…..in 1888 The Yeomen of the Guard premiered in London’s Savoy Theatre. The eleventh collaboration between W.S.Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, it ran for 423 performances.
The only one of the Gilbert and Sullivan canon to be set in an actual place, the opera takes place in the Tower of London during the 16th Century. Unlike many of the operettas, The Yeomen of the Guard takes on a more sinister and much darker undertone. Although there are the usual comic moments and witty one-liners, the operetta remains more subdued than others by the duo. The libretto particularly is of a more unusually complex style, being early-modern English in nature.
The overture of The Yeomen of the Guard is unusual in that it takes a sonata form, rather than being a mix of other songs from the production. Again, perhaps most unusually for the work of Gilbert and Sullivan, Yeomen does not finish with the traditional “guy gets girl” happy ending, rather with Jack Point finishing the operetta heartbroken, amidst two very reluctant engagements. The first Jack Point was of course the incomparable George Grossmith, a stalwart of Gilbert and Sullivan’s work. In fact Jack Point’s finale ballad “I Have a Song to Sing O” probably remains one of the best loved – and most shocking – pieces.
In perhaps a nod to the more serious nature of The Yeomen of the Guard, Arthur Sullivan’s memorial in The Victoria Embankment Gardens carries the quote “Is life a boon? If so, it must befall that Death, whene’er he call, must call too soon”.
The Yeomen of the Guard remains one of the more ambitious productions for amateur societies to put on owing to its substantial cast and the requirement for authentic looking uniforms and weaponry for the Tower Warders. Very difficult musically from principal parts to chorus, Yeomen remains truly rewarding to take part in.
Bingley Gilbert and Sullivan Society have performed The Yeomen of the Guard on 7 occasions, the most recent being 2014 to which we received a delightful response from our audiences.