Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Zoo

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About the Opera

The Zoo

The first thing you should know about The Zoo is that the words are not by Gilbert; they were written by B. C. Stephenson under the pen name Bolton Rowe. The sprightly, charming music is by Sullivan. The work was first performed on June 5, 1875. (That was less than three months after the opening of Trial by Jury, but about eight years after Cox and Box.) Like Trial by Jury, it has no spoken lines. The work is brief and in a single act. After long years of neglect, it is now taking its place alongside Trial by Jury and Cox and Box as a popular curtain raiser for some of the less extensive Savoy operas.

The piano/vocal score for the work is available from R. Clyde, 6 Whitelands Ave, Chorleywood, Rickmansworth, Herts WD3 5RD, United Kingdom.

In his Note on the Libretto Terence Rees adds a few details on how one major and several minor gaps in the libretto were filled by Roderick Spencer during preparation of the published vocal score.

Present-day interest in the opera traces back to Terence Rees’s initiative in acquiring the autograph score back in 1966. Here is how he describes how it all came about:

When I was a lad, The Zoo like Thespis was very much of a mystery. It had never been published, nobody around had heard so much as a dot of the music and it received only passing mention in books dealing with the composer. And then, one day (Monday, 13th June, 1966 to be precise) the autograph full score came up for sale by auction at Sotheby’s, the famous auction house in Bond Street, London. Also up for sale were the manuscripts of Trial, Pinafore, Pirates and many others. It was a memorable event and I was there (and where were you at the time?). Intending to bid for The Zoo, I had raised all the money I could, stretching my credit right, left and centre, and expecting a fine old battle. But what I never expected was that hardly anyone in the room had heard of the piece so there was consequently little bidding. In no time at all, perhaps just two or three tense, breathless minutes, the hammer fell and I became the new owner of The Zoo.

As soon as it was all over, I paid for and collected the score, walking with it in my arms down Bond Street and along Piccadilly, past Burlington Arcade and the Royal Academy to Piccadilly Circus underground station. From there I took a train home where for the rest of that day I lay on the mat, turning the pages and wondering how I might get somebody to perform it. In the event that proved to be easier than I thought. The production at Fulham by Max Miradin was very well received, the piece caught on and has since received more performances than it ever had in Sullivan’s lifetime.



Pronunciation: Es-cu-LAPE-i-us

Sketch of Æsculapius

Named after the god of medicine in classical mythology. He was the son of Apollo by Coronis (some say Larissa) and was raised by the centaur Chiron, who taught him the secrets of medicine. He became a physician to the Argonauts and later came to be looked upon as the inventor as well as the god of medicine (187).


A large globular glass jar, usually enclosed in basket work or crate and used for transporting liquids.


A metropolitan borough of London about two miles north of St Paul’s Cathedral. The site of two prisons, it does not rank high in snob appeal.


Peg away

To plod along, to persevere.


To turn pale.

Staves [well known English staves]

Verses or stanzas.


Stop! Cease! Desist! See also The Yeomen of the Guard.


In America: a druggist; in Great Britain a dispensing chemist.


Another name for a giraffe (perhaps because giraffes are shaped something like a camel and spotted something like a leopard).


A poultice used to redden or blister the skin by the application of irritant chemicals.


Pronunciation: SCAR-if-eye

To make shallow incisions in the skin for the purpose of drawing blood (254).

Draft of life

Fate (an allusion to a figurative bitter cup).


A bubbly drink made by fermenting ginger and other ingredients (75). See also Thespis and Cox and Box.

Mantles [the frown that mantles on your brow]


Horniman’s tea

A widely advertised brand of tea, then popular (254). John Horniman, from the Isle of Wight, invented tea in packets back in 1826 (89).

Kidney pie

A main course still popular in England: steak and kidney pie. Contains those two kinds of meat and gravy, but no vegetables. Encased within pastry crusts (254).


An alcoholic liquor distilled from wine. Samuel Johnson opined that claret was the liquor for boys, port for men, but brandy for heroes (45).


Low-ranking attendants. See also Chapter I, The Mikado, and Ruddigore.


Refers to the Order of the Garter, the highest order of knighthood in Great Britain. See also Iolanthe and The Gondoliers.


A nobleman, and member of the House of Lords. See also HMS Pinafore, Iolanthe, The Gondoliers, and Utopia, Limited.


Environment or place.

Hear! Hear!

English terms of endorsement and support. See also The Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe, and The Mikado.

Change my condition

In the narrow sense he means to drop his disguise and change into attire appropriate to his noble rank.


Pertaining to a duke, the highest order of nobility in the British peerage.


Rees (254) explains: “This is nothing other than an embarrassed cough. The chorus feels unable to say anything of help to Eliza. The word is quite common in Victorian plays.”


Read: this part of the world.

A dressing case with tops

This was a small flat container about the size of a modern brief case in which a lady would transport her articles de toilette when traveling. It would be a very expensive and up-market affair. There would be a hand mirror in a silver frame and various cut-glass bottles with screw tops of silver (gold of course, if you found solid silver too vulgar). It tells us nothing about her habits en toilette but it does tell us lots about the men she knew, and how well she knew them. Eliza was a calculating minx (254).


Screw tops for those cut glass bottles.

Diamond drops

Diamond pendants or earrings perhaps?