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Plot Summary

Plot summary from the book "The Victor Book of the Opera," RCA Manufacturing Co., Camden, NJ, 1936.

DRAMATIC Cantata; text by W. S. Gilbert; music by Sir Arthur Sullivan. First produced, March 25, 1875, at the Royalty Theatre, London.

This delightful work was the first product of the regular collaboration of Gilbert and Sullivan. Though called a "Dramatic Cantata," it is, in its perfect union of tuneful music and clever words, a direct forerunner of the more famous later successes of this inimitable pair, and is equally well worth knowing. "Trial by Jury" is their only work entirely without spoken dialogue.


USHER, Baritone

Chorus of Jurymen, Bridesmaids, Barristers, Attorneys, Etc.

Scene: A Court of Justice. Curtain rises on Chorus of Barristers, Attorneys, and Jurymen with Ushers.

The chorus, in their sturdy song, make known the course of events:

For, today, in this arena,
Summoned by a stern subpoena,
Edwin—sued by Angelina—
Shortly will appear.

The Usher, having marshaled the Jurymen into the Jury-box, gives them the judicial counsel to heed the plaintiff, "The broken-hearted bride," and not "the ruffianly defendant," for,

From bias free, of every kind,
This trial must be tried.

Leonard Osborn as the Defendant
The Defendant appears, asking "Is this the Court of the Exchequer?" and is greeted with scorn: "Monster, dread our damages!" The Defendant explains that happiness with the Plaintiff having palled, he became "another's love-sick boy." The Jury admit that once they were like that, but now they're respectable and have no sympathy with the defendant. The Usher orders silence, for the Judge approaches. The Chorus greet him with churchly song, "All hail, great Judge!"

The Judge, having thanked them proceeds to tell how he reached his exalted station. When young, he was an impecunious lawyer,

So, he fell in love with a rich attorney's
Elderly, ugly daughter.

The attorney turned plenty of cases over to him, and when he had grown "rich as the Gurneys'" he threw over the "Elderly, ugly daughter." But now he's a Judge, "it was managed by a job," and ready to try this breach of promise case.

Margery Abbott as Angelina
Then, at the Judge's order, the Usher swears in the Jury and summons the Plaintiff, Angelina. A chorus of Bridesmaids enter as her escort. While they are singing the Judge sends a "mash note" to the first Bridesmaid by the Usher, but when Angelina sings her graceful air, he transfers his attention to her. He even admits that he never saw "so exquisitely fair a face"; and the Jurymen too, profess great admiration for the Bridesmaids, then address the Defendant as "Monster." The Counsel for the Plaintiff makes his appeal to the Jury telling how the Defendant

. . . deceived a girl confiding,
Vows, et cetera, deriding.

And when the Plaintiff wished to name the day, he left her,

Doubly criminal to do so,
For the maid had bought her trousseau!

Counsel and Jurymen join in singing to the Plaintiff "Cheer up!" while she sighs "Ah me!" a la Italian opera. The Plaintiff reels as if to faint and falls sobbing on the Foreman's breast, but when the Judge approaches she leans on him instead. Edwin attempts to defend himself from their charge of "Monster!" saying,

Of nature the laws I obey,
For nature is constantly changing.

and concludes by granting that

If it will appease her sorrow,
I'll marry this lady today,
And marry the other tomorrow!

">Counsel (Thomas Lawlor) tells the Judge (Alfred Oldridge) that marrying two wives is 'Burglaree' (1960s)
This seems reasonable to the Judge, but the Counsel, on referring to his books, finds that to marry two wives at a time is a serious offense, "Burglaree!" This dilemma is discussed in a splendid burlesque of an Italian opera sextet. The Usher having restored silence in court, Angelina proves her loss: crying "I love him" she embraces the Defendant, then adds:

Oh, see what a blessing, what love and caressing
I've lost, and remember it, pray,

When you, I'm addressing, are busy assessing
The damages Edwin must pay.

The Defendant counters by saying that he is a bad lot, given to liquor, he's sure he would beat her, and that she couldn't endure him very long; the Jury should remember this when assessing the damages. These conflicting statements are developed in a dramatic ensemble. The Judge therefore suggests that they make the Defendant "tipsy" and see if his assertions be true. But to this proposition all save the Defendant object. Thereupon, the Judge is in a terrible rage for he is in a hurry to get away; he settles the case quickly by declaring that he'll marry Angelina himself! And thus the "Trial" ends in a mood of general rejoicing, while the Judge makes his concluding comment:

Though homeward as you trudge,
You declare my law is fudge,
But of beauty I'm a judge.

To this all reply:

And a good judge, too!

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