Yeomen of the Guard
Gilbert and Sullivan
When the previous Gilbert and Sullivan opera, Ruddigore, finished its run at the Savoy Theatre, no new Gilbert and Sullivan opera was ready, and for nearly a year the stage was devoted to revivals of the company’s old successes H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. For several years leading up to the premiere of Yeomen, Sullivan had expressed the desire to leave his partnership with W.S. Gilbert in order to turn to writing grand opera and other serious works full-time. Before the premiere of Yeomen, Sullivan had recently been lauded for the successful cantata The Golden Legend and would produce his grand opera, Ivanhoe, only 15 months after Yeomen.
In the autumn of 1887, after another attempt to interest his collaborator in a plot where the characters, by swallowing a magic pill, became who they were pretending to be (Sullivan had rejected this idea before), Gilbert made an effort to meet his collaborator half way. Gilbert claimed that the idea for the opera came to him while he was waiting for the train in Uxbridge and spotted an advertisement for The Tower Furnishing and Finance Company, illustrated with a Beefeater. On Christmas Day, 1887, he read to Sullivan and Carte his plot sketch for an opera set at the Tower of London. Sullivan was “immensely pleased” and, with much relief, accepted it, writing in his diary, “Pretty story, no topsy turvydom, very human, & funny also”.