Great moments in opera: Trial by Jury

August 16, 2011

The taxonomy of stage-and-song extravaganzas is sometimes ambiguous. The Gilbert & Sullivan collaborations, of which Trial by Jury was the first, are not, despite their designation as ‘Savoy Operas’, generally considered to be operas in the strict sense, and certainly not in the grand sense. I suppose they could be called operettas, or even stage musicals. In the end it hardly matters. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and no difficulties of nomenclature can efface the bountiful pleasures afforded by Gilbert & Sullivan’s whaddaya-call-ems.

The inspiration in Trial by Jury isn’t as consistently high as in their later, more famous works, and at only about 40 minutes in length it is comparatively slight, but it is good, clean fun all the same. The ludicrous plot involves a man on trial for forsaking his wife, and mostly serves as an excuse to poke fun at judges, juries, and law courts generally.

The most famous song in Trial by Jury is “When I, good friends, was called to the bar”, in which the judge explains to the court how it was that he came to be a judge. His career path was quite atypical — or was it?

The part is sung here by Anthony Warlow in a superb production from Opera (there’s that word again!) Australia. It’s a very funny performance. The words can be found here.

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