Opera Scotland

Merrie England

Music

Edward German Jones (born Whitchurch, 17 February 1862; died London, 11 November 1936).

Text

Basil Hood.

 

Premieres

First performance: London (Savoy Theatre), 2 April 1902.

First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Royal Lyceum Theatre), 15 September 1902.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

 

Background

Merrie England was the first major new project to be launched at the Savoy Theatre since the death of Sir Arthur Sullivan. It enjoyed a significant success for a number of years, but German did not succeed in establishing a series of successful works to follow it. Although it contains plenty of attractive music and remained popular with amateur performers, by 1960 it had long vanished from the professional stage. The Sadler's Wells revival, with rewritten dialogue by the director Dennis Arundell, was therefore in some ways a surprising popular hit.

 

Main Characters

Bessie Throckmorton (soprano)

Sir Walter Raleigh (tenor)

Earl of Essex (baritone)

Queen Elizabeth (contralto)

Jill-All-Alone (mezzo-soprano)

Walter Wilkins, an actor (baritone)

Long Tom, a forester (bass)

 

Plot Summary

The opera opens on May Day, as the people of Windsor celebrate the appointment of the May Queen, who announces that the best archers will be her guards. One of these, Long Tom, loves Jill-All-Alone, a demented woman who lives in the woods. When she appears, it becomes clear that all the other townsfolk think she is a witch, and loath her. She is chased back into the forest. Bessie is apprehensive about the potential outcome of the Queen discovering that she and Raleigh love one another. She has lost a love-letter from Raleigh. Essex is jealous of Raleigh's favoured position at Court. When Jill is dragged in he supports Tom's defence of her (singing 'The Yeomen of England'). Jill gives him Bessie's letter, which she has found. Queen Elizabeth arrives (and sings a majestic aria 'O peaceful England'). Tom asks the Queen to protect Jill, but the townsfolk continue to accuse her. Essex gives Elizabeth the letter from Raleigh to Bessie. When the Queen discovers that she is not the Bess referred to in the poem she furiously condemns Jill to be burnt, and Bessie to be imprisoned. Raleigh will remain under house arrest at his country estate.

Jill and Bessie both escape from the castle by a secret passage that leads to Herne's oak in Windsor Forest. The troupe of actors, led by Walter Wilkins, enters, to prepare an entertainment that he has written for the Queen. Raleigh is now disguised, and takes the title role in a play featuring Robin Hood. With Jill's help, Raleigh and Bessie are able to meet, and Essex reveals that he is now their friend, since he has discovered that Raleigh is not his rival for the Queen's affections. Elizabeth is still determined to have Jill burnt and Bessie poisoned, but during the performance of the Wilkins masque (about St George and the Dragon) she is persuaded by the appearance of the mythical Herne the Hunter (Tom in disguise) that she should not commit such crimes. She declares an amnesty and supervises the ensuing celebrations.

The Cast

Baker
 a Merchant of Windsor
Bessie Throckmorton
 lady-in-waiting to the Queen
Big Ben
 a Royal Forester
Butcher
 a Merchant of Windsor
Dr Roderigo Lopez
 the Queen's Physician
Earl of Essex
 
Fifth Actor
 
Fourth Actor
 
Francis Bacon
 
Guard Captain
 
Jill-all-alone
 a forest-dweller, believed to be a witch
Long Tom
 a Royal Forester
Marjory
 a dancer
May Queen
 
Queen Elizabeth
 
Silas Simkins
 a London actor
Sir Walter Raleigh
 
Sixth Actor
 
Tailor
 a Merchant of Windsor
Third Actor
 
Tinker
 a Merchant of Windsor
Walter Wilkins
 a London actor

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