Music by Edward German: Book and Lyrics by Basil Hood
Savoy Theatre, London - 2 April, 1902
Revised version by Dennis Arundell - Sadler's Wells, 10 August, 1960
This well known comic opera is set in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1. The famous courtier, Sir Waiter Raleigh, loves Bessie Throckmorton, one of the Queen's Ladies in Waiting. Bessie is frightened that a misplaced letter from Raleigh will fail into the hands of the Queen, who would be displeased at the association. Raleigh's rival, the Earl of Essex, is given the letter by Jill-All-Alone, who is persecuted by the local people who think she is a witch. A forester begs the Queen to protect Jill. However, when Essex hands Elizabeth the letter, the Queen is so incensed that she orders Bessie's imprisonment, Raleigh's banishment and Jill's death by burning. Elizabeth retracts each sentence when Essex halts a threat to her life through his exposure of Dr Lopez, the Queen's Portuguese physician, who is planning to poison her. This adaptation was first seen at Sadlers' Wells in 1960 and has the effect of increasing the dramatic realism and allowing the music to give greater unity. The original version is available if required.
Queen Elizabeth I is on the throne, and today is May Day.
The curtain rises to display a scene on the banks of the Thames. The citizens of Windsor are enacting their May Day ceremony. The Chorus welcomes the May Queen. To guard her throne she calls for the two men who have shown themselves the best marksmen: Long Tom and Big Ben, foresters, stand forth. They are of one mind - except that Long Tom is in love with Jill-All-Alone, whom Big Ben, along with the other folk of Windsor, considers is a witch.
Jill-All-Alone enters; a wild but pathetic creature. She has no proper home but lives in the forest. Tthe chorus greet her with loathing calling her a witch!
There enters a stranger from London. Walter Wilkins is an actor and a member of Shakespeare's company. But Wilkins thinks that no play is too tragic to be enlivened by song and dance - which, as he explains, is where he and Shakespeare disagree. Wilkins performs a hornpipe to illustrate his point.
Sir Walter Raleigh, entering, discourages talk of witchcraft. He leads a drinking song.
A witch-hunt sets off after Jill-All-Alone, but she escapes. The May Queen, Raleigh, Wilkins, Long Tom and Kate (who plays no part in the actual drama) are left to sing a quintet
Bessie Throckmorton, a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, enters alone. She has lost a love-letter from Raleigh. If found, it may rouse the jealousy of the Queen, who is herself in love with Raleigh and who does not know that Raleigh and Bessie are in love with each other. Bessie and Raleigh hope that they will eventually be able to enjoy their love in a rustic retreat.
The Earl of Essex enters. He is jealous of the favour Raleigh enjoys with the Queen.
Jill-All-Alone is caught as a witch. Long Tom defends her, with a courage that prompts Essex to extol the virtues of the Yeomen of England. Jill has found Bessie's missing letter and gives it to Essex.
With majesty, Queen Elizabeth enters. 'God save Elizabeth' sings the chorus in welcome.
Wilkins has meanwhile been thrown into the Thames by the people of Windsor. But, coming out, he makes the best of his wet state to sing a comic song with a catalogue of fish and its tribute to Elizabeth as 'mistress of the sea'. The chorus joins in.
The Finale of Act 1 is begun by Bessie Throckmorton, who heralds the coming entertainment with a song. It is a tale of Robin Hood. The others present join in, and Queen Elizabeth sighs: 'Would queens could love as Marion did!'. Long Tom, the forester, steps forward to ask Elizabeth's protection for Jill-All-Alone, whom he loves. Four tradesmen of Windsor, on the other hand, speak up against Jill. Jill sings mysteriously of the power of love. The May Queen of Windsor accuses her of witchcraft, and Essex hands to the Queen the letter which Jill had found.
Elizabeth sees that the letter is a love-poem making the acrostic 'Bessie', and recognises Raleigh's handwriting. But she gladly assumes the name 'Bessie' is meant to represent
herself - until Raleigh, stepping forward, confesses that his love is for Bessie Throckmorton. The Queen, furious, condemns Jill to be taken to Windsor castle and burned as a witch.,
Bessie to be taken to the castle and imprisoned, and Raleigh to be confined to his country house.
A troop of morris dancers enters, ready to play its part in the entertainment, and the company takes up the refrain of Bessie's song - while the Queen stands by, silent. The curtain falls.
The curtain rises on Act II to show a glade in Windsor Forest. Off-stage, the chorus of revelling Windsor folk are heard singing while on stage, surprisingly, is Jill-All-Alone who sings pointedly to the cat in her arms.
And the Dragon will come when it hears the drum at a minute or two to two!
Jill and Bessie have both escaped from the castle through a secret passage once used by King Hal. A quartet celebrating the King's escapades, is now sung by Jill, Bessie and the two foresters, Long Tom and Big Ben, who have appeared. They leave, and there enter the two actors from London (Wilkins and Simkins) and the men's chorus. Discussing the entertainment to be presented to the Queen, they agree that artistic considerations don't matter, provided that the tune can be played on a big brass band. The Queen, meanwhile, plans to poison Bessie.
Jill and Raleigh sing of the love they each hope for.
The previously heard chorus of revelry now comes on stage, and then follows the Rustic Dance.
Raleigh, disguised, joins the group which is to present the entertainment. He plans to rescue Bessie, his 'English rose', whom he still believes imprisoned
Raleigh as Robin Hood, Wilkins as Friar Tuck, and Long Tom as Little John now rehearse their parts in 'The Play of Robin Hood' . Little John fights Robin Hood with staves and beats him. They leave, and Bessie enters to sing her waltz-song.
Raleigh is brought in by Jill. Essex enters and surprises Raleigh and Bessie, but declares that he is now Raleigh's friend since Raleigh is obviously no longer his rival for Queen Elizabeth's favour.
The Queen enters and the entertainment begins. An absurd enactment of the story of Saint George and the Dragon includes a song about the princess's impending death - from which, of course, Saint George rescues her. Suddenly, the apparition of Herne the Hunter rises, a thing said to happen only when the Sovereign contemplates committing a crime. It is, in fact, an impersonation by Long Tom, intended to dissuade the Queen from poisoning Bessie and burning Jill, and it works. Both women are pardoned, and Raleigh too.
In the Finale of the act, Raleigh and Bessie portray Robin Hood and Marion in 'The Play of Robin Hood'. The others join in, and the Queen, with Essex at her side, looks on with pleasure.
(Adapted from the original sleeve notes)
- Sir Walter Raleigh
- Earl of Essex
- Queen Elizabeth I
- Bessie Throckmorton
- Walter Wilkins
- Silas Simkins
- Queen of the May
- Long Tom
- Big Ben
- Overture (Orchestra)
- Opening Chorus
- We are two proper men (Long Tom and Big Ben)
- Oh! Where the deer do lie (Jill-All-Alone & Chorus)
- I do counsel that your playtime (Walter Wilkins& Chorus)
- That every Jack should have a Jill (Sir Walter Raleigh & Chorus)
- Love is meant to make us glad (Bessie Throckmorton, Jill-All-Alone, Sir Walter Raleigh,
Walter Wilkins & Long Tom)
- She had a letter from her love (Bessie Throckmorton)
- When true love hath found a man (Bessie Throckmorton & Sir Walter Raleigh)
- When a man is a lover (Earl of Essex, Walter Wilkins & Silas Simkins)
- The Yeomen of England (Earl of Essex & Chorus)
- Entrance of Queen Elizabeth and God save Elizabeth into O peaceful England
(Chorus, Queen Elizabeth & Chorus)
- King Neptune sat on his lonely throne (Walter Wilkins & Chorus)
- Finale Act I (Queen Elizabeth, Jill-All-Alone, Bessie Throckmorton, Sir Walter Raleigh, Earl of Essex & Chorus)
- The month of May has come today (Jill-All-Alone & Chorus)
- In England, Merrie England (Bessie Throckmorton, Jill-All-Alone, Long Tom & Big Ben)
- The big brass band (Walter Wilkins, Silas Simkins & Men's Chorus)
- It is the merry month of May (Jill-All-Alone & Sir Walter Raleigh)
- The Queen of May is crowned today (Chorus)
- Rustic Dance (Orchestra)
- Dan Cupid hath a garden (Sir Walter Raleigh)
- Two merry men a-drinking (Walter Wilkins (as Friar Tuck), Sir Walter Raleigh (as Robin Hood), Long Tom (as Little John) & Chorus)
- Who shall say that love is cruel? (Bessie Throckmorton)
- When Cupid first this old world trod
(Earl of Essex, Bessie Throckmorton, Jill-All-Alone & Sir Walter Raleigh)
- Oh! Here's a to-do to die to-day (Silas Simkins & Chorus)
- Finale (Full company)
(Total number of books=16)
2 Violins I ; 1 Violin II ; 1 Viola ; 1 Cello ; 1 Double Bass ; 1 Flute/Piccs 1/II ; 1 Oboe ; 1 Clarinets I/II ; 1 Bassoons I/II ; 1 Horns I/II ; 1 Trumpets I/II ; 1 Trombones 1/II ; 1 Percussion ; 1 Harp ; 1 Conductor Score - annotated vocal score ;