Opera North Blog

Trial by Jury in a nutshell


Everything you need to know about Trial by Jury in one place – right here!

What is the story? 

The glamorous Angelina brings a court case against her intended husband Edwin, who has jilted her after coming to the ghastly realisation that she bores him intensely. Unfortunately for Edwin, all of the members of the jury and even the judge are entirely prejudiced and have fallen for Angelina themselves. But what will happen to Edwin, her erstwhile intended? And will Angelina achieve her dream of walking down the aisle?

Part of our season of six short operas with huge emotions, this hilarious court room farce will provide some much needed light relief!

For a full synopsis, visit the Trial by Jury webpage >> The Story

Who are the characters? 

Angelina, The Plaintiff  (soprano) 
Edwin, The Defendant  (tenor) 
The Learned Judge (comic baritone) 
Counsel for the Plaintiff (mezzo-soprano) 
Usher  (bass-baritone)

Our production is cast entirely from the hugely versatile Chorus of Opera North, who also take the role of bridesmaids, Gentlemen of the Jury, the general public and more. 

What is the music like? 

Trial by Jury is packed full of incredibly catchy tunes which you’re destined to be humming for several days after leaving the theatre. There is plenty of humour in the score, including a couple of musical parodies (the chorus ‘All hail, great Judge’ is an unmistakable send-up of Handel’s fugues). The chorus has plenty to sing in this piece, and acts as an important character in its own right.

Equally important, however, are the witty lyrics and clever rhymes, which work with the music, as one critic originally wrote, “as though both had proceeded simultaneously from one and the same brain." As a highlight, listen out for the Judge’s aria ‘When I good friends was called to the bar’ – one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic ‘patter songs’. 

To listen to musical extracts, visit the Trial by Jury webpage >> Gallery >> Audio.

What is this production like? 

John Savournin’s new production of Trial by Jury pays homage to the Hollywood Golden Era, with the adored plaintiff Angelina as a celebrated film star and the unpopular defendant Edwin as her mood musician, riding on her success. Their story has been given prime attention by the Press, firing up the public for a much anticipated day in court. 

Famous faces arrive at the court rooms surrounded by a mob of admirers for their pre-trial interview with a news reporter (think the opening of Singin’ in the Rain – this could almost be a red carpet reception, rather than a court case). Inside, the famed Learned Judge makes a grand entrance on his Judge's bench, while the beautiful Angelina, heralded by her eccentric bridesmaids, reveals herself in iconic filmic style. The court room set pieces waltz around the stage, giving focus to the topsy turvy story. See some of costume designer Gabrielle Dalton’s fabulous 1930s style hats for the production, made by milliner Alison Turton

Who was the composer? 

Trial by Jury was composed by W.S. Gilbert (words) and Arthur Sullivan (music). The partnership of ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’ became a tour de force of Victorian musical theatre, and together they produced 14 comic operas, the most famous being The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado and HMS Pinafore.

Trial by Jury was only Gilbert and Sullivan’s second collaboration, but this one-act opera paved the way for more major works and really established what G&S was all about – poking fun at the establishment and its hypocrisy but clothing the critique in ludicrous situations, which are taken perfectly seriously by all characters involved!

Did you know? 

  • Gilbert drew on his own experience as a barrister (a former career) when creating Trial by Jury. In the Victorian era, ‘Breach of Promise’ was a genuine crime, and a man could be made to pay compensation if he failed to marry a woman he was engaged to.
  • The text for Trial by Jury was a big hit with Sullivan straight away. When Gilbert first read the libretto out aloud to the composer (in February 1875), Sullivan reported that he was ‘screaming with laughter the whole time’. Should be good then!
  • Trial by Jury is one of the only Gilbert and Sullivan pieces with no dialogue. However, director John Savournin has penned a prologue to be spoken by the red carpet news reporter, who introduces the court case and gives us some back story…
  • The opera premiered in March 1875 after just a few weeks in the composition AND rehearsal process. It was a roaring success, with one critic writing, “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.” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves!

Trial by Jury is sung in English with no titles, and lasts approximately 45 minutes. For more info or to book tickets, visit the Trial by Jury webpage. Join in on social media with #ONTrial and #LittleGreats.

In a nutshell is a blog series devised by Opera North.

Trial by Jury, 2017. Credit: Robert Workman 
The Chorus of Opera North in rehearsal for
Trial by Jury, July 2017.  Credit: Tom Arber
Headwear for
Trial by Jury. Credit: Alison Turton
A scene from 
Trial by Jury from Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, May 1875. Credit: David Henry Friston

What you say


S.W.Copnell said ago

It must have been a blow both John Savournin, to the singer, and to the clever guys in the company, that you can change the composers, and librettist intentions, and no one notices! How embarrassing, all that intellectual discussing and decision making to Improve the opera, and no critic that I read even mentioned it. Changing the prosecuting council to a lady, spoilt the balance of voices, especially in the quintet, Arrogance on the part of all concerned. After a performance, George Grossmith was addressed by Gilbert re an “ad lib” Grossmith had introduced into the performance.The reply of Grossman was “ they laughed Mr Gilbert, they laughed “ to which, Gilbert replied......” they would have laughed, Grossmith had you sat on a pork pie” Is your attitude as Grossmith?.......MAKE ‘EM LAUGH .......MAKE ‘EM LAUGH? However. I did enjoy the performance otherwise, the scenery was as good as you would find anywhere. The movement of the singers, Ie the acting could hardly have been improved upon, none of that dreary walking in circles, such as we get ar the Met or CG. In closing, although it would be invidious to remark upon an individual singer, I did really, really, enjoy the defendants “violin playing !! “ So, a great pity about the change, could have spoilt the whole evening form but, it didn’t, everything else was just about perfect. To finish, I started with Mr Savournin, and so, Mr Savournin, well done indeed. Regard to all Sam Copnell Opera North response: Hi Sam, Thank you for your feedback and for taking the time to contact us. We’re sorry to hear of your disappointments with Trial by Jury, but are happy to hear that you still thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the performance and thank you for your kind comments. We hope to welcome you back soon to another Opera North performance.

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