In England, Merrie England

You know the one about waiting an eternity for a bus to arrive, and then two turn up…!

Well, we have another performance of Edward German’s Merrie England looming towards the end of August after the Sheffield Bach Choir’s concert outing for the work in June.

It is a staging, by Present Company at Buxton Opera House, so German’s music will be heard in all its orchestral glory and Basil Hood’s dialogue is restored, so no need for a narrator.

Once extremely popular, the work is rarely encountered now. Not even its once inescapable arias, such as The English Rose, which every British tenor worth his salt sang at one time.

Almost equal in fame are the baritone’s rousing Yeomen of England, the mezzo-soprano’s O Peaceful England with, closely following, She Had a Letter From Her Love and Who Shall Say That Love is Cruel? – two for the soprano!

The piece is choc-o-bloc with superb tunes among its two dozen-plus music numbers and there is an array of historical characters on stage: Elizabeth I; Sir Walter Raleigh; Earl of Essex; and Bess Throckmorton.

While they don’t actually appear, the work’s witty librettist Basil Hood – who has one character summarising the plot of Romeo and Juliet using only the A-Z of the alphabet – also writes Shakespeare, Robin Hood and Maid Marian into the scenario, although the latter two can be said to put in an appearance.

Raleigh and Bessie play them in a masque at the work’s conclusion, St George and the Dragon, ending a tale of love, intrigue and rivalry at the court of Elizabeth I around Windsor when a love letter from Raleigh to one of her ladies-in-waiting, Bessie Throckmorton, ends up in the Queen’s hands.

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