Trial by Jury

This article is about the comic opera. For the legal institution, see jury trial. For the TV drama series, see Law & Order: Trial by Jury.

Trial by Jury is a comic opera in one act, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It was first produced on 25 March 1875, at London's Royalty Theatre, where it initially ran for 131 performances and was considered a hit, receiving critical praise and outrunning its popular companion piece, Jacques Offenbach's La Périchole. The story concerns a "breach of promise of marriage" lawsuit in which the judge and legal system are the objects of lighthearted satire.

Gilbert based the libretto of Trial by Jury on an operetta parody that he had written in 1868. The opera premiered more than three years after Gilbert and Sullivan's only previous collaboration, Thespis, an 1871–72 Christmas season entertainment. In the intervening years, both the author and composer were busy with separate projects. Beginning in 1873, Gilbert tried several times to get the opera produced before the impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte suggested that he collaborate on it with Sullivan. Sullivan was pleased with the piece and promptly wrote the music.

As with most Gilbert and Sullivan operas, the plot of Trial by Jury is ludicrous, but the characters behave as if the events were perfectly reasonable. This narrative technique blunts some of the pointed barbs aimed at hypocrisy, especially of those in authority, and the sometimes base motives of supposedly respectable people and institutions. These themes became favourites of Gilbert through the rest of his collaborations with Sullivan. Critics and audiences praised how well Sullivan's witty and good-humoured music complemented Gilbert's satire. The success of Trial by Jury launched the famous series of 13 collaborative works between Gilbert and Sullivan that came to be known as the Savoy Operas.

After its original production in 1875, Trial by Jury toured widely in Britain and elsewhere and was frequently revived and recorded. It also became popular as a part of charity benefits. The work continues to be frequently played, especially as a companion piece to other short Gilbert and Sullivan operas or other works. According to theatre scholar Kurt Gänzl, it is "probably the most successful British one-act operetta of all time".


Before Trial by Jury, W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan had collaborated on one previous opera, Thespis; or, The Gods Grown Old, in 1871. Although reasonably successful, it was a Christmas entertainment, and such works were not expected to endure. Between Thespis and Trial by Jury, Gilbert and Sullivan did not collaborate on any further operas. Gilbert wrote several short stories, edited the second volume of his comic Bab Ballads, and created 11 theatrical works, including The Happy Land (1873), Charity (1874) and Sweethearts (1874). At the same time, Sullivan wrote various pieces of religious music, including the Festival Te Deum (1872) and an oratorio, The Light of the World (1873), and edited Church Hymns, with Tunes (1874), which included 45 of his own hymns and arrangements. He also wrote many parlour ballads and other songs, including three in 1874–75 with words by Gilbert: "The Distant Shore", "Sweethearts" (inspired by Gilbert's play) and "The Love that Loves Me Not".

Genesis of the opera

The story of Trial by Jury started in 1868, when Gilbert wrote a single-page illustrated comic piece for the magazine Fun entitled Trial by Jury: An Operetta. Drawing on Gilbert's training and brief practice as a barrister, it detailed a "breach of promise" trial going awry, in the process spoofing the law, lawyers and the legal system. (In the Victorian era, a man could be required to pay compensation should he fail to marry a woman to whom he was engaged.) The outline of this story was followed in the later opera, and two of its numbers appeared in nearly their final form in Fun. The skit, however, ended abruptly: the moment the attractive plaintiff stepped into the witness box, the judge leapt into her arms and vowed to marry her, whereas in the opera, the case is allowed to proceed further before this conclusion is reached.

In 1873, Gilbert arranged with the opera manager and composer, Carl Rosa, to expand the piece into a one-act libretto. Rosa was to write the music, and Euphrosyne Parepa-Rosa, his wife and an old friend of Gilbert's, was to sing the role of the Plaintiff, as part of a season of English opera that Rosa planned to present at the Drury Lane Theatre. Rosa's wife died in childbirth in 1874, and the despondent Rosa dropped the project. Later in the same year, Gilbert offered the libretto to the impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte, but Carte knew of no composer available to set it to music.

Meanwhile, Sullivan may have been considering a return to light opera: Cox and Box, his first comic opera, had received a London revival (co-starring his brother, Fred Sullivan) in September 1874. In November, Sullivan travelled to Paris and contacted Albert Millaud, one of the librettists for Jacques Offenbach's operettas. However, he returned to London empty-handed and worked on incidental music for the Gaiety Theatre's production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. By early 1875, Carte was managing Selina Dolaro's Royalty Theatre, and he needed a short opera to be played as an afterpiece to Offenbach's La Périchole (in which Dolaro starred). Carte asked Sullivan to compose something for the theatre and advertised in The Times in late January: "In Preparation, a New Comic Opera composed expressly for this theatre by Mr. Arthur Sullivan in which Madame Dolaro and Nellie Bromley will appear." But around the same time, Carte also remembered Gilbert's Trial by Jury and knew that Gilbert had worked with Sullivan to create Thespis. He suggested to Gilbert that Sullivan was the man to write the music for Trial.

Gilbert read the libretto to Sullivan on 20 February 1875. Sullivan was enthusiastic, later recalling, "[Gilbert] read it through... in the manner of a man considerably disappointed with what he had written. As soon as he had come to the last word, he closed up the manuscript violently, apparently unconscious of the fact that he had achieved his purpose so far as I was concerned, inasmuch as I was screaming with laughter the whole time." Trial by Jury, described as "A Novel and Original Dramatic Cantata" in the original promotional material, was composed and rehearsed in a matter of weeks.

Production and aftermath

The result of Gilbert and Sullivan's collaboration was a witty, tuneful and very "English" piece, in contrast to the bawdy burlesques and adaptations of French operettas that dominated the London musical stage at that time.

Initially, Trial by Jury, which runs only 30 minutes or so, was played last on a triple bill, on which the main attraction, La Périchole (starring Dolaro as the title character and Fred Sullivan as Don Andres), was preceded by the one-act farce Cryptoconchoidsyphonostomata. The latter was immediately replaced by a series of other curtain raisers. Arthur Sullivan conducted the first night's performance, and the theatre's music director, B. Simmons, conducted thereafter. The composer's brother, Fred Sullivan, starred as the Learned Judge, with Nellie Bromley as the Plaintiff. One of the choristers in Trial by Jury, W. S. Penley, was promoted in November 1875 to the small part of the Foreman of the Jury and made a strong impact on audiences with his amusing facial expressions and gestures. In March 1876, he temporarily replaced Fred Sullivan as the Judge, when Fred's health declined from tuberculosis. With this start, Penley went on to a successful career as comic actor, culminating with the lead role in the record-breaking original production of Charley's Aunt. Fred Sullivan died in January 1877.

Offenbach's works were then at the height of their popularity in Britain, but Trial by Jury proved even more popular than La Périchole, becoming an unexpected hit. Trial by Jury drew crowds and continued to run after La Périchole closed. While the Royalty Theatre closed for the summer in 1875, Dolaro immediately took Trial on tour in England and Ireland. The piece was revived for additional London seasons in 1876 at the Opera Comique and in 1877 at the Strand Theatre.

Trial by Jury soon became the most desirable supporting piece for any London production, and, outside London, the major British theatrical touring companies had added it to their repertoire by about 1877. The original production was even given a world tour by Opera Comique assistant manager Emily Soldene, which travelled as far as Australia. Unauthorised "pirate" productions quickly sprang up in America, taking advantage of the fact that American courts did not enforce foreign copyrights. It also became popular as part of the Victorian tradition of "benefit concerts", where the theatrical community came together to raise money for actors and actresses down on their luck or retiring. The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company continued to play the work for a century, licensing the piece to amateur and foreign professional companies, such as the J. C. Williamson Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company. Since the copyrights to Gilbert and Sullivan works ran out in 1961, the piece has been available to theatre companies around the world free of royalties. The work's enduring popularity since 1875 makes it, according to theatrical scholar Kurt Gänzl, "probably the most successful British one-act operetta of all time".

The success of Trial by Jury spurred several attempts to reunite Gilbert and Sullivan, but difficulties arose. Plans for a collaboration for Carl Rosa in 1875 fell through because Gilbert was too busy with other projects, and an attempted Christmas 1875 revival of Thespis by Richard D'Oyly Carte failed when the financiers backed out. Gilbert and Sullivan continued their separate careers, though both continued writing light opera, among other projects: Sullivan's next light opera, The Zoo, opened while Trial by Jury was still playing, in June 1875; and Gilbert's Eyes and No Eyes premièred a month later, followed by Princess Toto in 1876. However, Gilbert and Sullivan would not be reunited until The Sorcerer in 1877.


  • The Learned Judge (comic baritone)
  • The Plaintiff (soprano)
  • The Defendant (tenor)
  • Counsel for the Plaintiff (lyric baritone)
  • Usher (bass-baritone)
  • Foreman of the Jury (bass)
  • Associate (silent)
  • First Bridesmaid
  • Chorus of Bridesmaids, Gentlemen of the Jury, Barristers, Attorneys and Public.


Excerpt from "The Judge's Song"
called to the bar,
   I'd an appetite fresh and hearty.
But I was, as many young barristers are,
   An impecunious party.
I'd a swallow-tail coat of a beautiful blue –
   A brief which I bought of a booby –
A couple of shirts, and a collar or two,
   And a ring that looked like a ruby!

CHORUS. He'd a couple of shirts, and a collar or two, And a ring that looked like a ruby.

JUDGE. In Westminster Hall I danced a dance,

   Like a semi-despondent fury;
For I thought I never should hit on a chance
   Of addressing a British Jury –
But I soon got tired of third-class journeys,
   And dinners of bread and water;
So I fell in love with a rich attorney's
   Elderly, ugly daughter.

CHORUS. So he fell in love, etc.

Drawing by W. S. Gilbert
The curtain rises on the Court of the Exchequer, where a jury and the public assemble to hear a case of breach of promise of marriage.

The Usher introduces the proceedings by exhorting the jury to listen to the broken-hearted Plaintiff's case but telling them that they "needn't mind" what the "ruffianly defendant" has to say. He adds, however, that "From bias free of every kind, this trial must be tried!" The Defendant (Edwin) arrives, and the jurymen greet him with hostility, even though, as he points out, they have as yet no idea of the merits of his case. He tells them, with surprising candour, that he jilted the Plaintiff because she became a "bore intense" to him, and he then quickly took up with another woman. The jurymen recall their own wayward youth, but they are now respectable gentlemen and no longer have any sympathy for the Defendant.

The Judge enters with great pomp and describes how he rose to his position – by courting a rich attorney's "elderly, ugly daughter". The rich attorney then aided his prospective son-in-law's legal career until "at length I became as rich as the Gurneys" and "threw over" the daughter. The jury and public are delighted with the judge, and ignore that he has just admitted to the same wrong of which the Defendant is accused.

The jury is then sworn in, and the Plaintiff (Angelina) is summoned. She is preceded into the courtroom by her bridesmaids, one of whom catches the eye of the judge. However, when Angelina herself arrives in full wedding dress, she instantly captures the heart of both Judge and jury. The Counsel for the Plaintiff makes a moving speech detailing Edwin's betrayal. Angelina feigns distress and staggers, first into the arms of the Foreman of the Jury, and then of the Judge. Edwin counters, explaining that his change of heart is only natural:

"Oh, gentlemen, listen, I pray,
   Though I own that my heart has been ranging,
Of nature the laws I obey,
   For nature is constantly changing.
The moon in her phases is found,
   The time and the wind and the weather,
The months in succession come round,
   And you don't find two Mondays together...."
He offers to marry both the Plaintiff and his new love, if that would satisfy everyone. The Judge at first finds this "a reasonable proposition", but the Counsel points out that it is "a rather serious crime / To marry two wives at a time". Perplexed, everyone in court ponders the "nice dilemma" in a parody of Italian opera ensembles.

Angelina desperately embraces Edwin, demonstrating the depth of her love, and bemoans her loss – all in evidence of the large amount of damages that the jury should force Edwin to pay. Edwin, in turn, says he is a smoker, a drunkard, and a bully (when tipsy), and that the Plaintiff could not have endured him even for a day; thus the damages should be small. The Judge suggests making Edwin tipsy to see if he would really "thrash and kick" Angelina, but everyone else (except Edwin) objects to this experiment. Impatient at the lack of progress, the Judge resolves the case by offering to marry Angelina himself. This is found quite satisfactory, and the opera is concluded with "joy unbounded".

Musical numbers

  • 1. "Hark, the hour of ten is sounding" (Chorus) and "Now, Jurymen, hear my advice" (Usher)
  • 1a. "Is this the Court of the Exchequer?" (Defendant)
  • 2. "When first my old, old love I knew" (Defendant and Chorus) and "Silence in Court!" (Usher)
  • 3. "All hail great Judge!" (Chorus and Judge)
  • 4. "When I, good friends, was call'd to the Bar" (Judge and Chorus)
  • 5. "Swear thou the Jury" (Counsel, Usher) and "Oh will you swear by yonder skies" (Usher and Chorus)
  • 6. "Where is the Plaintiff?" (Counsel, Usher) and "Comes the cheated flower" (Chorus of Bridesmaids and Plaintiff)
  • 7. "Oh, never, never, never, since I joined the human race" (Judge, Foreman, Chorus)
  • 8. "May it please you, my lud!" (Counsel for Plaintiff and Chorus)
  • 9. "That she is reeling is plain to see!" (Judge, Foreman, Plaintiff, Counsel, and Chorus)
  • 10. "Oh, gentlemen, listen, I pray" (Defendant and Chorus of Bridesmaids)
  • 11. "That seems a reasonable proposition" (Judge, Counsel, and Chorus)
  • 12. "A nice dilemma we have here" (Ensemble)
  • 13. "I love him, I love him, with fervour unceasing" (Plaintiff, Defendant and Chorus) and "The question, gentlemen, is one of liquor" (Judge and Ensemble)
  • 14. "Oh, joy unbounded, with wealth surrounded" (Ensemble)

For clarity, only characters with a major role in each particular song have been listed.


Reviews of the first performance of Trial by Jury were uniformly glowing. Fun magazine declared the opera "extremely funny and admirably composed", while rival Punch magazine wrote that it "is the funniest bit of nonsense your representative has seen for a considerable time", only regretting that it was too short. The Daily News praised the author: "In whimsical invention and eccentric humour Mr. W. S. Gilbert has no living rival among our dramatic writers, and never has his peculiar vein of drollery and satire been more conspicuous than in a little piece entitled Trial by Jury". The Daily Telegraph concluded that the piece illustrated the composer's "great capacity for dramatic writing of the lighter class". Many critics emphasised the happy combination of Gilbert's words and Sullivan's music. One noted that "so completely is each imbued with the same spirit, that it would be as difficult to conceive the existence of Mr. Gilbert's verses without Mr. Sullivan's music, as of Mr. Sullivan's music without Mr. Gilbert's verses. Each gives each a double charm. Another agreed that "it seems, as in the great Wagnerian operas, as though poem and music had proceeded simultaneously from one and the same brain."

In 1880, Punch magazine prematurely anticipated Sullivan's knighthood, publishing a cartoon accompanied by a parody version of "When I, good friends", from Trial by Jury, that summarised Sullivan's career to that date:''
Excerpt from Punch - Sullivan's knighthood.png"
["It is reported that after the Leeds Festival Dr. Sullivan will be knighted." Having read this in a column of gossip, a be-nighted Contributor, who has "the Judge's Song" on the brain, suggests the following verse....]
As a boy I had such a musical bump,
   And its size so struck Mr. HELMORE,
That he said, "Though you sing those songs like a trump,
   You shall write some yourself that will sell more."
So I packed off to Leipsic, without looking back,
   And returned in such classical fury,
That I sat down with HANDEL and HAYDN and BACH,—
   And turned out "Trial by Jury."

But W.S.G. he jumped for joy

   As he said, "Though the job dismay you,
Send Exeter Hall to the deuce, my boy;
   It's the haul with me that'll pay you."
And we hauled so well, mid jeers and taunts,
   That we've settled, spite all temptations,
To stick to our Sisters and our Cousins and our Aunts,—
   And continue our pleasant relations.

The opening night audience was also delighted by the piece, preferring it to even the Offenbach work: "To judge by the unceasing and almost boisterous hilarity which formed a sort of running commentary on the part of the audience, Trial by Jury suffered nothing whatever from so dangerous a juxtaposition [with a piece by the popular Offenbach]. On the contrary, it may fairly be said to have borne away the palm." A reviewer noted that "Laughter more frequent or more hearty was never heard in any theatre than that which more than once brought the action... to a temporary standstill. Another paper summed up its popular appeal: "Trial by Jury is but a trifle – it pretends to be nothing more – but it is one of those merry bits of extravagance which a great many will go to see and hear, which they will laugh at, and which they will advise their friends to go and see, and therefore its success cannot be doubtful.

Among the actors, special critical praise was reserved for the composer's brother, Fred Sullivan, in the role of the Learned Judge: "The greatest 'hit' was made by Mr. F. Sullivan, whose blending of official dignity, condescension, and, at the right moment, extravagant humour, made the character of the Judge stand out with all requisite prominence, and added much to the interest of the piece. The Times concurred that his portrayal deserved "a special word of praise for its quiet and natural humour. Nelly Bromley (the Plaintiff), Walter Fisher (the Defendant), John Hollingsworth (the Counsel) and others were also praised for their acting.

Later assessments of the work have been no less positive. In 1907, Gilbert's first biographer, Edith A. Browne, concluded: "In Trial by Jury we find author and composer looking at the humorous side of life from exactly the same point of view, and we at once realise how Gilbert and Sullivan have been able to do for Comic Opera what Wagner has done for Grand Opera by combining words and music so as to make them one." H. M. Walbrook similarly wrote in 1922:

Gilbert and Sullivan biographer Michael Ainger, writing in 2002, 127 years after the premiere of the opera, explained its enduring appeal: "Nothing could be more serious than a court of law... and now the world had been turned upside down. The court of law had become the scene of humor and frivolity; the learned judge had shown himself to be as fickle as the defendant, and the justice system turned out to be flawed by human frailty. And Sullivan had grasped the joke.... From the first chords... Sullivan’s music sets the scene of mock-seriousness and proceeds to dance its way through the whole piece.

Impact and analysis


As the first Savoy opera, Trial by Jury marked an important moment in the history of the Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration, as well as in the careers of each of the two men and in Victorian drama in general. Historian Reginald Allen sums up the historical import of the opera:

Sidney Dark and Rowland Grey also give a high value to the importance of Trial by Jury and the operas that followed: "There is not a little historical interest in the genesis of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, the one English contribution of any value to dramatic literature for many generations. In addition, references to the opera continue today in the popular media and even in law cases.

Pattern for later Savoy operas

Trial by Jury is the only Gilbert and Sullivan opera played in one act and the only theatrical work by W. S. Gilbert without spoken dialogue. However, later Gilbert and Sullivan operas retained a number of patterns seen in Trial. For example, all except for The Yeomen of the Guard begin with a chorus number. Also, like Trial by Jury, the later operas generally end with a relatively short finale consisting of a chorus number interspersed with short solos by the principal characters. "Comes the broken flower" (part of No. 3) was the first in a string of meditative "Horatian" lyrics, "mingling happiness and sadness, an acceptance and a smiling resignation". These would, from this point forward, allow the characters, in each of the Savoy operas, an introspective scene where they stop and consider life, in contrast to the foolishness of the surrounding scenes. Like both of the tenor's arias in Trial by Jury, tenor arias in later Savoy operas were set in 6/8 time so frequently that comedienne Anna Russell, in her 1953 parody, "How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera", exclaimed, "the tenor ... according to tradition, must sing an aria in 6/8 time, usually accompanying himself on a stringed instrument". In Trial by Jury hypocrisy is revealed as the characters' motivations are held up to satire, and Gilbert mocks the underlying absurdity of the judicial procedures. As Gilbert scholar Andrew Crowther explains, Gilbert combines his criticisms with comic entertainment, which renders them more palatable, while at the same time underlining their truth: "By laughing at a joke you show that you accept its premise. This too would become characteristic of Gilbert's work.

The judge's song, "When I, good friends, was called to the Bar" was followed by a string of similar patter songs that would come to epitomise Gilbert and Sullivan's collaboration. In these, often, a "dignified personage [would, just like the Judge,] supply a humorous biography of himself. Just as in Gilbert's earlier play, The Palace of Truth, in these songs, the characters "naïvely reveal their innermost thoughts, unconscious of their egotism, vanity, baseness, or cruelty". Crowther points out that such revelations work particularly well in Trial by Jury, because people commonly expect "characters singing in opera/operetta will communicate at a deeper level of truth than they would in mere speech." In "When I, good friends", the judge outlines the path of corruption that led to his becoming a judge, and this, too, would set the pattern for many of the patter songs in Gilbert and Sullivan operas to follow.

One of Gilbert's most notable innovations, first found in Thespis and repeated in Trial by Jury and all of the later Savoy operas, is the use of the chorus as an essential part of the action. In most earlier operas, burlesques, and comedies, the chorus had very little impact on the plot and served mainly as "noise or ornament". In the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, however, the chorus is essential, taking part in the action and often acting as an important character in its own right. Sullivan recalled, "Until Gilbert took the matter in hand choruses were dummy concerns, and were practically nothing more than a part of the stage setting. It was in 'Thespis' that Gilbert began to carry out his expressed determination to get the chorus to play its proper part in the performance. At this moment it seems difficult to realise that the idea of the chorus being anything more than a sort of stage audience was, at that time, a tremendous novelty. Another Gilbert innovation, following the example of his mentor, T. W. Robertson, was that the costumes and sets were made as realistic as possible: Gilbert based the scenery for the production on the Clerkenwell Sessions House, where he had practiced law in the 1860s. The costumes were contemporary, and Angelina and her bridesmaids were dressed in real wedding attire. This attention to detail and careful creation of realistic sets and scenes were typical of Gilbert's stage management and would be repeated in all of Gilbert's work. For instance, when preparing the sets for H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), Gilbert and Sullivan visited Portsmouth to inspect ships. Gilbert made sketches of the H.M.S. Victory and the H.M.S. St Vincent and created a model set for the carpenters to work from. This was far from standard procedure in Victorian drama, where naturalism was still a relatively new concept, and where most authors had very little influence on how their plays and libretti were staged.


Andrew Crowther places Trial by Jury at the centre of Gilbert's development as a librettist. He notes that in some of Gilbert's early libretti, such as Topsyturveydom (1874), the songs simply emphasise the dialogue. In others, such as Thespis (1871), some songs are relatively disconnected from both the story and characterisation, such as "I once knew a chap" or "Little maid of Arcadee", which simply convey a moral lesson. In Trial by Jury, however, each song carries the plot forward and adds depth to the characters. In addition, unlike some of Gilbert's more fantastical early plots, "Aside from the ending, nothing essentially improbable happens." Theatre historian Kurt Gänzl agrees, writing that "Gilbert's libretto was superior to any of his previous efforts. It was concise, modern and satirical without being impossibly whimsical. Having no spoken dialogue it was perforce tightly constructed and allowed of no interpolation or alteration. Sullivan's development as a comic opera writer, too, would mature with Trial by Jury. Except for incidental music for productions of Shakespeare, he had not written any music for the stage since Thespis. Gänzl wrote that Trial by Jury "brought Sullivan firmly and finally into the world of the musical" stage and confirmed, after his previous success with Cox and Box and Thespis, that "Sullivan was a composer of light lyric and comic music who could rival Offenbach, Lecocq and any English musician alive."

Sullivan used the opportunities suggested by Gilbert's satire of the pomp and ceremony of the law to provide a variety of musical jokes. For example, counterpointing the plaintiff's calculated swooning in "That she is reeling is plain to see!" (No. 9) with a reeling, minor-key theme in the string accompaniment, heading up and down (but mostly down) the octaves. He underlines the Counsel's misstatement in the line "To marry two at once is burglaree" with a comic bassoon "sting" in octaves. The instruments are also used to comically set the scene; for instance, by having the Defendant tune his guitar on stage (simulated by a violin in the orchestra) in the opening to his song.

The score also contains two parodies or pastiches of other composers: No. 3, "All hail great Judge" is an elaborate parody of Handel's fugues, and No. 12, "A nice dilemma", parodies "dilemma" ensembles of Italian opera in the Bel canto era; in particular "D'un pensiero" from Act I of Bellini's La sonnambula. "A nice dilemma" uses the dominant rhythm and key of "D'un pensiero" and divides up some of the choral lines between the basses and higher voices to create an oom-pa-pa effect common in Italian opera choruses.


After the premiere of Trial by Jury in 1875, operetta companies in London, the British provinces and elsewhere picked it up rapidly, usually playing it as a forepiece or an afterpiece to a French operetta. The first American productions were at the Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia on 22 October 1875 and the Eagle Theatre in New York City on 15 November 1875. The world tour of the original British production took it to America, Australia, and elsewhere. It was even translated into German, and premièred as Im Schwurgericht, at the Carltheater on 14 September 1886, and as Das Brautpaar vor Gericht at Danzer's Orpheum on 5 October 1901.

Richard D'Oyly Carte's opera companies (of which there were often several playing simultaneously) usually programmed Trial by Jury as a companion piece to The Sorcerer or H.M.S. Pinafore. From 1894, the year when the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company established a year-round touring company that had most of the Gilbert and Sullivan works in its repertory, Trial by Jury was always included, except for 1901–03, and then again from 1943–46, when the company played a reduced repertory during World War II. Trial by Jury was eliminated in 1976 as a cost-saving measure.

Production history

The following table summarises the main London productions of Trial by Jury through Sullivan's death in 1900:
Theatre Opening Date Closing Date Perfs. Details
Royalty Theatre 25 March 1875 11 June 1875 131 This company also played matinées at the Gaiety Theatre on 10 April, 17 April, and 24 April 1875. The theatre closed from 12 June through October 10 while the company took Trial by Jury and other operas on a provincial tour. After 18 December, this production was transferred to the Opera Comique.
October 11 1875 December 18 1875
Opera Comique January 13 1876 May 5 1876 96 Trial by Jury was not performed from March 13–18 due to the illness of Fred Sullivan.
Strand Theatre March 3 1877 May 26 1877 73 Produced "under the immediate direction of the authors". Originally performed as an afterpiece to Tom Taylor's comedy Babes and Beetles.
Opera Comique March 23 1878 May 24 1878 56 Played as an afterpiece to The Sorcerer
Savoy Theatre October 11 1884 March 12 1885 150 Played as a forepiece to The Sorcerer
Savoy Theatre September 22 1898 December 31 1898 102 Played as a forepiece to The Sorcerer
Savoy Theatre June 6 1899 November 25 1899 174 Played as a forepiece to H.M.S. Pinafore

The copyrights to Trial by Jury and the other Gilbert and Sullivan operas were held by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company until their expiration in 1961, 50 years after Gilbert's death, and no other professional company was authorised to present the Savoy operas in Britain until that date. The following tables show the casts of the principal original productions and D'Oyly Carte companies at approximately 10-year intervals through to the 1975 centenary season.

Role Royalty Theatre
Strand Theatre
Opera Comique
Savoy Theatre
Savoy Theatre
Judge Frederic Sullivan J.G. Taylor George Grossmith Rutland Barrington Henry Lytton
Counsel John Hollingsworth Charles Parry Rutland Barrington Eric Lewis Jones Hewson
Defendant Walter H. Fisher Claude Marius George Power Durward Lely Cory James
Foreman Charles Kelleher W. S. Penley F. Talbot Arthur Kennett Leonard Russell
Usher Belville R. Pepper Harry Cox Fred Clifton William Lugg Walter Passmore
Associate J. Wilbraham Charles Childerstone
Plaintiff Nelly Bromley Lottie Venne Lisa Walton Florence Dysart Isabel Jay
1st Bridesmaid Linda Verner Gwynne Williams Sybil Grey Mildred Baker

Role D'Oyly Carte
1905 Tour
D'Oyly Carte
1915 Tour
D'Oyly Carte
1925 Tour
D'Oyly Carte
1935 Tour
Judge Charles H. Workman Leo Sheffield Leo Sheffield Sydney Granville
Counsel Albert Kavanagh Frederick Hobbs Henry Millidge Leslie Rands
Defendant Strafford Moss Dewey Gibson Sidney Pointer Robert Wilson
Foreman J. Lewis Campion Frank Steward T. Penry Hughes T. Penry Hughes
Usher Reginald White George Sinclair Joseph Griffin Richard Walker
Associate Allen Morris Martyn Green C. William Morgan
Plaintiff Bessie Mackenzie Marjorie Gordon Eleanor Evans Ann Drummond-Grant
1st Bridesmaid Mabel Burnege Ethel Armit Beatrice Elburn Nancy Ray

Role D'Oyly Carte
1949 Tour
D'Oyly Carte
1955 Tour
D'Oyly Carte
1965 Tour
D'Oyly Carte
1975 Tour
Judge Richard Watson John Reed Jeffrey Skitch Jon Ellison
Counsel Alan Styler Alan Styler Alan Styler Michael Rayner
Defendant Leonard Osborn John Fryatt Philip Potter Jeffrey Cresswell
Foreman Donald Harris John Banks Anthony Raffell James Conroy-Ward
Usher L. Radley Flynn George Cook George Cook John Broad
Associate C. William Morgan Keith Bonnington Keith Bonnington William Palmerley
Plaintiff Enid Walsh Kathleen West Jennifer Toye Marjorie Williams
1st Bridesmaid Joyce Wright Margaret Dobson Pauline Wales Rosalind Griffiths

Benefit performances

Starting in 1877, Trial by Jury was often given at benefit performances, usually for an actor or actress who had fallen on hard times, but occasionally for other causes. These were glittering affairs, with various celebrities appearing in principal roles or as part of the chorus. Gilbert himself played the silent role of the Associate on at least four occasions.

Arthur Sullivan conducted the 1877 benefit for actor Henry Compton. At the Compton benefit, Penley and George Grossmith were members of the Jury, and a number of other famous actors and actresses were in the chorus.

At the Nellie Farren benefit, many of the performers listed below sat in the jury or the gallery, and Trial by Jury was followed by a six-hour long concert. Performances were given by Henry Irving, Ellaline Terriss, Marie Tempest, Hayden Coffin, Arthur Roberts, Letty Lind, Edmund Payne and many others.

The Ellen Terry benefit in 1906 was also a particularly well-attended affair, with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle numbered among the jury and Enrico Caruso singing, among many star performances.

Role Henry Compton
Drury Lane
March 1 1877
Amy Roselle
June 16 1887
Rutland Barrington
May 28 1889
Nellie Farren
Drury Lane
March 17 1898
Judge George Honey Rutland Barrington Rutland Barrington Rutland Barrington
Counsel George Fox Richard Temple Alec Marsh Eric Lewis
Defendant W. H. Cummings Henry Bracy Courtice Pounds Courtice Pounds
Foreman Mr. Burbank Henry Lytton
Usher Arthur Cecil R. Lewis W. H. Denny Walter Passmore
Associate W. S. Gilbert W. S. Gilbert
Plaintiff Pauline Rita Geraldine Ulmar Lottie Venne Florence Perry

Role Princess Christian's Homes of
Rest for Disabled Soldiers
Drury Lane, 15 May 1900
Mr. Ringold
Lyric Theatre
5 December 1902
Ellen Terry
Drury Lane
12 June 1906
Judge Rutland Barrington Rutland Barrington Rutland Barrington
Counsel Eric Lewis C. Hayden Coffin Henry Lytton
Defendant Courtice Pounds Courtice Pounds Courtice Pounds
Foreman W. H. Denny Fred Kaye Robert Marshall
Usher Walter Passmore George Grossmith, Jr. Walter Passmore
Associate W. S. Gilbert Lionel Monckton W. S. Gilbert
Associate's Wife1 Effie Bancroft Fanny Brough
Plaintiff Florence St. John Evie Greene Ruth Vincent

1The role of the Associate's Wife was especially created for the disabled soldiers' benefit performance and does not appear in any standard performances.


Trial by Jury has been recorded many times. Of the recordings by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, those recorded in 1927 and 1964 are ranked the best, according to "A Gilbert and Sullivan Discography", edited by Marc Shepherd. The 1961 Sargent and the 1995 Mackerras recordings are also rated highly by the Discography.Selected recordings

Textual changes

Of the material cut before the first performance of Trial by Jury, the most significant were two songs and a recitative: a song for the foreman of the jury, "Oh, do not blush to shed a tear", which was to be sung just after "Oh, will you swear by yonder skies"; and a recitative for the Judge and song for the Usher, "We do not deal with artificial crime" and "His lordship's always quits", which came just before "A nice dilemma". The melody for "His Lordship's always quits" is known, and it was reused in "I loved her fondly" in The Zoo and later modified into the main tune from "A wand'ring minstrel, I" in The Mikado. A few changes were made to the end of "I love him, I love him!" after the first night. A third verse for "Oh, gentlemen, listen I pray" was sung, at least on the first night, and part was quoted in a review in the Pictorial World.

Trial by Jury underwent relatively minor textual changes after its first run, mainly consisting of insignificant amendments to wording. The most significant changes involve the ending. The original stage directions set up a simple pantomime-style tableau:

This became much more elaborate in the 1884 revival, with the entire set being transformed, and the plaintiff climbing onto the Judge's back "à la fairy". However, in the 1920s, the plaster cupids were evidently damaged on a tour, and the transformation scene was abandoned completely.



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