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Cover to sheet music for We'll Gather Lilacs

Perchance to Dream

A musical romance in 2 Acts by Ivor Novello

Produced at the London Hippodrome, 21 April, 1945 (1,022 perfs)


Sir Graham Rodney (1783-1818), Regency buck and part-time highwayman, loves both Lydia and Melinda, but loathes cousin William. When Graham dies in Melinda's arms, vowing to find her again one day, his magnificent home, Huntersmoon, acquires a new owner - William and a set of restless ghosts. Thirty-five years later William's son, Valentine (1818- c. 1900), owns Huntersmoon where he meets and marries Veronica, illegitimate daughter of Lydia and the former highwayman. The marriage is nearly destroyed with the arrival of Melanie, spirited niece of the late Sir Graham, but Veronica's timely announcement of her pregnancy wins the day. Not until the twentieth century are the ghosts allowed to sleep, perchance to dream, when Huntersmoon welcomes Bay - Valentine's grandson - blissfully married to Melody, who is remarkably like Melinda and Melanie. Strangely, their best friends Bill and Iris, also happily married, bear a striking resemblance to William and Lydia who had hated each other so bitterly at Huntersmoon nearly 150 years earlier. 




Huntersmoon is a beautiful mansion, the inheritance and home over many years of the Rodney family. In 1818 it is the property of Sir Graham Rodney, a disreputable if charming rake in whose dissolute hands it has become the scene of wining and gambling gatherings for some of the less distinguished members of the nobility and their fair companions. This night, Rodney's friends are amusing themselves in his absence as he has failed to arrive in time for dinner. His mistress, the actress Lydia Lyddington, does not join in the rout but awaits Rodney's return patiently, carefully putting aside the flirtatious chatter of Lord Failsham and Sir Arnyas Wendell and just a little frightened for her Graham's safety. There is talk that the famous highwayman known as Frenchy is abroad in the region.

Rodney is not only safe, he is in high spirits when he arrives to take his supper with Lydia spirits which are not dampened by the news that his fearsome aunt Charlotte Fayre is descending on Huntersmoon with her nephew, William, and her daughter, Melinda. Charlotte and, more particularly, the unpleasant William have had their covetous eyes on Huntersmoon for years but, in spite of his comparative poverty, Rodney has refused to give up his heritage to the rich Fayre family. Tonight he intends to parade himself before them as a comfortable and respectable gentleman and, to top it all with a worthy flourish, he will seduce the little brat of a daughter.

ptd-progTo Sir Amyas's disbelieving sneers he hotly proposes a wager. Five thousand guineas bets that he will seduce the supercilious Melinda. Sir Amyas accepts unwillingly and Lydia sadly foresees either a loss which will break Rodney's purse or a conquest which will break her heart. But that is the kind of man he is. For her own peace of mind and heart she should leave him, she knows, but she cannot do it. Now they must prepare their charade for the arrival of Lady Charlotte. They will be very proper and dignified and Ernestine, a buxom actress who has been snoring off her dinner on the couch and is clearly immovable, will be passed off as a famous singer.

When she arrives, Lady Charlotte is singularly unimpressed by the act put on for her benefit and observes loftily that the house is 'nothing but old masters and young mistresses'. Melinda on the other hand is distressed. Their coach was held up on the road and they were robbed of the famous Fayre necklace by a man who could be no other than the notorious Frenchy. She is taken to her room before Rodney puts in his purposely delayed entrance, but when she returns, restored, their meeting is one of instant impression. In a minute, Rodney is looking deeply into Melinda's eyes and swearing that the necklace shall be recovered in time for it to be handed to her the following week on the occasion of her twenty-first birthday.

The two discover a strange feeling of recognition, of destiny in their meeting and Rodney finds himself in a dilemma. If he does• not hold to his wager and seduce the girl with whom he is falling in love, he must forfeit five thousand guineas which he does not have. There is only one way in which he can get the money to pay the sworn forfeit—he must don the disguise of Frenchy once more, in spite of the presence of the Bow Street runners in the area, and rob the first available coach.

It is a week later, the night before Melinda's birthday. In the hall of Huntersmoon the tenor Mazelli entertains  and the assembled company join in the quintet  Melinda describes in song the day of her presentation to the Prince Regent  and Ernestine takes an altogether more lusty approach in singing of 'Highwayman Love'.

Tonight Rodney will ride in search of gold and Lydia, although she knows that she has lost forever her place in his heart, will keep his secret. There is no such loyalty to be found in Sir Amya.s who covets both Lydia and whatever reward he can win from the sour William for his aid in unmasking Rodney. The two would-be thief catchers sit up together through the night to await their host's return, hoping to catch him red-handed with the proceeds of his robbery, but Rodney has drugged their wine and soon they are asleep.

Meanwhile, Rodney:visits Melinda in her room. He returns the necklace and tells her that he must ride just once more as a highwayman to settle a wager. She understands the nature of the wager and why he must go, but she also knows that she loves him as he loves her and that her heart will not rest still until he returns from his last ride.

The following night, at Melinda's party, the guests are entertained by the ballet 'The Triumphs of Spring' until the news comes that the mail coach has been robbed and a Bow Street runner mortally wounded. An officer of the law arrives to search the house: the assailant, too, was wounded and the trail of his blood has led his pursuers here to Huntersmoon. As they begin their search, Rodney appears. He is clearly hurt and he cannot long dissemble before William's denunciation. Melinda tries to defend the man she loves. He cannot have been on the road last night for he was with her...all the night. But Rodney will not allow her to save his name at the price of her own and, telling Sir Amyas that he is proud to lose their wager, he bids Melinda look for him in another life where their love may have a better fortune, and dies in her arms.


Rodney's death left Huntersmoon to fall into William's hands. It gave him no joy but, in 1843, the house is still in the hands of Lady Charlotte's branch of  the family and the old lady lives there with the deceased William's son, Valentine. The atmosphere of the house is now vastly changed, for Valentine is a musician and choral master and, at the opening of the second act, his ladies' choir can be heard practising his composition 'Autumn Lullaby' in the distance.

A new postulant for a place in the choir is the lovely Veronica Lonsdale, but Charlotte is quick to dismiss the `Lonsdale', for Veronica is the image of her mother, Lydia Lyddington, and clearly the love child of Graham Rodney. Veronica has just returned from school in Paris where amongst her schoolmates was another member of the Rodney family, Melanie, Graham's niece. Introduced to Valentine, Veronica is soon winning his heart to the strains of his own song 'A Woman's Heart' and in the parlour duet 'We'll Gather Lilacs' performed with the now stout and respectable Ernestine. Before long, the two young people are wed.

Three years later, into the childless but happy hall of Huntersmoon, Veronica joyfully welcomes her dear schoolfiiend, Melanie. Melanie is a total contrast to the lovely, gentle. Veronica. She is ebullient and risque and has clearly taken in more of Paris the city than of its finishing school during her stay. In the hall after dinner, she entertains the girls with a naughty song and dance about love.

Respectability returns when Ernestine and the Vicar join in a parlour duet about The Elopement' but, when Melanie reprises her Parisian song and its shocking little dance before the adults, she is considered out of line, even though the very subject is very  much the same as the more staid duet given by the older pair. Veronica calms the situation until Valentine enters, and Melanie is introduced to her friend's husband.

By the time three weeks have passed, Melanie has her heart set on and her hooks loosely into Valentine. Aunt Charlotte is sharply aware of the situation and she warns the girl grimly that she will make sure the moment Valentine's forthcoming command performance at Windsor Castle is done, Melanie is removed from Huntersmoon never to return. For the meantime, Charlotte will go to London with Veronica for a visit to a doctor, but Valentine must stay at home to work on the cantata he is to premiere before the Queen. Melanie will stay with neighbours. With some flaunting words to the man with whom she is desperately in love and whom she is sure she can make love her, Melanie leaves Huntersmoon under compunction.

But fate drives Melanie beyond the bounds of decency and reason. Later that night, as Valentine works over his music, she returns. She taunts him with his bovine fidelity to Veronica until, finally, he breaks out passionately with his long pent up feelings. Of course he wants her From the moment they came face to face there was something from the past and from the future that drew him irresistibly to her and her to him. In spite of Veronica, in spite of everything, they must be together, now and forever.

The next morning Veronica returns from London radiant with good news which she cannot hold for her husband and must break immediately to her friend. After years of disappointment, at last she is with child. Valentine will be a father. But her news must wait, for today is Valentine's big day and nothing must distract him. She must not tell him her happy tidings until the command performance is over. Now it is time for him to go to Windsor and, when he returns... When he returns, Melanie will be gone. Her happiness, their happiness cannot, can never, be. Valentine must stay with sweet, happy Veronica and their child. Melanie's life is over, only her love will live on. `To our next meeting,' she whispers as Valentine steps into his coach.


A century later Huntersmoon is a modern mansion and the descendents of the Rodneys and the Fayres are still in possession. Bay, the grandchild of Valentine and Veronica, is now the owner. On the walls hang portraits of his ancestors: Melinda, who died of a broken heart, and Melanie who drowned herself the night of Valentine's command performance. Both portraits bear a strange resemblance to Melody, Bay's fiancée. He met her for the first time in this room and it was as if some strange force from the past destined them for each other. They will be wed and, hopefully, put to rest the sad ghosts of Melinda and Melanie who may sleep at last, perchance to dream.

For the Chorus 

A fair sprinkling of lushly harmonized numbers in, perhaps, the most romantic and musical of Novello's musical romances. His keen ear for the musical traditions of days gone by makes the pseudo-Victoriana of Act II especially evocative. Earlier, there is a lengthy chorus-backed ballet. The chorus appear as friends and guests of Sir Graham, his servants, Bow Street Runners, members of Valentine's choir, wedding guests, Melanie's friends, and as ghosts of their former selves.

Singing Principals 

Lydia (afterwards Veronica and Iris).
Ernestine, a friend of Sir Graham's (later known as Mrs Bridport).
Melinda (afterwards Melanie and, non-singing, Melody).
Mazelli, The Vicar (these roles are generally doubled). 

Straight Roles

Lady Charlotte, Sir Graham's aunt.
Sir Graham Rodney (afterwards Valentine and Bay).
William Fayre (afterwards Bill). 

Smaller Roles 

Susan Pell, friend of Sir Graham.
Miss Connors, chorus-mistress of Valentine's choir.
Amelia, Vivien, Lucy, Lavinia, Latitia, Sophia, Elizabeth and Caroline - friends of Melanie
Edgar Pell, Sir Amyas Wendall and Lord Failsham, friends of Sir Graham.
Aiken, his butler

Musical Numbers:

  1. Overture
  2. When the Gentlemen Get Together
  3. Love Is My Reason
  4. The Path My Lady Walks
  5. A Lady Went to Market Fair
  6. The Night That I Curtsied to the King
  7. Highwayman Love
  8. Triumphs of Spring - Ballet
  9. Meeting Theme: A Woman's Heart
  10. We'll Gather Lilacs 
  11. Victorian Wedding
  12. This Is My Wedding Day
  13. The Glo-glo
  14. We'll Gather Lilacs (reprise)
  15. The Elopement
  16. Finale: Poor Lonely Mortals

The Scenes

Act I The hall of Huntersmoon. Melinda's bedroom (inset). Exterior of Huntersmoon
Act II The hall of Huntersmoon


1st Violins, A, B and C, 2nd Violins Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Flute, Oboe, 2 Clarinets, 2 Horns, 2 Trumpets, Trombone, Drums, Harp