When the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership disbanded after the production of The Gondoliers in 1889, impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte endeavored to find a new collaborator with whom Sullivan could write comic operas for the Savoy Theatre. Grundy was familiar to Carte, having written The Vicar of Bray in 1882 with Carte's friend Edward Solomon, and also from his many English adaptations of French works. While a modest success, Haddon Hall was far less successful than Sullivan's earlier Savoy Operas with W. S. Gilbert, and Sullivan did not write any further operas with Grundy.
Haddon Hall is a dramatisation of an actual historical event (or a legend, depending on whom you believe): Dorothy Vernon's elopement in 1563 with John Manners, son of Thomas Manners, 1st Earl of Rutland. Grundy moved the story forward to about 1660, adding the conflict between the Royalists and the Roundheads as a backdrop to the plot.
The opening night cast included such Savoy Theatre favorites as Courtice Pounds as John Manners, Charles Kenningham as Oswald, Rutland Barrington as Rupert Vernon, W. H. Denny as The Mccrankie, Rosina Brandram as Lady Vernon, and Florence Easton as Deborah (later playing Dorothy Vernon).
According to legend, Dorothy fled Haddon Hall in 1563, during a wedding party for her older sister. Manners was waiting for her, and they rode to Ayelstone, where they were married. If indeed this happened, the couple were eventually reconciled with Sir George, as they inherited the estate on his death. Haddon Hall remains in the Manners family to the present day.
In the libretto, writer Sydney Grundy notes, "The clock of Time has been put forward a century, and other liberties have been taken with history." The actual Sir George Vernon had two daughters, Margaret and Dorothy. In the opera, the Vernons are supposed to have had an older son, who died in naval service, leaving Dorothy as his sole heir. The husband her father prefers, their cousin Rupert Vernon, is Grundy's invention. The changes to the opera's plot bear many similarities to another 1892 comic opera, The Warlock, composed by Edgar E. Little, libretto by Alfred Smythe, produced in Dublin, Ireland.
Although the story has its comic episodes, the work's tone is considerably more serious than Savoy audiences were accustomed to. Most of the comedy is derived from satiric swipes at the hypocritical Puritans who arrive with Rupert Vernon. Among them is a comic Scotsman, "The McCrankie." The original review in the Times observed:
John Manners (tenor)|
Sir George Vernon (baritone)
|Rupert Vernon (baritone)||Roundhead|
The McCrankie (bass-baritone)|
Sing-Song Simeon (bass)
Kill-Joy Candlemas (non-singing)
Nicodemus Knock-Knee (bass)
Barnabas Bellows-to-Mend (bass)
Major Domo (baritone)|
Dorothy Vernon (soprano)
Lady Vernon (contralto)
The opera begins with an offstage chorus in praise of the "stately homes of England."
It is Dorothy Vernon's wedding day. The Vernons' maid, Dorcas, sings an allegory about "a dainty dormouse" (Dorothy) and "a stupid old snail" (Rupert), making clear that her sympathies lie with Dorothy, who is in love with "a gallant young squirrel" (John Manners). Sir George, Lady Vernon, and Dorothy enter. Sir George urges Dorothy to cheer up, so that she will make a good impression on her cousin, Rupert. Dorothy reminds her father that she loves John Manners. Sir George replies that Manners would be a suitable husband only if he will swear an oath in support of parliament. Dorothy knows that Manners will never do this, and Sir George orders her to marry her cousin. Dorothy asks for her mother's support, but Lady Vernon cannot help her.
Oswald enters, disguised as a traveling seller of housewares. He is actually John Manners's servant, carrying a letter for Dorothy. He encounters Dorothy's handmaiden, Dorcas, and the two servants quickly become enamored of one another. When Dorothy appears, Oswald gives her the letter. Manners has proposed that they elope, and Dorothy must finally decide where her loyalties lie. When Manners arrives, Dorothy tells him that her father will not allow them to be married unless he forswears his support for the king. Manners reiterates that he will not compromise his principles, and Dorothy assures him that her love is stronger than ever.
Rupert Vernon arrives with his companions, a group of Puritans. He has joined them because their connections to the current government will help him claim the title to Haddon Hall. But he admits that he is otherwise unsympathetic to the Puritan ideals of celibacy and self-abnegation. Rupert introduces the Puritans to the Vernon household, who make it clear they are not welcome. Sir George offers his daughter's hand, but Lady Vernon and Dorothy once again urge him to relent. Dorothy says she must be true to her heart. A furious Sir George orders her to her chamber, and threatens to disown her. Rupert and the Puritans are shocked to learn that they have been refused.
Scene 1. — Dorothy Vernon's Door.
It is a stormy night. Rupert and the Puritans are camped outside the house, because their conscientious scruples will not allow them to join the party indoors. They are joined by The McCrankie, a particularly strict Puritan from the Isle of Rum, in Scotland, who sings a song accompanied on the bagpipes. However, he is not beyond the occasional snort from his whisky flask, and he offers the Puritans a "drappie."
After the rest of the Puritans leave, Rupert and McCrankie sing a duet about how they would rule the world, "if we but had our way." Dorcas enters to meet Oswald, but they intercept her. As no one else is looking, Rupert and McCrankie want to steal a kiss, but Dorcas rebuffs them.
Oswald arrives to tell Dorcas that the horses are saddled, and ready to go. She is fearful for Dorothy's safety, and Oswald promises that he will protect her. Manners enters, then Dorothy. She sings a farewell to her home, and they flee in a violent storm.
Scene 2. — The Long Gallery.
As the storm dies away, the scene changes to the Long Gallery. Sir George proposes a toast to "the grand old days of yore." Rupert and McCrankie drag in Dorcas, with the news that Dorothy has eloped with Manners. The frantic Sir George orders horses and gathers up his men to chase after them, with Rupert and the Puritans following. Lady Vernon predicts that the chase will be unsuccessful.
The chorus have all become Puritans, under Rupert's tutelage. Rupert informs them that the lawsuit has been resolved in his favour, and he is now Lord of Haddon Hall. Although he has generously permitted Sir George and Lady Vernon to remain on the estate, they have no intention of staying. Lady Vernon likens the loss of their home to the death of a rose. Alone together, she begs and then receives her husband's forgiveness, admitting that it was she who urged her daughter to flee. They re-affirm their love.
Oswald enters, now in uniform, with the news that King Charles II has been restored to the throne, and claimed Haddon Hall as crown property. Rupert is in disbelief, and refuses to yield. Meanwhile, the Puritans decide to go on strike, practicing their self-effacing principles only eight hours a day. The chorus fling down their books and decide to dedicate their lives "to Cupid." Rupert seeks McCrankie's counsel, only to find that his friend has replaced his kilt with breeches. McCrankie explains that, after several snorts from his flask, he has finally decided to abandon Puritanism.
A cannon sounds, and Manners enters with solidiers. He has a warrant from the king, re-instating Sir George as Lord of Haddon Hall. He introduces Dorothy as his wife. She explains that she had followed her heart's counsel, and her father forgives her.