The ZooThe Zoo

Story Synopsis

The Zoo is a one act opera without spoken dialog, with music by Arthur Sullivan and a libretto by B. C. Stephenson, writing under the pen name of Bolton Rowe. It premiered on 5 June 1875 at the St. James’s Theatre in London.

The farcical story concerns two pairs of lovers. First, a nobleman, who goes to the zoo to woo the girl who sells snacks there. He tries to impress her by buying and eating all of the food. The other couple is a young chemist who believes that he has poisoned his beloved by mixing up her father’s prescription with peppermint that he had meant for her.

The opera opens at the British zoological gardens, where the proud and opinionated British Public gather to look at the animals. Carboy is discovered standing on a chair with a rope around his neck. The chorus insist that if he is going to commit suicide, he must first tell them the reason why. Carboy happily obliges and sings of how he had wooed Lætitia Grinder, the daughter of a prosperous grocer. Her father, Mr. Grinder, disapproved of their relationship, but Carboy, an apothacary, was able to communicate with her in prescriptions. But one day, the labels for a dose of peppermint for Lætitia and a lotion for her father’s back were mixed up. Carboy, believing that he has killed his love, has despaired of all hope and intends to kill himself.  However, Eliza Smith, the no-nonsense keeper of the refreshment stall at the zoo, forbids it.

Eliza’s beau, Thomas Brown, appears, and they spend a romantic moment. Thomas begins to purchase and rapidly eat an astonishing amount of Eliza’s refreshments. Lætitia enters, looking for Carboy. He is surprised to find her alive, but she explains that she did not drink the lotion as he had feared. They too describe their everlasting love and then combine with Thomas and Eliza as Eliza lists the remarkable catalogue of the food that Thomas has just eaten. Thomas explains that he has eaten all of her wares to prove his affection for her.

Thomas faints, and the male zoo goers argue with their wives about how to revive him. Carboy, explaining that he is a physician, asks the crowd to stand back and steps in to help. After making a quick examination, he writes a prescription, which Eliza takes to be filled. Thomas revives briefly, and before passing out again, makes a delirious comment that implies that he is of noble birth. Carboy unfastens his patient’s jacket, and the crowd are shocked to find that Thomas is a Knight of the Garter. Thomas revives, and it turns out that he is the Duke of Islington. He had disguised himself as a commoner so that he could search for a humble, virtuous wife without revealing his true rank. Now that his secret is discovered, Thomas makes a garbled but well-received speech and, taking the perceptive crowd’s advice, resolves to propose marriage to Eliza as soon as he can change into his “native guise.” He exits.

Mr. Grinder arrives looking for Carboy and Lætitia, but the no one will help him. Eliza returns and is upset to find that Thomas has disappeared. The amused crowd tell her, mysteriously, that he will return soon. Still upset, Eliza laments that she is a simple little child who cannot understand why wealthy men have always showered her with gifts and invitations. Grinder returns, confronting his disobedient daughter and her beloved apothecary. Lætitia begs her father to let her marry Carboy, but Grinder once again refuses. Hearing this, Carboy asks the crowd for a rope with which to hang himself. Failing at that, and after bidding Lætitia a lengthy farewell, he heads for the bear pit in the hopes of being killed by the fearsome creatures.

Thomas Brown re-enters, now dressed as befits the Duke of Islington, and he grandly proposes to make Eliza his Duchess. She bursts into tears, reluctant to leave her beloved animals behind, but Lord Thomas tells her not to worry: he has bought them all! Carboy now returns. His suicide attempt has failed, this time because the bear pit is being renovated, and the bears have been moved. He vows to head for the lion’s den, but the Duke stops him. Thomas has reached a financial settlement with Mr. Grinder, who is now willing to accept Carboy as his son-in-law. The two pairs of lovers are united, and all ends happily, with the public proudly declaring that “Britons never, never will be slaves!”

Tech Package

Trial By Jury and The Zoo Tech Package (230kb pdf file)


The Zoo can be performed in conjunction with other single act acts, such as Trial By Jury, Cox and Box, or a one-act highlights production.

To book this show or for additional publicity materials, please contact us.