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Four years passed after Gilbert and Sullivan had created the 1871 Christmas entertainment Thespis, and each man became even more eminent in his field, but they did not have occasion to work together. Richard D'Oyly Carte, who was then the acting for Selina Dolaro and her company in a season of light opera at the Royalty Theatre, asked the two men to collaborate on a short opera to be played as an after piece to Offenbach's comic opera, La Périchole. On 25th March 1875 Trial by Jury opened at the Royalty Theatre, and the very witty, tuneful and "English" piece was an immediate hit with Londoners and continued to be played until the Royalty closed on 12th June for the summer. Trial by Jury was again on the bill when the theatre reopened on 11th October 1875. The conclusion of Dolaro's season on 18th December 1875 marked the official end of Trial by Jury's opening run of by which time it had been performed 131 times.
But clearly Trial by Jury continued to find favour with the theatre-going public. From 13th January until 5th May 1876, Trial by Jury was on the bill at the Opéra Comique1 (under the management of Charles Morton) for a run of 96 performances and again from 3rd March to 26th May 1877 at the Royal Strand Theatre bringing the total number of performances in its first two years to nearly 300.
It is quite short, only forty minutes, and alone of the operas contains no spoken dialogue. There are many people who consider it to be the most perfectly constructed of the whole series and it is indeed a little gem of wit, sentiment and charm. The absurdities that can come from a breach of promise case, when the sensibilities of the jury and the judge are affected, was just the sort of subject to inspire Gilbert, and the libretto he produced in turn inspired Sullivan to write some of his most sparkling music.
The part of the judge in the first production was played by Fred Sullivan, the composer's brother.
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