The Vicar of Bray (opera)

The Vicar of Bray (opera)

"The Vicar of Bray" is a comic opera by Edward Solomon with a libretto by Sydney Grundy which opened at the Globe Theatre, in London, on July 22 1882, for a run of only 69 performances. The public was not amused at a clergyman's being made the subject of ridicule and the opera was regarded by some as scandalous.

The opera is based on the character described in a satirical 18th century English folk song "The Vicar of Bray", as well as on "The History of Sandford and Merton", a series of 18th century moral tales. In the parlour song, the eponymous vicar was the clergyman of the parish of Bray-on-Thames, Berkshire. The most familiar version of the lyrics recounts his adaptability (some would say amorality) over half a century, from the reigns of Charles II to George I. Over this period he embraced whichever form of liturgy, Protestant or Catholic, that was favoured by the monarch of the day in order to retain his position as vicar of Bray. See the annotated lyrics to "The Vicar of Bray".

The earliest version of the song's lyrics may have been written by "an officer in Colonel Fuller's regiment," according to one source. The lyrics exist in various forms. However, the story of the vicar's cheerful reversals of principle remains the same in all circumstances.

1892 Savoy Theatre revival

When the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership disbanded after the production of "The Gondoliers" in 1889, impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte was forced to find new works to present at the Savoy Theatre. Solomon's "The Nautch Girl" was the first non-Gilbert and Sullivan "Savoy Opera" in 1891. Sullivan was writing a new opera for the Savoy that would become "Haddon Hall", but this was delayed because of Sullivan's ill health. In the meantime, when "The Nautch Girl" closed after a modestly successful run, Carte revived Solomon's "The Vicar of Bray" at the Savoy in 1892.

During the decade since the piece had been first presented, the public had come to accept clergymen as comic characters. As The Times wrote on January 29 1892, "The run of [Grundy's] "The Private Secretary" changed the views even of the most serious playgoers, and it may be remarked in passing that the clerical functions of the Rev. Robert Spalding were judiciously kept altogether out of sight, as indeed they were in the case of [Dr. Daly in] "The Sorcerer".... [The piece] was warmly received." The revival ran for a respectable 143 performances, with a cast that included Rutland Barrington, Courtice Pounds, W. H. Denny, and Rosina Brandram. It then enjoyed provincial tours.


Act 1: Low Church. The Village Green.

The Rev. William Barlow, the Vicar of Bray, became Low Church in order to marry his rich wife who, now dead, has left him with a daughter, Dorothy. Dorothy is in love with her father's curate, Henry Sandford, a priggish, pompous and loquatious young man. The Vicar prefers that his daughter marry Sandford's old schoolmate, Tommy Merton, son of a wealthy local landowner. To get Sandford out of the way, the Vicar, on the advice of his family solicitor, Mr. Bedford Rowe, turns High Church. Aghast, Sandford flees to become a missionary in the Cassowary Isles.

Act 2: High Church. The Vicarage Grounds.

Now that the Vicar and all his students have become 'High' they are doomed to celibacy, and the chorus of lady Sunday School teachers is distraught at the loss of their matrimonial prospects. So, too, is Mrs. Merton who has had her eye on the Vicar. Tommy Merton is prepared to marry Dorothy, but suddenly Sandford, whom everyone supposed was devoured by cannibals, returns as an improved man--no longer pompous. Dorothy returns to her first love, but her father is adamant. The solicitor announces that the Vicar's High Church propensities have displeased his Bishop who has declared him defrocked, his living to be bestowed on Sandford. There is only one way out. The Vicar becomes 'Low' again. He is now eligible to wed the wealthy Mrs. Merton, Sandford gets Dorothy, and Tommy goes off with the leading danseuse of the local theatre.


*Reverend William Barlow, Vicar of Bray
*Reverend Henry Sandford, his curate
*Thomas Merton, Esq., of Bray Manor
*Mr. Bedford Rowe, a Confidential Family Solicitor
*Dorothy, the Vicar's Daughter [called Winifred in the 1892 version]
*Mrs. Merton, widow of the late Thomas Merton, of Jamaica
*Nelly Bly, of the Theatre Royal, Bray
*Students of Divinity, Ladies of the Ballet, Teachers, Huntsmen, Jockeys.

Musical Numbers

Act I
*Chorus of Children -- Hooray, hooray!
*Chorus of Lady Teachers -- To a slow and stately measure
*Song, Winifred -- O, Why is my love?
*Chorus of Teachers -- All the bold
*Chorus of Students; and Solo Sandford -- On, Students, on!
*Song, Sandford -- As good as he ought to be
*Ensemble and Entrance of Vicar -- Hail to the Vicar
*Song, Vicar -- The Rev. Mr. Barlow
*Chorus -- Bow, Students, bow!
*Song, Mr. Bedford Rose -- I'm as sharp as a ferret
*Exit -- Good morning, dear Vicar
*Entrance of Mrs Merton -- Has anyone seen the Pytchley Pack?
*Trio, Rowe, Vicar and Mrs Merton -- Now if you'll excuse me
*Duet, Vicar and Mrs. Merton -- The shy widow
*Duet, Sandford and Winifred -- Tell me true, love
*Chorus of Huntsmen; and Solo, Tommy Martin -- Jolly, jolly Huntsmen!
*Chorus, Corps de Ballet -- Please to make way for us
*Dance, Nelly Bly
*Ensemble -- O, shocking sight
*Finale -- Back, Students, back!

Act II
*Chorus of Teachers -- Listen to the merry bells
*Concerted number: Students, Teachers & Vicar -- What is life?
*Song and Chorus, Vicar and Students -- The Jackson case
*Duet, Vicar and Mrs Merton -- The Wily Widower
*Solo, Mrs Merton -- You ask me why
*Duet, Winifred and Sandford -- Come back to me
*Duet, Winifred and Sandford -- Propriety, prisms and prunes
*Trio, Sandford, Merton & Winifred -- Just a word
*Entrance, Nellie Bly
*Entrance, Corps de Ballet
*Dance, Pas de Cinq
*Exit of Vicar & Corps de Ballet
*Concerted number: Tommy, Merton, Bedford, Rowe and Huntsmen -- Confidential family solicitor
*Chorus, Corps de Ballet -- We no longer gyrate
*Concerted piece -- Se, see, we saw!
*Chorus of Children -- Lucky little boys and girls
*Wedding chorus -- Lady Fair
*Finale -- O William, sweet William

External links

* [ "The Vicar of Bray"] at The Gilbert & Sullivan Archive
* [ Opening night review]
* [ Historical background of the character]

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