The Brickdust Man
and The Grenadier
belong to a group of short 'musical dialogues' written by Dibdin in the 1770s for Sadler's Wells, then a summer resort outside London. Spoken plays were also forbidden at Sadler's Wells which specialised at the time in popular variety shows with dancing, conjuring, songs and aquatic displays designed to appeal to a middle-class audience. So they have recitative rather than dialogue, and in them the world of the commedia dell'arte
is transformed into contemporary London. The scene of The Brickdust Man
is a street in the West End of London, then a fashionable residential area. There are references to St Giles's Church (near the present Tottenham Court Road tube station) and Tyburn Road (now Oxford Street). It concerns John, a street trader who sells powdered brick (used as a scourer, for making rouge, and for several other purposes) and Molly, a milkmaid. They believe each other to have been unfaithful, and after Molly has sung a rage aria (another parody of the opera seria
type), they are reconciled in a gentle and melodious duet.
from notes by Peter Holman © 1992