Opera Scotland

Billee Taylor or, The Reward of Virtue

Music

Edward Solomon (born London, 25 July 1855; died London, 22 January 1895)

Text

Henry Pottinger Stephens

Source

Poem by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816).

 

Premieres

First Performance: London (Imperial Theatre), 30 October 1880.

First Performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Gaiety Theatre), 9 May 1881.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

 

Background

With its emphasis on the notorious horrors of abduction by the pressgang, Billee Taylor would seem to be a more serious work than its Gilbertian predecessor, HMS Pinafore. However Sir Mincing Lane, a similarly self-made man, is a more good-natured figure than Sir Joseph Porter. The plot device whereby the female chorus (of orphans) disguise themselves as men, and enlist in the Navy, is more reminiscent of a differemt work by Gilbert - the Bab Ballad The Bumboat Woman's Story, which later became the inspiration for John Cranko's ballet Pineapple Poll, for which Charles Mackerras adapted Sullivan's music.

 

Main Characters

Captain Felix Flapper

Sir Mincing Lane, a self-made man

Ben Barnacle, bosun

Christopher Crab, a schoolmaster

Billee Taylor, a gardener

Arabella Lane, Sir Mincing's daughter

Phoebe Fairleigh, an orphan

Eliza Dabsey, loved by Ben Barnacle.

 

Plot Summary

The operetta is set around 1805 in two of the major naval dockyards, with two acts separated by a couple of years, opening in Southampton and closing at Portsmouth.

Billee, a gardener, and Phoebe, a poor but virtuous and handsome girl, are about to marry, with a reception paid for by Sir Mincing Lane, a self-made philanthropist. Lane is accompanied by his daughter, Arabella, who promptly falls for Billee, and his friend, a naval captain, Felix Flapper, who is equally attracted to Phoebe. To prevent the marriage, the captain orders his bosun, Ben Barnacle to arrange matters so that Billee is abducted by the pressgang and enlisted as a sailor. Phoebe and her friends disguise themselves as men and also enlist.

Two years later, the Thunderbomb returns to port, and Billee, having taken to maritime life, has risen through the ranks to the dizzy heights of Lieutenant. He is now a more appropriate catch for Arabella, and she persuades him to marry her. Phoebe, still in sailor guise, feels betrayed, but is rejected by Billee. Encouraged by Crab, she attempts to shoot Billee, but hitting Crab instead, she is promptly arrested and seems likely to face summary execution. Her protests to the effect that she is a girl are met with disbelief by her messmates until she removes her top to settle the debate. Captain Flapper's affections can now be renewed.. 

The Cast

Arabella Lane
 Sir Mincing Lane's Daughter
Ben Barnacle
 Bo'sun of HMS Thunderbomb
Billee Taylor
 a Virtuous Gardener
Captain the Hon. Felix Flapper, RN
 of HMS Thunderbomb
Christopher Crab
 a Villainous Schoolmaster
Eliza Dabsey
 Phoebe's Aunt
Phoebe Fairleigh
 a Village Maiden
Sir Mincing Lane, Knight
 a Self-made Man
Susan
 a Village Maiden

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