms, the orchestra plays a figuration based on the Here’s a Man of Jollity motive, which was Elsie’s entrance music earlier in the act.

At the end of Hark! What Was That Sir, when the chorus seems to have moved on to a brand new hymn to the greatness of Shadbolt, you may notice that the violins are playing Shadbolt’s patter theme under the coda!  

It is tempting to join the many Victorian enthusiasts and even modern Gilbert and Sullivan scholars in calling these references leitmotivs, but I think that’s an error.

Firstly, it misidentifies the technique. Sullivan does not weave these tunes into the texture of an ever evolving musical tapestry; they function as callbacks or reprises. If these are leitmotivs, we may as well call Reno Sweeney’s reprise of I Get a Kick out of You at the end of Anything Goes a fine use of the Du Trittst Mich Motiv in Das eigentliche Gesamtkunstwerk von Kohl Porter.

Secondly, identifying these musical ideas in that way is an example of the kind of musical chauvinism that caused Sullivan’s identity crisis in the first place. When these ideas are tagged as leitmotiven, we are being asked to applaud Sullivan for transcending the simpleminded populism of his operettas by using his tunes more than once, in a German manner. Let’s allow Wagner to be Wagner and Sullivan to be Sullivan, and not insist that Sullivan’s extremely effective musical dramaturgy be constantly compared against the benchmarks of the Neudeutsche Schule.

Much is made in the literature about how critical Gilbert’s libretti are to bringing out Sullivan’s best talents musically. Less acknowledged is the way Gilbert’s demands for rewrites and cuts pushed Sullivan in the direction of pacing and audience appeal. After this opera, the two are no longer on good enough terms for this kind of relationship, which is why The Gondoliers is so discursive. But more on that later.

For all this high ambition, the British public had made up its mind about what the two men were about. The masses had enjoyed their prior work, and wanted more of the same.

As for the opinions of the enlightened , we may look no further than this withering dismissal by George Bernard Shaw, who was at that time writing under the pen name of Corno di Bassetto. As The Gondoliers was just beginning its first run, a year and two months after the Yeomen premiere, Shaw wrote this in The Star:

“A new Savoy opera is an event of no greater artistic significance than- to take the most flattering comparison- a new oratorio by Gounod. We know the exact limits of Mr. Gilbert’s and Sir Arthur Sullivan’s talents by this time, as well as we know the width of the Thames at Waterloo Bridge; and I am just as likely to find Somerset House under water next Easter or autumn, as to find The Gondoliers one hair’s breadth better than The Mikado or Gounod’s promised Mass a step in advance of Mors et Vita. The Savoy has a certain artistic position, like the German Reed entertainment, but it is not a movable position… I am already as absolutely certain of what The Gondoliers is as I shall be when I have witnessed the performance.” 

In the next two paragraphs Shaw lists every other operetta Gilbert and Sullivan had written in the previous 15 years with the glaring exception of Yeomen of the Guard. Shaw is delighted to inform us as he denigrates their work that he hasn’t seen any of it apart from The Mikado, under duress. Yeomen seems not to have even made enough of an impression to join the pieces Shaw dismisses. In such a climate, no work the men could have written would have made any sort of surprising impression. 

Gilbert and Sullivan: A partnership on the brink

It’s dangerous to read an artist’s work as a set of Freudian meditations on whatever he or she may be working through while writing, but Gilbert’s librettos for Sullivan sometimes feel as though they want to be read as a code for something else. Probably the most obvious example is Gilbert’s scenario for The Pirates of Penzance. Writing for Americans who had been pirating productions of HMS Pinafore, Gilbert invented a group of bumbling pirates who are dreadful at pirating, eventually bringing them back into the fold by reminding them that they’re actually English subjects.Was Gilbert inviting the unruly colonies to begin behaving properly again? An examination of the deteriorating relationship between Gilbert and Sullivan before, during and after the writing of The Yeomen of the Guard suggests a similarly pointed commentary.

I’m about to make an argument with which two of my favorite authors on Gilbert and Sullivan completely disagree. Gayden Wren argues that if Point is meant as a stand in for Gilbert, then he would never have written him as such a self-pitying plagiarist. And Carolyn Williams argues that if there’s a relation between the two, it’s figurative, not literal; that Gilbert is depicting an outmoded form of comedy that Gilbert is supplanting.  I’m trying to argue something slightly different here, although Williams and Wren have a much better track record for insight in this area, so perhaps you should trust them when they contradict me.

Gilbert was a man who ruminated on perceived injustices and nursed grievances. In writing any dramatic work, the author reaches into his or her mind over and over again to depict the way people think and behave, the way they interact, and the way they express themselves, in short: the way the world is. Of course Gilbert doesn’t intend Point to be a literal self portrait. But having established a doomed comedian as his protagonist, and needing that protagonist to speak in favor of comedy, we are apt to see some insights into Gilbert’s own opinions on the topic, because while he was writing the opera he himself had been advocating comedy to D’Oyly Carte and Sullivan as though his livelihood depended on it. I think I can back that up using Gilbert’s own words. By the same token, in setting up the love interest who would reject Point, and in writing the man she would choose in Point’s stead, Gilbert would naturally find in his own mind the characterizations that reflect his own wounded pride in his ongoing disagreements with Sullivan.

After the initial flush of success, Sullivan began to chafe at the kinds of pieces he was expected to write with Gilbert. After the opening of Princess Ida in 1884, he told Richard D’Oyly Carte he didn’t want to write any more Savoy operas. A composer friend had recently suffered a paralyzing stroke, he himself was suffering from health problems, and he had been knighted by the Queen for his service to British music. Time was short. Why was a man with his gifts wasting them on trifles? Sullivan’s expressions of discomfort with the situation precipitated a set of negotiations to try to get him to fulfill his contractual obligation to continue writing operas for Savoy. A sampling of their correspondence reveals the fundamental disagreements.

On April 1, 1884, Sullivan wrote to Gilbert:

“I will be quite frank. With Princess Ida, I have come to the end of my tether- the end of my capability in that kind of piece. My tunes are in danger of becoming mere repetitions of my former pieces… this very suppression [of music in favor of words] is most difficult, most fatiguing, and I may say most disheartening, for the music is never allowed to rise and speak for itself. I want a chance for the music to act in its own proper sphere- to intensify the emotional element not only of the actual words, but of the situation.

I should like to set a story of human interest and probability, where the humorous words would come in a humorous (not serious) situation, and where, if the situation were a tender or dramatic one, the words would be of a similar character. There would then be a feeling of reality about it which would give a fresh interest in writing, and fresh vitality to our joint work.”

Gilbert wrote back that he was deeply offended. He had always written in this way:

“It is inconceivable that any sane author should ever write otherwise than as you propose I should write in the future.”

The exchange deteriorated from there, Sullivan objecting to the ‘charm’ plot he was so tired of, and Gilbert accusing Sullivan of treating him as a servant. Eventually the impasse was broken when Gilbert proposed the plot of The Mikado. As it turned out, Sullivan’s insistence that Gilbert push in a new direction spurred both men to the faux Japanese opera that is often called their greatest achievement. Somehow the plot of Ruddigore was also picturesque enough to overcome objections and fire Sullivan’s imagination once more. But when, late in 1887 they set out to write their next piece, he rejected Gilbert’s first proposal as mechanical, ‘a puppet show, and not human’. And that’s when Gilbert proposed what would become Yeomen. A scenario that would allow Sullivan many serious moments, a Meistersinger inspired overture, an expanded orchestra, and some of his most glorious music. It is as close to Serious Opera as Gilbert was willing or perhaps able to go.

For all that, there were many difficulties. Sullivan asked for the second act to be reconstructed less than 2 months before the opera opened, and on the morning of opening night, Gilbert angrily insisted several numbers be removed because they slowed down the action.

Knowing as we do that Gilbert had been trying very hard to give Sullivan the ‘serious’ libretto he wanted, with very human characters, it’s hard not to read Jack Point’s character as a proxy for Gilbert’s own position. They are both comedians who hide their truth telling in humor. Point’s very first line begins making a case for comedy:

“My masters, I pray you bear with us, and we will satisfy you, for we are merry folk who would make all as merry as ourselves. For, look you, there is humour in all things, and the truest philosophy is that which teaches us to find it and make the most of it.”

This wisdom will shortly be thrown back in his face by two rustic would-be molesters.

Point will go on to sing about his methodology in not one but two further numbers. It is difficult not to hear Gilbert speaking about his own work when the jester sings:

I can teach you with a quip; if I’ve a mind

I can trick you into learning with a laugh;

Oh, winnow all my folly, folly, folly, and you’ll find

A grain or two of truth among the chaff.


When they’re offered to the world in merry guise,

Unpleasant truths are swallowed with a will,

For he who’d make his fellow, fellow, fellow creatures wise

Should always gild the philosophic pill.

In Oh! A Private Buffoon is a Light-hearted Loon, Point (again perhaps speaking Gilbert’s mind) makes an even more specific case for knowing your audience, as he was making to Sullivan in their correspondence:

Though your head it may rack with a bilious attack,

And your senses with toothache you’re losing

Don’t be mopey and flat- they don’t fine you for that

If you’re properly quaint and amusing.

Compare this passage from Gilbert to Sullivan after the production had successfully opened in 1889:

“I think we should be risking everything in writing more seriously still. We have a name, jointly for humorous work, tempered with glimpses of earnest drama. I think we should do unwisely if we left, altogether, the path to which we have trodden together so long and so successfully.”

Again, I’m not arguing, as some do, that Gilbert is deliberately setting out a case for his own methodology like some kind of legal defense. I’m proposing that while he is writing the libretto, Gilbert’s mind is constantly turning these ideas over, justifying his position to himself and nursing his wounded pride. Whether the author intends the writing to be autobiographical or no, the characters speak something on the author’s mind.

If we read Point as Gilbert, then his singing companion Elsie must be Sullivan’s stand in. Elsie makes clear their relationship in terms that might apply obliquely to Gilbert and Sullivan:

“May it please you, sir, we are two strolling players, Jack Point and I, Elsie Maynard, at your worship’s service. We go from fair to fair, singing, and dancing and playing brief interludes; and so we make a poor living.”

But of course, Jack values their relationship more than she does, and for a price, Elsie decides to marry another man, an alchemist who is as good as dead, just as Sullivan was anxious to leave Gilbert for the ephemeral prospect of English Grand Opera. Recall that Sullivan was awarded the Mendelssohn Scholarship at 14, which led to his study in Leipzig and his subsequent rise to prominence. Then note that Queen Victoria, 5 months before Yeomen opened attended The Golden Legend, telling Sullivan afterward, “You ought to write a grand opera, you would do it so well!” Then consider Gilbert’s lyric for Fairfax in Act II (in my far-fetched scenario trying to woo Sullivan away from Comic Opera to the more respectable Grand Opera)   

He should ‘prentice himself at fourteen

And practice from morning to e’en

And when he’s of age,

if he will, I’ll engage,

He may capture the heart of a queen

The heart of a queen!

Death hangs in the air through Yeomen. In the last moment of this, their most ‘serious’ work, this comic figure falls insensible to the ground, having been rejected by his partner. Controversy remains about whether Point is actually dead, which reflects a much more tangible reality: would Gilbert ever write with Sullivan again?

I know I am stretching these comparisons, but when read in this way, the central musical idea of the opera, I Have a Song To Sing O! is even more meaningful, as the words of the rejected comic are continually rewritten and recontextualized by the woman who wants out of the relationship. They both have a song to sing. But it’s not the same song. She will not sing the words he has given her. The fact that Sullivan had so much trouble writing it and ultimately needed Gilbert to sing for him the simple folk song it was based on makes the irony even more poignant, as does the fact that it would become one of their most beloved songs, the one most requested by Autograph seekers.  

Ultimately, of course, Gilbert and Sullivan did write several more operas together. Their last masterpiece The Gondoliers, which followed the next year, paints in its convoluted plot an even more bold picture of their artistic rupture: Two casts barely appear together onstage. One cast has a very involved musical characterization, the other a much simpler comic framework. Furthermore, the story revolves around two jointly ruling kings, unable to figure out which is in charge, and doing menial work as everyone else lives like royals, a mirror of Gilbert’s idea that others were profiting at his expense. At the conclusion of the opera, we find that neither of them are truly king, and the crown goes to the attendant to the Duke of Plaza Toro.

Following the Carpet Quarrel, a similar situation would unfold for D’Oyly Carte, who would be scrambling to search for composers and librettists to fill the gaping hole left when the partnership finally collapsed.

But let’s leave that story for another time and simply marvel that an opera grew out of the friction of an artistic impasse that is one of the greatest pieces of music theatre in the 19th Century.

Before You Start:

A great place to start with any G&S Operetta is the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive page.The page for Yeomen is pretty extensive, including interviews, reviews of early productions, higher keys for Phoebe’s two songs, and an extremely helpful list of errata.

The most commonly used edition is the Schirmer vocal score, edited by Edmond William Rickett. It’s good, and is accessible to most of your singers. I linked to Amazon here, because most people these days buy from them. But do be aware that they sometimes lump together more than one edition of the same score, so you might accidentally get a rival edition when you order. You may decide you’d like to go with the Oxford critical edition, which is very good, if more expensive, and connects perfectly with the full score you’re going to want to purchase. On that note:

As for the full score, you’re in luck. The old handwritten Kalmus score is $165, which is appalling, considering that the brilliant new Oxford edition edited by Colin Jagger is less than $90. The critical material at the beginning is stellar, and I only found a couple of head scratchers that couldn’t be clarified in the notes.

I believe in conducting chorus rehearsals from the vocal score until the chorus is off book, and then switching as early as practicable to the full score to conduct rehearsals. There is a real wealth of detail in the orchestration that you as a music director need to be aware of that is simply not present in the Piano Score. If you are renting parts, do check to see if you can get your hands on the score that goes with them to use as you rehearse. It goes without saying that conducting the operetta in performance with an orchestra from the Piano Vocal Score is an unpardonable infraction unless it is absolutely unavoidable.


As always, the OakApple Press page laying out all the major recordings is complete and fantastic. Many of these recordings are available on Spotify, but I encourage you to buy a hard copy. Looking to D’Oyly Carte for style or pronunciation help is a good idea, but I’m sorry to say that even in the case of vowels, you will find very little uniformity from one D’Oyly Carte recording to the next.

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 is a very expensive new edition I have not yet read. If it’s anything like its predecessors, it’s indispensable.

A Most Ingenious Paradox: The Art of Gilbert and Sullivan by Gayden Wren: Good stuff, especially seeing the shows in the context of the whole output. I come back to this book again and again.

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

I have recently added to my collection Carolyn Williams Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody. I had been skeptical at first of this kind of treatment of G&S, but I was very much mistaken. This book is just wonderful, and I found the chapter on Yeomen quite illuminating. Williams is the only writer on G&S I can recall reading that confronts difficulties in the works in their historical contexts. Most books either deny that there are problematic passages or approach them as though the authors should have been thinking then as we do now. I can tell that I’m going to learn quite a bit from the insights in this book as I continue to do Gilbert and Sullivan.

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. I also made a pass at one point with a metronome and marked the tempi of all the sections from several recordings so that I would have a benchmark of speed. When a singer complains about a tempo, it helps to be able to check and say, “Ah, yes, we’re too slow” or: “This is within the range of generally accepted tempi.” or yet again, “I’d like to take it this fast, but currently our diction won’t allow it.” Sullivan doesn’t always notate phrasing or articulations, and while it’s easy to say, “Let’s just leave it up to the taste of the players”, it’s sometimes necessary to actually make clear decisions as a conductor so that the ensemble is telling the same musical story. I have developed a system with colored pencils, where I listen to a recording of a particular year with, say, a red pencil in hand and just mark interesting articulation, dynamic, or tempo choices for the key moments. Then I go back with a different color and enter another recording’s take on the same moments. Pretty quickly one begins to realize what is standard, what is done almost every time, and what is open to interpretation. You will also find your own preference in those places where there appears to be a wide range of opinion. To me, this is the beginning of discovering your own voice as a conductor; finding where the limits of expression have been in the past, and deciding what you are drawn to in answer to the points that are vague.

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

As You’re Casting:

Richard Cholmondeley

Sir Richard Cholmondely

Sir Richard is a role for a bass-baritone, hopefully an imposing one, since his character hasn’t much of a sense of humor and arrives to deliver important news at nearly every entrance. In How Say You Maiden, he not only begins the number, but has some extremely challenging passagework, and a nearly impossible passage in the Act II finale. Note that Lieutenant is pronounced ‘leftenant’ in England.

Colonel Fairfax

Colonel Fairfax

Fairfax is a tenor with a thankless task. Other characters tell the audience that he is brave and valiant, but we will see him behave in precisely the opposite manner in the piece, cavalier about the feelings of the people around him, and self-pitying in the face of mild annoyance. If the audience is to like him, he has to be terribly charming, and his devil-may-care attitude needs to read as sophistication, not egotism. He also has two arias that rely on beauty of tone. A harder role than you might at first think.

Sergeant Meryll

Sergeant Meryll

Meryll performs critically important plot functions in Yeomen, delivering important exposition and bridging several storylines. He must credibly be Leonard and Pheobe’s father. He must be able to hold the bass part of Strange Adventure, the fast section at the end of act II, (with the Lieutenant and Wilfred) and be rather adept at counting, since he has awkward entrances in two numbers. A role for a solid performer.

Meryll used to have a song between Nos. 3 and 4. It was cut on Gilbert’s insistence, and Sullivan was annoyed at being bullied into cutting it, although he agreed it was unnecessary to the plot. Apart from giving Meryll something interesting to do, it isn’t missed, especially since Meryll has plenty to do in the piece itself.

I suppose this is as good a place as any to point out the confusion you may first have as you begin working through the materials. Meryll is the last name of three of these characters, and the false last name of a fourth. In the score Sergeant Meryll is always referred to as Meryll, his real son as Leonard, Phoebe as Phoebe, and Fairfax as Fairfax, even when disguised as a Meryll.

Leonard Meryll

Leonard Meryll

Leonard exists to set up the plot, disappears for a long time, then provides information necessary to end the opera. In the interim, he can go back to being a chorister if that works with your staging and costuming. In fact, you should be casting a very fine tenor in this part, and you can’t afford to lose any chorus tenors, since you need several good ones as Yeomen, and you don’t want your chorus of townspeople to be tenorless. Leonard needs a high A flat.

Jack Point

Jack Point

Jack Point is one of the best and most challenging roles in the canon. He must have an extraordinarily good memory, for the ever changing I Have A Song to Sing O!, the many monologues, and the verses and verses of patter. He plays comic for most of the piece, but there must also be a slight sadness, or the ending simply will not play. Vocally the role is not terribly rangy, and could be played by a tenor or a baritone, but it must be someone who has crystal clear diction and the intelligence to understand what he’s doing and saying throughout.

Wilfred Shadbolt

Wilfred Shadbolt

Shadbolt must first of all have a wonderful stage presence and great comic timing. He must be adept at patter and have a good sense of timing.

Shadbolt had a number between When Maiden Loves and Tower Warders that I love. When Jealous Torments Rack My Soul was supposedly cut because it was serious in tone, being the second such number in a row at the beginning of the opera. I think my modern sensibility is differently calibrated, because I find both numbers musically light, if lyrically dark. Shadbolt’s cut number is in fact, full of truly delightful detail, with flutes imitating birds, the violins trilling a meowing cat, and a truly hilarious bassoon line. It also makes the reference to Shadbolt’s jealousy near the end of the opera resonate even better, since this number establishes jealousy as his central feature.  

The headsman

The Headsman

Pick your tallest/biggest actor. He wears a mask, so having somebody who is imposing and can wield an axe credibly without doing any harm to himself or those around him are the primary criteria.

First Yeoman

The First Yeoman is a Tenor or a Baritone who can sing a high F briefly.

Second Yeoman

The second Yeoman is a rangy tenor, or at the very least a baritone with a sustained high F. Be sure he can sing the passage in Tower Warders, but also check in on the Low Bb in the First Act Finale, where he seems to be more of a Baritone  

First and Second Citizens

These characters have no given vocal parts, they act like dangerous creeps in one scene. Choose them accordingly.

Elsie Maynard

Elsie Maynard

Elsie is one of the best soprano roles in G&S, despite the fact that she only has one aria proper. The role requires a strong actress with a very flexible voice, and real punch at the top of the staff. There are several places that are rather heavily scored. Conversely, she needs to be able to float some things as well. She also needs a very good memory. In I Have a Song to Sing, O!, the words and timing are very difficult to remember. And finally, she needs to be able to play comic scenes and several moments of pathos. It’s quite a meaty role!

Phoebe Meryll

Phoebe Meryll

Phoebe opens the show and appears at every important juncture. She’s really a mezzo, but you can cast a soprano if you move her two arias up a step. Both the lower and higher keys are legitimate choices sanctioned by Sullivan. She has a lot of lovely scene work, so cast a sensitive actor who can play comedy.


Dame Carruthers

Dame Carruthers initially appears to be a different kind of Contralto part, as the noble protector of history, but shifts somewhat awkwardly in Act II to fit the scary-contralto type to frighten poor Meryll and make us like him less. Carruthers needs a good ear for the various part work she sings, good diction for the patter, and a formidable stage presence.

Original Kate


Kate is an impossibly small part with a critical vocal line in Strange Adventure! A wonderful role for someone in your company who is building experience for larger roles, or for a soprano with a beautiful voice who for whatever reason wasn’t cast in the other roles.


In The Pirates of Penzance, Sullivan had split his male chorus into tenors and basses. Here we have a much more complicated demarcation, because you must have a full 4 part men’s chorus of Yeomen and a functioning section that hopefully balances the women’s chorus. The chorus of townspeople does not appear all that often, but when they do, it is extremely rewarding material to sing! This means you can afford to really finesse your choral rehearsals; you will have the time. It’s possible to cover all the chorus material in 2 well paced rehearsals and then move on to fine tuning details.

Here’s my suggestion for filling the yeomen positions: Put one of your strongest chorus singers on each of the yeomen parts: 1st Tenor, 2nd Tenor, Baritone, and Bass. Add them to Sgt. Meryll and the First and Second Yeomen you cast as principals, since there are times Meryll and those two yeomen are not able to sing the choral parts. Once you’ve set up that core group, be certain your remaining chorus of townspeople has a strong tenor and bass to ground the section. In all likelihood, you will be short on tenors, as we were. Don’t send them all to the group of Yeomen, or you’ll be in a bind.  If you should have chorus singers to spare, start doubling out the Yeomen with other singers. Meryll is likely a bass, your first Yeoman is probably a first tenor, your second yeoman a baritone or second tenor. So if you’re augmenting beyond those 7 men, add another 2nd tenor or baritone to make an evenly balanced 8 when everyone’s singing together. Then add one each of the other parts. I think 11 is probably too many, and if you can afford 11 yeomen and still have enough strong tenors to balance the chorus women in the remaining scenes, I want to talk with you about your recruiting. I also want to know about your costume budget. For the record, there are 37 warders in real life.

Your sopranos have a G above the staff, your altos an E flat above treble C, going down to middle C. Chorus tenors need the G above middle C, and the basses need the A below bass C.

The Yeomen First tenor tops off at an A above middle C, the second tenor The A flat above middle C, the Baritone needs an E flat above middle C, and your Basses need the F below the bass staff and the E flat above middle C.

General Pronunciation Advice:

I copy here general note from earlier G&S posts, 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) Be aware of the Trap-Bath split. A fellow Savoyard in my tenor section made me aware of this chart, which is very helpful: trap-bath

2) ‘R’s that begin a word are tripped or rolled. ‘R’s that come before a vowel are tripped. ‘R’s that come after a vowel are generally dropped. At no point is the ‘r’ pronounced as we Amerrricans pronounce it. (although you may encounter different kinds of Rs if characters have regional British accents)

3) Mary, Merry, and Marry 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. But be careful not to overcompensate. I have noticed that some Americans are so anxious to Britishify their speech that they change to ‘t’ sounds that are truly ‘d’s. Lady should not be Laty, as I’ve heard people say when attempting to posh up their language. Not every ‘d’ needs to become a ‘t’, only the ones that are truly ts to begin with!

7) As I continue to conduct these pieces, and after continuing encouragement from the English members of our American company, I am beginning to become fixated on words like “all”, and the second syllable of “Doctor”, “Major” and “Sailor”. The British “all” has a darker vowel than the Americans use, almost to the point of sounding like ‘ole’, and the second syllable of the ‘or’ words is pronounced like ‘or’, not ‘er’, as Americans would say it. I am still conflicted about that particular one, because the D’Oyly Carte recordings are by no means consistent on that point, and especially at speed, it is very difficult to articulate a tall ‘o’ vowel in such a word. It is something to keep one’s ears open for.

This video may be of use to you.

That is by no means exhaustive, and I’ve probably gotten some of it wrong, but that’ll get you started. There are some places in this show where pronunciation will be governed by a rhyme. I will try and hit each of those points as we go.

Going through the show number by number:


This overture is one of the finest in the Savoy canon. Various commentators have suggested that it is modeled on Wagner’s overture to Die Meistersinger. One recent writer even insinuates that Sullivan chose to take this overture seriously for a change on account of the seriousness of the topic. A casual glance at his overture to Iolanthe shows that when Sullivan had the time to write his own overtures, he always did so with great care and diligence.

Those who see the Meistersinger connection are probably responding to the brass opening and subsequent episodes, and the appearance near the end of the Wagner of the King David motive with busy strings throughout. Sullivan loved Die Meistersinger, but if he was inspired by the overture, the differences are frankly more interesting than the similarities.

Wagner’s overture is built on a number of that opera’s main themes, just as Sullivan’s is. But Wagner’s orchestration is elaborate and thick, and the themes tend to spin out into sequences, each dissipating into the next idea. Sullivan’s language closes out the musical ideas and makes quite clear which instruments are melodic and which accompanimental. The Wagner at its best is a flurry of counterpoint; he dazzles us with his complexity, and when he denies us cadence, we find we have already moved on to the next busy episode. The Sullivan at its best is contrapuntally sound but always simple, clear and directionally oriented. The strongest case for comparison between the two overtures is also the strongest case for what makes them so different. Below I’ve reduced the four measure phrase at the return of the King David motive in Die Meistersinger, followed by the analogous passage at the close of the Yeomen overture.


Meistersinger Overture Example


Yeomen Overture Example

The old orchestration rule that there should never really be more than three distinct things going on at once is held in perfect clarity by the Sullivan example, whereas Wagner has three heterophonic versions of the bass, a brass idea that is beautiful, but lacks a strong profile, and a terribly busy chromatic figure in the second violins and violas that doesn’t so much add excitement as muddy the waters. By comparison, Sullivan’s passage is a perfect model of clarity.

Once you leave these grand and gilded brass passages, the development of these ideas is not at all Wagnerian, but displays the welcome influence of Mendelssohn, especially as the “All Frenzied With Despair” motive is nimbly passed between sections.

The overture is also in Sonata form, a form Wagner viewed with skepticism. I see people online describing this overture as being distinctive because it’s in sonata form rather than being a potpourri of tunes from the opera. I see this as a potpourri of tunes from the opera organized in Sonata Form. The same could be said of the Iolanthe overture. Unless you’re trying to write a Wagnerian music of the future, there is no shame in writing in Sonata Form; it is the tried and true way of organizing contrasting ideas! The introduction is the Tower Theme, followed by the Primary Theme, When a Wooer Goes a Wooing in Eb. (chromatically altered from its appearance in the opera so that it can be better used in this context) a transitional passage modulates us to the Secondary Theme area Were I Thy Bride in the Dominant, Bb. A development section is built on All Frenzied with Despair from the Act I Finale, with snippets of When a Wooer and Were I Thy Bride. After 44 measures of modulating passages with no full statements of any theme, the Tower Theme sneaks back to prepare the recapitulation, with artfully deployed Primary and Secondary themes in the tonic key and a further statement of the Tower Theme as a powerful coda.

The reduction of the full orchestration in the Schirmer piano vocal score, held over and cleaned up from the Chappell edition, leaves a lot to be desired; one wishes a very playable reduction occupied 2 main staves, with a smaller stave supplying other details above, as happens from pages 9 through 11. Much of this overture is laid out in a way that would be difficult for most accompanists who are not concert pianists. Of course, this is only really a problem if you’ve staged the overture, something that was not done very often when this edition was released in 1954.

The greatest difficulty I found in conducting the overture was establishing the proper tempo. The Tower Theme, heard immediately at the opening of the work, appears in three other numbers in the opera, and not always at the speed one finds optimal for the Overture. My mental picture of the theme happens to be too fast for the figure in the violins in the 7th measure, but I found I also ran a danger of over-correcting to the point where the brass figure in measure 16 was too slow. Once I discovered that the brass idea in measure 16 is the most critical passage to get in the right tempo, I used it in my mind to calibrate the opening. The overture basically moves at that tempo throughout. With Yeomen, Sullivan finally has the larger orchestra he wanted, and we will see how beautifully he uses the extra players. He also seems to favor the clarinet in lines he might have given the oboe. I wonder if the Savory orchestra had a personnel change.

The development section, which begins around measure 59, is a wonderful spinning out of the stretto at the end of Act I, in deftly modulating passages. Ask the strings to articulate it in the same way the brass do when they play it in measure 65.

Yeomen overture autograph


1. When Maiden Loves, She Sits and Sighs

When Maiden Loves Photo

This is the only Savoy opera to open with a solo, and if this weren’t G&S, we might think Phoebe is the main character in the piece. She does in fact appear subsequently at nearly every important juncture. The spinning wheel flavor of the song should help you establish your tempo. There are two traditional keys for this. If you cast a higher voiced Phoebe, she may well want the piece in Eb. Both are sanctioned by original performance practice.

This is the number where you will be glad you hired competent violists. The spinning wheel figure, which at first feels like a simple trill, terminates several times in a very specific and somewhat exposed way, which needs to be clean. Be careful 5 measures before B. (as it appears in the Schirmer score) There is a viola line absent from the vocal score that makes sense of the long pause before Phoebe begins singing again. With piano alone, one wants to start the next phrase too early. Write the line in, or work with your Phoebe to understand how the passage works.

The aria also presents a small conducting challenge. If you play the piece as written, you will quickly discover that the 4 measures before B and the 4 measures before the first ending seem very fast, and don’t in fact represent the way the piece is performed on recordings. Colin Jagger’s edition takes the position (as I read his critical commentary) that the meno mosso and subsequent a tempo are not sanctioned by the author, and that Sullivan did not intend these measures to be performed at half speed. I agree with him that Sullivan knew his mind and knew how to notate rhythm. And yet, as we rehearsed the song, we simply could not find a musically convincing reading of the passage as notated in the score. The 4 measure passages feel rushed to no dramatic end. I was also unable to locate any recording that played those passages at speed. Should you choose to be academically correct and perform the score as written, I tip my hat to you, and your orchestra will have no trouble following you. But if you choose to do it the traditional D’Oyly Carte way, you will either have to have a potentially long and confusing conversation with the orchestra at the sitzprobe, or you will want to re-bar the passages. I include parts and score below for you in both keys rebarred for ease of conducting.

This is a PDF of the low key and the high key of the Piano vocal. I’ve added cue sized notes for the viola passage I mentioned earlier, and I’ve changed the measures so you don’t have to wildly change your tempo to do it the way it appears on most recordings. I’ve also removed a rolled chord marking that Schirmer used to use whenever there was pizzicato. It may sound more like a badly coordinated orchestra playing pizz. to roll the chord staccato, but we hope our orchestra actually plays the pizz. simultaneously!

1. When Maiden Loves Rebarred Both Keys

Below is a document with all the orchestra parts so you can conduct it that way as well (in each key). I used the Schirmer rehearsal lettering and repeat format, which is different from the Oxford version. I conducted using these parts, marking the time signature changes in my score, and all was well.

When Maiden Sighs Original Key Barlines Adjusted Orchestral Parts

When Maiden Sighs Transposed Barlines Adjusted Orchestral Parts

2.Tower Warders, Under Orders

Tower Warders

This wonderful number shows Sullivan at a high level of musical pageantry, and will reveal to the audience immediately whether your chorus is big enough, and whether you distributed your tenors properly. If you don’t have enough in your chorus, they’ll know when the chorus begins singing. If you don’t have enough in the Yeomen, you’ll know when they have their very exposed part.

The rocketing triplet scale figure has been in several previous G&S operas, notably right before the recapitulation of the primary melody in the March of the Peers in Iolanthe, and it provides an identical function here in contrasting the martial duple figure preparing the entrance of the first theme.

The chorus of townspeople need a staccato articulation, which is difficult to maintain throughout the piece and prone to rushing. Keep an ear out for that in rehearsal. In the 18th and 22nd measures of rehearsal B,  the Yeomen split into 5 parts. Meryll has not yet entered, which means you are one Bass short. If you don’t have enough Yeomen to do that doubling, eliminate the lowest part, and let the second bassoon carry it. The horns, bassoons, and sometimes even clarinets double all these parts beautifully, particularly when the two choruses come together at the end. There is a slight danger that the tendency of the Yeomen to sing their legato phrases a little languidly and the larger chorus to rush the detached parts will create some phasing between the two. Tell your chorus to listen for the triangle at the top of the number, which plays every quarter note like a metronome, and at the end to listen for the flutes and oboes, who are also playing cleanly and staccato (one hopes)

There are several word changes in the Colin Jagger edition you will want to take note of, especially if you are rehearsing chorus from the Schirmer score, and conducting from the Jagger full score. One is in measure 32, where Jagger’s edition reads “We rejoice in talking over”. The Schirmer has “telling”. Jagger’s note clarifies the situation well. I mention it because when I switched to conducting rehearsals from full score, I found myself continually making notes to correct word errors that were not actor mistakes, but discrepancies. I’ll try and note them as they occur.

3. When Our Gallant Norman Foes

When Our Gallant Norman FoesCarruthers defense in her dialogue and subsequent paean to the Tower sets her up as the protector of tradition in the piece, and it’s truly a wonderful, very English moment.

A bugaboo for me was the word ‘twist’ in the Yeomen’s part, which needs to have the ‘s’ delayed, attached to the beginning of ‘and’. Of course Dame Carruthers can close to the ‘s’ as soon as she likes, but chorally, we don’t want to hear that.

Our director didn’t want to see a chorus of townspeople standing mute as the yeomen feebly echoed, so I assigned the first 2 phrases (‘The screw may twist’ through ‘men may burn’) to the full chorus. Going further would have drowned out her solo line.  

This is the first of the numbers in the opera to end with music underscoring the exit of the singer in a way that discourages audience applause. In performance I found this dissatisfying, but again, I think perhaps Sullivan was trying to keep the action moving and avoid the feeling of music hall construction

4. Alas! I Waver To And Fro

This first of many principle ensembles is tricky stuff, especially considering that you are likely to have cast your most experienced ensemble singers in other roles. The tempo is quick, Leonard’s part is high, and Meryll’s part is acrobatic. The cutoffs when 2 or 3 sing together are also awkwardly written, in the British manner, notated to stop ⅔ of the way through the measure beat quickly in one. I recommend adjusting those cutoffs for the sake of accuracy to the nearest sensible barline. Once again, the audience is denied a traditional ending with an extended coda that sneaks out the door as the characters do.

Alas, I Waver To and Fro

5. Is Life a Boon?

Much is made of the trouble Sullivan had setting this text. He wrote several versions, this final version having been completed 4 days before the premiere. In looking at the earlier version which still exists, available in the Oxford edition, I have my own observations:

The original version is much sprightlier and more vocally and musically interesting. It sounds more ‘English’ and more self consciously archaic to me. It also starts the second verse in the minor, which is better suited to the text, and the ending combines ideas from both verses. To my ear, it places Fairfax as a character far more specifically. The standard version has been much admired from the beginning, but I find the aria a little generic and perfunctory, rather like Fold Your Flapping Wings, which was cut from Iolanthe. The introductory measures do little more than establish us in Db major; Sullivan declines to use a number of melodic ideas that would have suited that opening moment, the melodic line follows the poetic meter without any of Sullivan’s inspired creative manipulation, and the vocal line is not very adventurous. Gilbert ostensibly rejected the earlier version because it resembled tenor arias from earlier operas, being in 6/8. Others have speculated that Gilbert wanted to deprive a tenor he disliked of a strong moment. But I wonder whether his real reason was that the joke is so hard to understand in the earlier version. Sullivan seems to have taken the sense of the lyric somewhat too seriously in the earlier version; in the final version, Fairfax simply tells the joke straight.

There is to my ear an obvious disconnect between Gilbert and Sullivan’s ideas about what should be happening here. With that disconnect in mind, consider the fact that Gilbert chose part of this lyric to appear on Sullivan’s memorial in 1903:

“Is life a boon?

If so, it must befall

That death whene’er he call

Must call too soon.”


That memorial and its Goscombe John sculpture of a partially nude young woman representing grief dramatically mourning under a bust of Sir Arthur are considered either the sexiest or most sexist memorial in London. The text is, of course, totally appropriate for a memorial out of the context of the opera. And yet considered in context, sung by a character who immediately thereafter says, in effect, “If I’m going to die, I may as well die now as any other time” seems mildly inappropriate to a memorial. And their disagreements about the setting of this text were surely on Gilbert’s mind, because when the statue was unveiled, he gave a speech, in which he remarked that:

“…he should like to bear testimony to the abnegation and self-effacement to which Sir Arthur was always prepared to submit himself whenever he had reason to believe that any part of his share of their joint work was inconsistent with the effect intended to be achieved by the whole design.” -as reported in The Musical Times, August 1, 1903

Anyone who has read their letters knows that Gilbert is stretching the truth here.

If you use the Jagger full score, you will notice a discrepancy in the pickup to the second verse. Jagger’s note explains the situation. I didn’t have a preference between the triplet version and the dotted eighth sixteenth version, but you might want to choose one yourself for clarity’s sake. If you take time at the end of the first verse, be prepared to cut off the strings in measure 40. Plan similarly in cutting off the strings 7 measures from the end.  

6. Here’s a Man of Jollity

This chorus number is wonderfully inventive musically. Sullivan is trying to evoke the rhythmic fluidity of Renaissance music here, although 5/4 would have been quite unusual. What is really striking here is how Sullivan builds a melodic rhetoric from motives which he repeats in various configurations. Some melodic patterns happen at the quarter note level, falling irregularly over barlines. Others are re-ordered in performance. The opening consists of just three ideas:

Jollity Example 1

Jollity Example 2

Jollity Example 3

But the ideas come in this fanciful order:


The chorus is essentially monophonic and in the Lydian mode (!), with chords appearing only in the mixed meter passages to help establish the cadences. It’s also striking that Sullivan writes an underscore for important dialogue, something he had not done in earlier operettas. It’s yet another sign that he was aiming for a more thoroughly connected musical drama.

Unless you’ve separated the sections on stage, I don’t see much point in splitting the groups antiphonally in their vocal parts when the chorus enters. At letters A and B, the high F may be too high for some of your altos and basses, in which case they can enter on the second notes of those phrases.

I think the faster the tempo the better. Conduct the 4/4 measures in 2, and the 3 and 5 measures in 3 and 5. If the dialogue is read quickly, you should be able to get through the repeated passage 5 times before moving on to No. 7.

Colin Jagger’s notes in the full score explain the bizarre situation between numbers 6 and 7. Here’s a man of Jollity clearly ends preparing us for D major, and yet in the Schirmer score, I Have a Song to Sing, O! Is in E flat. As I see it, you have 3 options: 1) take the last 14 measure repeated section of No. 6 up a half step and do No. 7 in Eb. 2) move No. 7 to D, as it will appear at the end of the opera or 3) Go from A7 to Eb major and hope nobody is paying attention. In truth they probably aren’t. I think the crossfade you encounter in one or two of the recordings is the most bizarre way to solve the problem, making an unusual harmonic moment in a Romantic Era opera into an outtake from Charles Ives’s Country Band March.

Here's a Man of Jollity.jpg

7. I have a Song To Sing, O!

In its profound simplicity, this song captures the central couple of the opera in their pre-fallen state. Gilbert has created something rare in his work: A text that refers to the character’s situations ironically, but not comically. It is also wonderful theatre that we know something will go wrong, but they don’t realize they are singing about themselves.

I don’t know that anyone truly sings every note of the melody as notated, and some places are rather awkward as written, such as “Who loved a lord, and who laughed aloud”, which is all quarters except for ‘lord and’. ‘And who’ eighths is much better prosody. You will need to decide for yourself how much of a stickler you intend to be about these moments.

The chorus that comes in at letter E sings on an Oo, then on an Ah! 8 measures later. When this moment is echoed in the Second Act Finale, the score indicates Oo! all the way. I thought Oo was unlikely to carry at a Forte dynamic, and that my chorus singers would perhaps not keep straight the two versions, so I made the last iteration an Ah! both times. Midway through that last choral phrase, it is effective to speed up to the end.

Incidentally, you must choose a sprightly tempo here, or your orchestra will fall asleep and/or lose their places. This is also a very fine reason to do no. 6 as fast as you can manage, because then the transition will be more or less l’istesso, and you won’t have to drive the orchestra ahead in the opening ritornello. One final point (pun intended) about the tempo: If your orchestra is good, they’ll be listening to the singers, and since there is so little going on in the orchestra anyway, it turns out to be very hard to get the tempo to move without the singers cooperation. They are in some way in charge of keeping the tempo moving themselves.

I Have a Song To SIng O!.jpg

8.  How Say You, Maiden, Will You Wed

Choose your tempo based on the ‘head over heels’ stretto. Elsie will want it faster, probably, and the men will likely want it slower. The three characters are so beautifully depicted in the music of their solo sections, and the ensemble work has the most delightfully witty orchestration. Beginning at the second ‘head over heels’ passage, Sullivan sets up a dialogue between the tutti woodwinds and the strings, which quickly becomes a game of tag or leapfrog between the two bassoons. The tutti, once again anticlimactic, continues the game, this time alternating flute/clarinet with horn/bassoon, until the pizzicato strings get the last word.

Practice cueing the bassoon entry in the last 6 measures of vocals and be prepared to explain the flute/clarinet pickup that follows to the rest of the orchestra.

9. I’ve Jibe and Joke

Jibe and Joke

A standard Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, which is to say: perfection.

The opening is a jig, with a wonderful sixteenth note figure, made even more wonderful in the 15th measure when Sullivan runs the figure into D minor ominously.

You may want to practice indicating the tempo with a blank bar, to align bassoon and low strings. It’s difficult to coordinate the very first measure. It turns out there are several versions of the woodwind passage here, and Sullivan’s preference seems to be unclear. Have a look at the parts your orchestra is using, and make sure they agree (ours did not) Enjoy the sforzandi. They are wonderfully fun.

Generally the last time through the chorus, singers slow down for “always gild the philosophic pill” This is tricky to conduct, so be sure to have a game plan.

10. ’Tis Done! I Am A Bride

This aria is some particularly fine writing, although this is one of those introductory 2 measure ritornelli that I do not find very inspiring. Pay attention to the 2nd violins, violas and cellos more than the rest in the opening there; they need more guidance than the others in establishing the triplets.

Choose a good fast tempo for the Allegro, and start small, so that the cresting waves in the strings have something to crest above! At 2 before C, you can let the singer take time, but get back into tempo at rehearsal C. The key to this number is forward propulsion that opens out into lyric long notes. We know this because Sullivan broke up Gilbert’s rhyme scheme to accomplish it.

Though tears and long-drawn sigh

Ill-fit a bride

No sadder wife than I

The whole world wide!


Ah me, ah me

Yet wives there be…

Sullivan pulls ‘Ah me’ back into the previous stanza, and we as an audience no longer hear any rhyme at all. But Sullivan is drawing the urgency of the situation in that moment, an urgency that can’t be achieved at a slower speed. Gayden Wren goes into much greater detail on this point, and I encourage you to read his chapter. In The Gondoliers, Sullivan would ignore rhythmic schemes even more, to the point where he makes Gilbert sound as though he doesn’t know how to rhyme at all.

The Allegro un poco agitato is perhaps the place in the score where you will most wish you had more violins. The writing isn’t always easy, and passing the passagework back and forth between players (as they will probably do) reveals quickly both the facility of the players and the depth of the sections. I told my section I was most interested in measures 23, 30, 43, etc, where the rocketing passages jump out from the texture and drive the piece forward. Keep in mind that conducting a sensitive rehearsal pianist to push and pull the tempo around the cadences is much easier than doing the same for the entire string section. I found it useful to conduct the cadenza once for the orchestra with the singer while they weren’t playing, so that they could hear the way it’s constructed. It’s also worth noting that the end of this is scored rather heavily for Sullivan. Listen for that balance so that your singer doesn’t need to oversing the cadenza.

Tis Done

11. Were I Thy Bride

Again, there are two key choices here. Both keys are available in the IMSLP orchestral parts, by the way. Be sure to choose a sprightly tempo, and note the character of the orchestration. As I hear it, Phoebe’s coyness is depicted in the way Sullivan mutes and divides the violins, first into 2 groups of 2 notes each, then eventually four groups of 2 notes each. More and more notes per chord, fewer and fewer players on each note! Under that is a tick-tock bed of pizzicato, and above it the occasional pad of woodwind coloring the flavor of the phrases. Students of composition note how Sullivan usually brings the winds in mid-phrase before a cadence and bridges into the next phrase. They’re a musical glue! Were I Thy Bride

12.FIRST ACT FINALE: Oh, Sergeant Meryll, Is It True

It isn’t as much of a thrill ride as the Finale to the first act of Iolanthe, and yet, I found this absolutely exhilarating to conduct, particularly the funeral march and the final stretto.

The first page of reduction is again pretty unsatisfying. The section in E major at the top of Schirmer page 97 is awkward passage work for both rehearsal accompanist and strings, but even allowing for that, the sense of what is happening on the first page of the Finale could have been conveyed much better.

Meryll’s entrance is actually quite difficult, because he’s essentially performing a canon with the trumpet at a beat’s delay. It is a wonderful line once you get it timed out, but budget some rehearsal there.

The violin sixteenth coming out of the fermata on the way into E (as lettered in the Schirmer score) is really difficult to cue! Your pianist will simply do it, but you need to plan for a section of violins. I actually got it wrong every single performance. As I’m thinking about it now, I think you need to say a prayer and give a strong 4 out of the fermata.

The Andante allegretto reinstates a repeat during the 1st and 2nd yeomen solos and a second verse in the Oxford Full Score that isn’t in the Schirmer score. I don’t think it’s worth reinstating, but you should note it so it doesn’t catch you by surprise.

The transition into H in the Schirmer score is prefigured in the syncopation in the previous measure. In fact, you could also make it l’istesso. You will almost certainly need to finesse this moment with your orchestra.

At rehearsal G in the Oxford Full Score (8th measure of H in the Schirmer vocal score), there is a passage that is pretty tricky for the orchestra. Your pianist will be fine in rehearsal, but the orchestra is coming out of 2 brief phrases and 2 unaccompanied recits, so they have no real bearing on the new tempo. When we come out of the recit, the tempo needs to be established on the downbeat of the cellos and double basses, who are marked piano. Every other instrument is primarily offbeats for quite a while, which adds to the confusion. Have the cellos and basses mark the singer’s text coming into that passage, and in the fermatas that follow a few phrases later, and have them bump that first downbeat up to forte. You may find yourself paying attention to the strings and flutes, but that’s a mistake. The main thing is the downbeat. Establish that, and the orchestra will have something to latch onto.

8 measures before J, you will note that the orchestra has a pickup quarter, but Wilfred has an eighth. The same thing happens 2 measures later. You may find it advisable to drop directly into tempo at the downbeat that closes Wilfred’s rather free recit so that things line up. Alternately, you can cut the clarinet and bassoon upbeat and let Wilfred take you into the next measure by himself.

I recommend you tacet the first notes in the trumpets at the top of the Allegro non troppo (full score measure 216, Schirmer 2nd measure of J. It’s hard to coordinate otherwise. You’ll thank me later.

The funereal march to mourn the condemned is situationally and mildly musically similar to the auto-da-fé sequence at the beginning of Act 3, Part 2 of Verdi’s Don Carlo (5 act version) Possibly Gilbert and/or Sullivan saw the first production of that opera in Italian at Covent Garden in June 1867.

At the Andante you will need to solve the problem of who plays that bell and who plays the timpani. They can’t be played by the same player, and the rest of the orchestra is occupied. See Colin Jagger’s note for some interesting backstory regarding the tempo. If you choose a backstage bell ringer, you’ll run into some problems with coordination, especially if they can’t see you. If you choose a visible onstage bell ringer, it draws focus from one of the most important moments in the show. If you hire a second percussion player, they will be doing nothing for almost the entire show. And for heaven’s sake don’t do it yourself. Your orchestra and chorus need you to shape this passage.

Work on those cutoffs at “The prisoner comes” This is an absolutely breathtaking passage, maybe the most beautiful moment in Sullivan’s work, but only if it’s clean, in tune and has beautiful vowels. Note where the diminuendo is and don’t anticipate it.

It turns out to be difficult initially to get “He is not there!” to come in correctly. Budget some time.

The patter passage when it’s first introduced has a wrinkle that you have to solve. “We hunted high” and “We hunted low” are both thirds, just as they are when the chorus sings it. There were originally four yeomen returning empty handed. Now there are only three. So your options are: 1) do it as written in the Schirmer score. 2) Get another yeoman in on the action. 3) Have Fairfax sing in both sections.

Budget time to align the girls entrance in “Now, by my troth the news is fair…” It will feel early.

In your choral warmup, spend time learning the “as escort for” passage in tempo. Work the words separately from the notes for clarity and consonants. Tune the word ‘sought’ the first time it appears and the word ‘with’ the last time it appears. These will be out of tune at first. There is another version of the lyric here in the Oxford edition you may want to use.

At T, the accompaniment is tossed between strings and woodwinds just as the Lieutenant sings. The last  time we had this kind of antiphonal interplay was in How Say You, Maiden, his first number.

The grace notes in the passage after T (in the Schirmer score) are among the most difficult parts of the opera for the strings. You may want to tell your less experienced players to play only the downbeats if they can’t tune it. The next passage should have a light touch, even as everyone is very agitated. This sets up the big tune well. Note that Sullivan brings in the timpani and horns as a pedal 4 before rehearsal V (in the Schirmer score) and then has the chorus join 2 bars later. Note also the chorus enters piano and swells to make the entrance of the big tune.

Jack and Elise have a completely different set of lyrics here NOT included in the Schirmer that they will likely want to use, because they’re specific to character. No audience member will hear them, but they are far more sensible for the characters to sing. You can see them in the Oxford score:


All frenzied, frenzied with despair I rave

My anguish rends my heart in two

Unloved, unloved to him my hand I gave

To him unloved bound to be true.


Unloved, unseen, unknown, unknown the brand

Of infamy upon his head;

A bride, a bride that’s husbandless I stand

To all mankind forever dead


To all man-kind forever dead

(she does not participate in the ‘thousand marks’ passage)

Forever ever dead forever ever dead to all man-kind forever

Ever dead.



All frenzied, frenzied with despair I rave

My anguish rends my heart in two

Your hand, your hand to him you freely gave

It’s woe to me, not woe to you!


My laugh is dead, my heart, my heart unmanned,

A jester with a heart of lead!

A lover, lover loverless I stand,

To womankind forever dead

(he does not participate in the ‘thousand marks’ passage)

To womankind forever dead

The Lieutenant sings the chorus lyrics with ‘my’ replacing ‘his’

33 measures from the end, at letter X in the Oxford score, 25th measure of Y in the Schirmer score, the high winds, horns and strings have a triplet figure against an eighth note pattern in the lower instruments. I suggest you ask the winds to play that figure detached. (the strings can’t really do that in their figure) The two ideas play off each other well, but can be muddy.  

I put a quarter rest in between the two iterations of “A Thousand Marks” in the Sopranos and Altos, and cut the downbeat tied over from the first ‘alive‘, to make room for breath. You may want to bring the chorus dynamic down on a-LIVE just a hair, so they can properly get a crescendo there to the sforzando.

The very end of the first act feels wrong in the piano reduction, as though you’ve suddenly struck the wrong tempo somehow, but just trust that when the orchestra is there, the bandwidth of sound, with the strings playing full chords and everyone in the optimal parts of their range justifies the extremely slow augmentation of the main theme.Act I Finale


13. Night Has Spread Her Pall Once More

Gilbert knew well how effective it is to begin a second act in the moonlight. The Sorcerer, HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe, and Utopia Limited also begin Act II at night. And yet in no other case did Sullivan capture the moonlight as beautifully as he does here.

Gayden Wren hears this as a reworking of the funeral march from Act I, but I don’t hear that. I do hear an exquisite depiction of moonlight worthy of Tchaikovsky. Have the strings play that unison melody fully and expressively, but also observe the dynamics, which are very specific.

It’s odd that Sullivan asks for the altos to sit out the whole first section. I treated the first phrases as normal, with all women singing the unison parts and the altos going down for the lower passages as needed. Aim for very strong ‘K’ consonants as they appear.  

If your Yeomen are not quite loud enough to pull off their passage alone, you can add the chorus men, changing all the ‘we’s to ‘ye’s. I know this isn’t Sullivan approved, but I don’t think he would have been happy with a weak men’s chorus there either. Avoid the temptation to slow down the penultimate measure of the chorus as though it were the last night of our Vegas floor show residency.

The piano score has a tremolando in the first 2 measures, but that’s really just so that the pianist can approximate the crescendo/decrescendo in the woodwinds. Don’t go too crazy. The IMSLP parts have a rearticulation in the winds in measure 2, but the Oxford score has it tied over (with no note in the Critical Commentary) I don’t know what to tell you there. The doubling of the tenor and basslines at 76 in the horns is extremely effective. I asked them to play out there, it makes the men’s section sound fuller. 

14. Oh, A Private Buffoon

Another perfect Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, after a perfect Gilbert scene. The traditional colla voce rit. in the 23rd and 24th measures may not be in your orchestra parts. They are very easy to cue. If only the lyrics were so easy to remember.

A Private Buffoon.jpg

15. Hereupon We’re Both Agreed

The faster the better for this fantastic duet. The words are likely to induce giggles in a modern American audience, and that’s fine. Note the words at “I to swear to, you declare to”, where the two swap lyrics. It’s actually pretty tricky! If your company does encores, you can begin at the beginning and take the second ending. It’s a nice effect to speed up the ending if you’ve done the encore.

There’s an odd bit I’m pretty sure is an error in the Oxford full score. The 2nd violins have a sixteenth rest at the end of measure 62 that should really be an A. I suspect that Sullivan asked the copyist to duplicate measure 58 in measure 62. In 62, the A is missing to facilitate the string crossing to the upper octave, but in 62, that’s no longer an issue. Probably your parts are correct; I’m not sure what is in the Oxford parts available for rental.

16.Free From His Fetters Grim

I like this aria much better than Faifax’s first act song. It has a wonderful melodic profile and a classic mock-bel-canto accompaniment.

The Oxford score has a half note and 2 eighths in the vocal part at measure 11, where the Schirmer vocal score has three quarters. There is nothing in the critical notes to explain the discrepancy. The Oxford score also reveals that there’s an error in the Public Domain parts. The woodwinds are tacet in the first verse from measure 3 through measure 22. The passages you hear are only for the second verse. Something the Oxford full score doesn’t explain is in measure 11, where the critical edition has a half note and 2 eighth notes in the vocal line, instead of the three quarters we find in the Schirmer score. 11 measures from the end, I recommend subdividing for the sake of clarity.  


17. Strange Adventure!

This is an exceptional Glee or Part song, which in Sullivan’s operas gets lumped slightly inaccurately into the Madrigal category. Sullivan was so good at writing this kind of music, and this is one of his very best. The orchestra serves only to make clear the key, and to correct the key after each verse if it has gone out of tune.

Pay attention to Sullivan’s delightful and specific dynamics and articulations and work hard to tune the piece; the delight is in the details, which allow the lyric to be as funny as the tune is beautiful.

18. Hark! What Was That Sir?

This musical scene is meant to come on the heels of the gunshot so quickly that Sullivan doesn’t bother with the pickup to the Tower Theme! It’s also an odd hybrid; a very dramatic scene that abruptly becomes an extended double patter song.

The Men’s chorus entrance turns out to be somewhat difficult to bring in. Rehearse it repeatedly from the beginning of the accompaniment pattern. (12th measure of A in Schirmer, A in Oxford) When the antiphonal passage begins, slowly work the melody while playing simplified chords underneath. When the women come in, play the downbeat chord, then the downbeat of the next measure and so forth until they hear how their melodies interact with the harmony. The men are not really echoing the ladies. It’s trickier than you think, so you’ll save yourself time starting there and learning it right the first time.

Your Wilfred may need to backphrase some of the patter to get the words out clearly. If that’s the case, the accompaniment should NOT slow down with him, and the chorus should not adjust to the slower speed. Take time to get both the notes and the dynamics when the chorus comes back in for “Down he dived into the river, it was very brave of him”

The stringendo before H in the Schirmer (before J in the Oxford) is great. Don’t miss it.

The tremolando passage has a detail that is awkwardly laid out in the Schirmer score at H. It looks as though the left hand drops down for the F natural and the E, then comes up for a measured set of sixteenths, but the whole 5 measure passage is really unmeasured tremolando, and those bass notes are pizzicato double bass punctuations, not part of any figure in the low strings.

The Oxford score has an extra three measures at the end. Cut 152-154 to get the Schirmer Vocal score version.

Before A Man Who Would Woo

19. A Man Who Would Woo A Fair Maid

The melodic phrasing of this number is exquisite. Hopefully you have sensitive singers, as I did!

There is one rather tricky melodic contour that you will want to examine. As the melody begins for Fairfax and Elsie, it dips down again and again to E, as the top of the tune climbs up to the higher octave. Then the static parts of the tune are in the middle of the range, as the melody teases the TOP E. Two repeated phrases follow, and then the melody grounds the TOP E as the moving part becomes the G#, F#, E motion. It’s easy to mistake the last phrase as another version of the previous repeated section.

Don’t let the ends of these verses slow down too much, and if they happen to slow, pick it back up again in the instrumental passage before the chorus.

The phrase below shows how sophisticated Sullivan’s musical rhetoric is in the realm of melodic contour and phrase length.

A Man Who Would Woo

I think it’s a wonderful effect to plan the breathing so as to connect ‘Jill’ with ‘If’, to underscore Sullivan’s felicitous extension of the phrase.

Be careful to manage the timing in the colla voce Pheobe has at the end of her verse. Remember that you have to bring the strings in with her.

The triple trill at the end is really great, and you’ll want to choose a manner of execution that suits all three singers and terminates properly. There is more than one way to do it.  

A Man Who Would Woo.jpg

20. When A Wooer Goes A-wooing

This is a personal opinion, of course, but I think this lovely number suffers somewhat from being directly after a minor masterpiece. In order to help it speak, I think we have to note and emphasize its special charms. The key, I think is in Jack’s line, “Oh the happy days of doing”. We discover its function when we see how it’s paired with the horn. The idea sounds slightly Viennese to me, although I can’t think of an analogous example. The horn call leads us gently into the chorus, and I think it’s stylistically appropriate to give it a slight ritardando, provided we pick up the tempo again into the chorus itself. At first the Point-horn duet leads us into the chorus in the same key. Then it bridges us from the minor into the major mode out of Phoebe’s verse. Then finally, the horn plays the line without Jack out of Jack’s verse back into the chorus. This is in fact, Point’s number, and Gilbert has arranged the text so that each singer has a more rueful take on the happy days of doing. I don’t know if this was Gilbert’s original intention, but it’s remarkable that all four characters echo Jack’s suicidal cri de coeur. It strikes me as out of character for Fairfax to consider Jack’s pain and for Phoebe to recognize Jack’s stake in the situation at all. It must be one of those moments where the logic of the choral moment supersedes the logic of the drama itself.

Appreciate the chromatic descending passage under Jack’s “Food for fishes”, which sounds like a body drifting to the bottom of a river. Make the most of Sullivan’s accents and the hairpin dynamics at the top of the phrase. Then note that Sullivan is getting quieter and quieter, as though the piece were turning into a miniature. And once again, Sullivan papers over the possibility of applause by underscoring their exits so that they are offstage when the music stops.

The Schirmer score has an error you should correct early. Point should sing ‘Jester wishes he were dead’, and the others echo in kind. ‘Was’ is not grammatically correct.

When a Wooer Goes A Wooing

21. Rapture, Rapture

I read somewhere that someone took Gilbert to task for writing the word ‘coyful’. “How can anyone be full of coy?”

To which Gilbert apparently replied:

“I don’t know, but for that matter how can anyone be full of bash?”

It’s interesting to me that Sullivan didn’t raise an objection to a number like this coming directly before the end of the opera, since this kind of number had become a mannerism in their work. Perhaps he did and Gilbert got the last word. One of the reasons it strikes me as so old-school Gilbert and Sullivan is that the rhymes and gestures are very similar to their earliest surviving work: The Sorcerer. Sgt. Meryll and Dame Carruthers are suddenly and unexpectedly John Wellington Wells and Lady Sangazure . 

You will perhaps have some difficulty choosing the ideal tempo here. Faster is better in terms of breathing for the patter, but slower is better in terms of the dancing. Pay attention to the singers and attend the blocking rehearsal to advocate for a space to recover from the dancing and singing.

22. SECOND ACT FINALE: Comes The Pretty Young Bride

From the piano score alone, you’d miss the lovely rustling flutes that continue the sixteenth notes in through the choral entrance here. Again, I think you’d be silly not to use the Altos here, even though Sullivan indicates only Sopranos. The phrasing in this melody is unusual, especially at the ‘love and obey’, for which your ladies will certainly need a strong sense of the beat.

The trio of the ladies is a marvel. The simplicity of the string line underneath is intentional. Note their dynamic is not always the same as the women’s. The Oxford edition clarifies that the forte dynamic for the women properly belongs at the first ‘with happiness’, right where the strings say sempre piano. At letter C in the Oxford full score (10 before C in Schirmer Score) make sure the chorus tenors and basses are really watching, and tell the horns and violas to really play out. It’s tough to establish that new tempo with so little going on.

The free for all at “Oh Day of Terror” is one of the more difficult fracases in the G&S canon. The tenors can get their B flat by moving a half step down from Elsie’s last pitch, but the G of the other singers takes a lot of drilling to land in tune. The Sopranos need to keep their half steps small in these phrases or the E at the next downbeat will tend quite flat. For the record, in the Schirmer score, Phoebe is the higher of the two lines on the same stave, Carruthers the lower. The C# line for the Lieutenant, Meryll and Wilfred is hard for the singers to hear, because it’s a tritone away from the G sung by Kate, Carruthers, and the Sopranos, Altos, and Basses of the chorus. It’s also hard for the audience to hear because it’s so low in their range. The extremely fast passage in the fourth measure is nearly impossible at the speed that seems sensible for the rest of the chorus and orchestra. If you feel ambitious, budget a lot of time to work that section, but it is indeed a lot of work for something likely to get lost in the shuffle of a general melee. If you elect to omit it, you will be none the worse for wear. 

Elsie’s last great solo here is substantial enough to offset her lack of a proper second aria. It is easy to get carried away on the piano and miss the essence of what’s happening here, a very quiet, hushed accompaniment, leading to a well timed crescendo from piano to forte in 2 measures, and then a further crescendo to fortissimo in the following 2 measures. It should feel like walking on eggshells until the crescendo, and then it opens out into a big glorious moment. There’s an odd difficulty in measure 126 if your soprano is taking liberties with the timing of this passage. (as I think she should) It comes down to how the flutes and first violins are bowed/slurred in opposition to the soprano word division, where she really should breathe. It’s slurred this way in the vocal score as well. If you tell the first flute and the first violins to watch and listen carefully, you may just manage to get it clean. Otherwise, I recommend you alter the instrumental slurring to match Elsie’s.

The choral passage that follows the duet is pretty standard, except for one detail you may miss. The orchestra drops to nothing abruptly in the second beat of the last measure of the chorus, but the chorus keeps on with their forte dynamic until the end of the note. They likely will do this anyway until the orchestra joins, and then they may be startled by the lack of accompanimental support. 

The reprise of I Have A Song To Sing O! Is at a much slower tempo than before until at least Elsie’s verse, if not later. The Oxford score has an animato at what is rehearsal J in the Schirmer score. There is also a crucial lyric change that did not make it into the Schirmer score. Elsie sings:

It’s the song of a merry maid nestling near

Who loved her lord but who dropped a tear.

This is a far less callous thing for her to sing at the conclusion of the opera.

Add your first sopranos to the melody line at the top of 236 in the Schirmer score, as they are in Act I. It appears so in the Oxford edition, and seems to be an oversight in the Schirmer. As I mentioned before, this is where you want the chorus to sing Ah instead of Oo, I think. (although Oo is what Sullivan wrote)

Your Orchestra:

With modern musicals I sometimes counsel music directors not to hire all the players, but with G&S, you’re dealing with a true orchestral color, so I think it best to hire as much of the orchestra as you can afford with good players. The original orchestrations are available here at a reasonable price or here for free. Reductions can be found here and here and here, but I’ll wager the best one is probably this one.

This score is the first of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas to have a third trombone and a second bassoon. Sullivan uses these to spectacular effect throughout. The third trombone allows the brass section to have a full bass sound with no admixture of Bassoon, which is critically important for the principal motif of the piece, where a bassoon doesn’t pack the right punch. The second bassoon is less critical, but still masterfully employed, both as it helps make an imitation choir of 4 french horns, (to spectacular effect in the Act I finale) and as it combines with the other woodwinds in a much more varied palate. With the smaller orchestra, Sullivan would often put the oboe above 2 clarinets and the bassoon for a reedy texture with 3 timbres. But here, he can combine clarinets and bassoons in 4 parts, (which he does frequently) and occasionally make a three part texture with the oboe, for a completely double reed timber with no clarinet admixture. He also writes pedal tones in octaves in the woodwinds, an effect unavailable to him before, since a clarinet at the octave on the pedal is too distant a tonal combination to read correctly to the ear. In the first act trio, the bassoons play a wonderful game of leapfrog in a range and dexterity unavailable to any other instrument in the orchestra.

If your company is used to hiring the standard sized orchestra for G&S, you’ll have to shell out some extra money for the extra two players. You can’t really just elect not to use the extra players, and go with the standard size, because important lines are covered there. If you use a reduction, it will cut out more than those 2 players.

Better that you do G&S than that you ignore it, but do try and do it properly if at all possible, with Sullivan’s magnificent orchestration in full color! Have fun with your production of Yeomen! I will be including more G&S as I music direct them! Ruddigore appears to be next!



  1. Peter,
    I’ve lost track of you recently, and wish I’d known you were doing Yeomen! It is my most favorite G&S, and Elsie was my most favorite G&S role. Thank you for your thoughtful, detailed, funny and heartfelt analysis of this operetta here on your blog; I enjoyed reading it (and the nostalgia it triggered). Hope you are well. Best,
    Kim Center

  2. I MD’d a production of Yeomen in spring of 2018, and I found your website while I was doing my score prep. At the time, I was sad to see that you didn’t have a “rough guide” for Yeomen, but I still found your writings immensely helpful. It was the first show that I had ever conducted, and needless to say, it was somewhat a trial by fire. But we had a great time with the show, and I ended up learning a lot from the process. This Yeomen guide is really masterful and well-researched, and I’m sure it will help many future MDs. Thanks so much for your time, expertise, and efforts.

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