Alison Jones's Opera Plot Summaries.

Niccolo Piccini:
La Buona Figliuola

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Aug 81

ACT I

The garden of the marquis' palace

Cecchina is watering the flowers when Mengotto appears and confesses his love. But Cecchina will love him only as a brother, as she secretly loves another: her master, the marquis. The marquis appears and asks why she is doing heavy garden work when there are strong men to do it, and she answers that it is her duty. When he asks for her love she is alarmed and makes her escape, but her confusion has betrayed to him that she loves him.

Sandrina appears, complaining of her hard lot as a servant and the marquis hits on the idea of getting her to help him win Cecchina. But his roundabout opening gives her the impression that she is the loved one, so when he gets round to asking her to go and tell Cecchina of his love, she becomes jealous.

Armidoro arrives and asks Sandrina whether his betrothed Lucinda is stirring. Sandrina volunteers the information that the marquis is too interested in the low-born Cecchina and she thinks he intends to marry her. Armidoro, while professing his love for Lucinda, decides to make sure whether his brother-in-law is about to contract a misalliance before he takes the plunge himself.

Lucinda appears accompanied by Paoluccia and Armidoro at once broaches the matter of Cecchina. Lucinda finds it hard to credit the tale. Although she considers her brother capable of trifling with such a girl, she feels he is too proud to comtemplate a marriage with her. Armidoro indicates that although he would be heartbroken at losing her, he could not bring himself to marry her if the marquis were to marry Cecchina.

The enraged Lucinda tels Paoluccia to bring her Cecchina, having decided to send her away - but discreetly, so as not to enrage her brother. She tells Cecchina that her sister Aspasia needs another servant and has expressly asked for Cecchina. Dismayed, Cecchina asks whether the marquis knows about his. Lucinda's sharp reply reduces Cecchina to tears, at which point the marquis arrives.

He declares that Cecchina is to stay and his sister accuses him of being in love with her. The distressed girl says that she will leave, even if she has to beg for a living. She reflects sadly on her foundling state. The marquis assures Lucinda that he will do as he pleases, and she rages that she will be revenged.

Cecchina begs farewell to her "friends" while Sandrina and Paoluccia unite in expressions of ill-will. Mengotto is willing to escort her until the other girls tell him that the marquis is her lover. The marquis begs her not to go and Sandrina and Paoluccia promptly tell him that Mengotto is her lover, so he too turns against her.

ACT II

Scene 1. A crossroads on the edge of a wood, later the same day

The marquis, repenting of his jealousy, is looking for Cecchina. But when she turns up in the arms of Armidoro and a band of armed men shortly afterwards, it is Mengotto, also repentant, who is on hand to recruit a hardy bunch of huntsmen to rescue her. The marquis then reappears to reassert his claim to Cecchina, leaving Mengotto in two minds whether to take his life.

As he is about to do so he is stopped by Tagliaferro, who then reveals that he is looking for a long-lost baby and invites Mengotto to join him in the joys of soldiering.

Scene 2. A room at the palace

Armidoro, not knowing that Cecchina has been rescued from his men, tells Lucinda that he has disposed of her. Now she has had time to think about it, Lucinda finds herself less than pleased that he has been so willing to break off their marriage. He denies this and professes his devotion to her.

Sandrina and Paoluccia appear with the news that Cecchina has been brought back by the marquis and locked in a nearby room. She orders them to peep through the keyhole. They describe Cecchina's woe (which they claim is feigned), the entry of the marquis, and Cecchina's attempted flight, intercepted by him. At this point they declare that it is against their principles to pry any further.

Lucinda has further doubts about Armidoro's intentions but tries to suppress them.

Scene 3. A courtyard of the palace

Cecchina runs out and is overtaken by the marquis. He is so enchanted that he declares they must marry. She cannot believe that he is serious and runs away.

Tagliaferro appears and unfolds his tale of the lost baby, the daughter of his commander, who had been left behind after a retreat. Of course it must be no other than Cecchina. The marquis is delighted to learn that her father is a baron.

Scene 4. A grove by moonlight

Weary and despairing, Cecchina lies down and goes to sleep. The marquis and Tagliaferro observe her and the former goes off to give his steward orders about his marriage, instructing Tagliaferro not to tell Cecchina the secret as he wants to be there to see her amazement. Tagliaferro tenderly watches over her slumbers, thereby arousing the worst suspicions in Sandrina and Paoluccia who appear on the scene. When the marquis returns they accuse Tagliferro of kissing Cecchina, but knowing about Tagliaferro he is not impressed by this tale.

ACT III

Scene 1. A room in the palace, the next morning

The marquis tells Lucinda and Armidoro that he is to be married to the daughter of a German colonel, who is a baron; and in answer to their questions about Cecchina, tells them that she will no longer be a servant in his palace. Armidoro, convinced that he is safe from a misalliance, reaffirms his love.

Sandrina and Paoluccia tell Lucinda that the marquis is actually marrying Cecchina and she goes in to cross-examine the steward. Sandrina then tells Mengotto that the marquis is marrying Cecchina and advises him to forget Cecchina himself and love her instead, and he decides that one wife is as good as another.

The marquis amd Tagliaferro prepare to tell Cecchina of her parentage. But first the marquis sends for her and asks her to pick some flowers for his bride, a noble German lady with whom he is in love. Having wrung as much as possible from this situation, he then tells her it is she. Eventually he convinces her that she is the long-lost Marianne, daughter of a baron, and she feels free to respond to his protestations of love.

Scene 2. A ballroom

Everyone is waiting for the wedding. With as much procrastination as possible the marquis announces the Baroness Marianne and produces Cecchina.

Armidoro and Lucinda are eventually convinced by the documents, Mengotto agrees to take Sandrina, and Cecchina promises to continue humble and good in her new station in life.

François Poulenc:
Dialogues of the Carmelites

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Oct 97

The opera is set in Paris during the French Revolution.

ACT I

Scene 1. The library of the Marquis de la Force

The Chevalier de la Force tells his father of his concern for his sister Blanche, who is out in her carriage in the midst of a revolutionary mob, and the Marquis recalls the night his wife was frightened by a mob, causing her death after giving birth to Blanche.

When Blanche returns, she is outwardly calm, but her brother, aware that she is a prey to fear, knows that all is not as it should be, and she is later unduly startled by a shadow. She tells her father that she wishes to become a nun, as she is unable to live in the world any longer because her life is a constant torment.

Scene 2. The parlor at the Carmelite convent at CompiËgne

Madame de Croissy, the Mother Superior, old and ill, interrogates Blanche about her reasons for wishing to join the order, and when Blanche answers that she is attracted by the harsh discipline and seeks a heroic life, Madame de Croissy warns that the only purpose of the order is prayer; the convent is not a refuge.

Scene 3. The convent workroom

Blanche, now a novice, reproaches her young colleague, Sister Constance, for prattling happily about her life in the country, when the Mother Superior is dying. Constance replies that she does not fear death. She believes that she will die young and at the same time as Blanche.

Scene 4. A cell in the infirmary

The dying Mother Superior is aghast at the prospect of death and feels cut off from God. She commends Blanche to the care of Mother Marie and tells Blanche not to rebel against her nature and never to despise herself. Madame de Croissy sees a vision of the chapel ruined and desecrated and Mother Marie worries that her wild words will unsettle the nuns. Her terrible death disturbs Blanche, who faints.

ACT II

Scene 1. The chapel

Blanche and Constance watch over the body, but when Constance goes to fetch the relief watch, Blanche is terrified and tries to run away, meeting Mother Marie, who excuses her weakness and tells her to pray for forgiveness.

Interlude

Blanche and Constance hope that Mother Marie will be the next Mother Superior. Reflecting on Madame de Croissy's hard death, Constance believes that she has died the death intended for another, who will be surprised by an unexpectedly easy death.

Scene 2. The chapter room

The new Mother Superior, Madame Lidoine, reflects on the hard times they are living through and reminds the nuns that they are poor humble women whose only duty is prayer.

Interlude

Because of the difficult times, Madame Lidoine gives permission for the Chevalier to see Blanche.

Scene 3. The parlor

Blanche disregards her brother's warning that their father believes it is no longer safe in the convent, as she feels safe there. Estranged by her manner, he has to accept her decision, but when he leaves she almost collapses. Mother Marie tells her she must have courage.

Scene 4. The sacristy of the convent

The chaplain, now forbidden to say mass, has just performed the office for the nuns for the last time, but assures Blanche that he will remain nearby in disguise. When Madame Lidoine replies that the priest will be replaced by martyrs, Mother Martie believes she is urging the nuns to seek martyrdom, but Madame Lidoine corrects her: it is not for them to seek martyrdom.

The chaplain has to escape by a back door as commissioners arrive to read to the community the new law forbidding them to continue their cloistered lives. Mother Marie is defiant, but one of the commissioners warns her that not all will be as sympathetic as he, a former sacristan. Mother Jeanne gives the trembling Blanche a statue of Christ to hold to give her courage, but she drops it and it breaks.

ACT III

Scene 1. The chapel, now ruined and desecrated

In the absence of the Mother Superior, Mother Marie urges the nuns to take a vow of martyrdom. She is willing to allow a secret vote and says that even one negative vote will change her mind. After the nuns have whispered their vote to the chaplain, it is found that there is one negative vote. Some of the nuns are convinced that it is Blanche, but Constance declares that it was her vote and calls on the chaplain for corroboration. She now wishes to revoke her vote and all the nuns take the vow.

Interlude

The nuns, now in ordinary clothes, are congratulated by an officer on their obedience and warned to keep obeying the law. Madame Lidone tells them that although each one is responsible to God for her own conscience, she will answer to God for all of them.

Scene 2. The library of the Marquis de la Force

Blanche is now an ill-treated servant in the house of her father, who has been guillotined. Mother Marie presses her to join the nuns in a place of safety, but she is convinced that she is better off where she is. She tells Mother Marie that her whole life has been lived in fear, and Mother Marie answers that the only misfortune is to despise oneself.

Scene 3. A cell in the Conciergerie prison

Madame Lidoine joins in the vow of martyrdom which the nuns took in her absence. Constance is sure that Blanche will join them. A jailer reads out their death sentence and Madame Lidoine blesses them.

Interlude

The chaplain meets Mother Marie in the street and tells her of the death sentence, but refuses to approve her wish to join the others.

Scene 4. The Place de la Révolution

The nuns go the guillotine singing the Salve Regina, blessed by the disguised chaplain. Constance rejoices as Blanche joins them, singing the Veni creator. She is the last to be guillotined.

Sergei Prokofiev:
The Fiery Angel

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Mar 88

ACT I

The attic of an inn in Germany

The innkeeper shows Ruprecht, lately returned from America, to a poor room. From the next room he hears Renata crying and begging some visitant to leave her alone. When he breaks down the door and finds her cowering against the wall, he can see nothing when she points to the figure which is terrifying her, but orders it to vanish and takes the distraught woman in his arms to comfort her.

She becomes calmer, and addresses him by name, ignoring him when he asks how she knows it, and tells him that when she was seven she first saw a fiery angel called Madiel, who continued to appear to her in his own and other forms. When she was older he told her that she was destined to be a saint, and she undertook a life of self-abasement and penance, until she was 16, when she estranged Madiel by begging for a physical as well as spiritual union. When he became angry, she seized him, but he vanished. Her despair was alleviated by his voice in the night telling her that he would come again in the guise of a man. Recognising him in young Count Heinrich, she had become his lover, but Heinrich always denied that he was Madiel and after a year he left her and now she constantly searches for him.

Ruprecht is puzzled by the contradiction between Renata's wild words and her apparent innocence. Disturbed by the noise, the hostess appears, accompanied by a laborer with a pitchfork. Ruprecht asks her about Renata, and she answers that she is a witch and a harlot and she must leave.

Ruprecht thinks of taking Renata as his mistress to amuse him for a while, and when she calls on him to join her in prayer to Madiel to manifest himself again, tries to embrace her; but she repulses him wildly and he begs forgiveness, now impressed by her sorrow and solitude. She tells him that she has no earthly love to give, and asks him to take her to Cologne, where she is sure they will find Heinrich. The innkeeper brings a fortune-teller who offers to tell Renata's fortune, goes into a trance and cries that she can see blood. Ruprecht and Renata leave.

ACT II

Scene 1. A room in Cologne

Ruprecht comes in to find Renata reading a magic book. They have been searching unsuccessfully for Heinrich for a week, but Renata is determined to continue, even if she has to call on infernal aid, convinced that Madiel will ensure her eventual salvation. Jakob Glock brings two old manuscripts on magic and, though fearful of the Inquisition, promises another.

Ruprecht is now devoted to Renata, despite her obsession with Heinrich and the fact that she sees him only as an aid to finding Heinrich. Renata begins to cast spells and knocking on the wall begins. She says they are demons and questions them. She interprets the continued knockings as promises of the return of Heinrich. Ruprecht joins her in questioning, and, thinking that Heinrich is outside the door, she dismissses Ruprecht, telling him his mission is accomplished. But there is no one outside the door.

Glock returns with a promise of introducing them to the great doctor of magic, Agrippa of Nettesheim. Ruprecht decides to leave Renata behind and visit Agrippa alone.

Scene 2. The library of Agrippa of Nettesheim

Ruprecht tries to question Agrippa about his magic, but is answered with evasions as Agrippa denies any magical knowledge, though skeletons, unseen and unheard by Ruprecht, accuse him of lying.

ACT III

Scene 1. A street in Cologne outside Heinrich's house

Renata is begging at the door for Heinrich to return to her. Ruprecht tells her that Agrippa has assured him that the knockings are the work of charlatans and is astonished when she answers that she has found Heinrich, but he rejected her in disgust, accusing her of dealings with hell. She is now convinced that he is only a mortal man, not Madiel, and Ruprecht begs her to turn to him with a calmer love; but she insists that he must kill Heinrich for betraying her love, promising to be his when the deed is done.

Ruprecht refuses to murder Heinrich, but is incensed when Renata repeats Heinrich's insulting words to her and rushes towards the house. As he disappears inside it, Renata prays to Madiel for forgiveness for her error, but when she sees Ruprecht through the window challenging Heinrich to a duel, Heinrich again seems to her like a fiery angel, so that when Ruprecht reappears to tell her that he is to fight Heinrich the next day, she cries that he must do Heinrich no harm, even if he is killed himself.

Scene 2. The bank of the Rhine

The duel has taken place and Ruprecht lies wounded, watched over by his friend Mathias, while Heinrich and his second stand apart.

Renata tells Ruprecht that she has prayed for his safety and tells him that a spirit had forecast his coming. She now loves only him, but he does not hear her, as he is delirious, seeing visions of Red Indians.

ACT IV

A quiet street in Cologne

Ruprecht, still not recovered from his wound, follows Renata, who runs from the house where they have been living, rejecting his love and declaring that she must enter a convent. She tells him that she only turned to him in despair and accuses him of being possessed by the devil. At these words Faust and Mephistopheles appear and sit at a table in a neighboring garden. Renata stabs herself with a knife, throws the knife at Ruprecht and runs away, followed by him.

Faust and Mephistopheles call for food and drink. They quarrel and Ruprecht returns weary from his unsuccessful pursuit and sits near them, watching in astonishment as Mephistopheles first swallows the pot boy alive, then reveals him safe and well in a refuse bin. Mephistopheles accosts Ruprecht, offering his company and that of Faust to to cheer him up, promising to meet him the next morning.

ACT V

A convent

The abbess questions Renata, perturbed that supernatural visitations have afflicted the convent since she entered as a novice, and warns her that the Inquisitor is coming to exorcise the demons that possess her.

As the Inquisitor appears, Renata kneels in prayer, but the knockings manifest themselves as she tries to convince him that her visions are not derived from hell. As the exorcism proceeds, two young nuns are apparently possessed and the rest of the nuns, except for six, accuse Renata, while the six proclaim her their new saint.

Mephistopheles appears with Faust and Ruprecht, and when Ruprecht tries to go to Renata, he is restrained by Mephistopheles as she turns on the Inquisitor and accuses him of alliance with the devil, exciting the nuns to frenzy so that they attack him. He proclaims her a witch and condemns her to be burnt.

Giacomo Puccini:
La Bohème

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Apr 99

ACT I

Paris: a garret in the Latin Quarter

As they vainly try to keep warm, the poet Rodolfo and the painter Marcello are joined by the philosopher Colline in front of the stove. Another friend, the musician Schaunard, has had good luck and arrives with food and firewood, but suggests saving the food and eating out instead, since he has money and it is Christmas Eve.

The landlord Benoit demands the rent. They pay but ply him with drink and steal it back again, and when he admits to being unfaithful to his wife they pretend moral indignation and throw him out. They set off for the Cafe Momus, except for Rodolfo, who has an article to finish and will join them shortly. Mimi knocks at the door, in search of a light for her candle. She faints, and Rodolfo is struck by her beauty and pallor.

He relights her candle, but now she has lost her key. As both candles go out they search for the key by the moonlight. Rodolfo finds it and quietly pockets it. He offers to warm Mimi's cold hand. He tells her that he is a poet and she tells him of her life as a seamstress. As they prepare to join his friends they admit their strong mutual attraction.

ACT II

The Cafe Momus

Christmas revellers and hawkers mill around the cafe. Rodolfo buys Mimi a bonnet and they join the other bohemians at an outside table.

A shrill laugh announces the arrival of Musetta, Marcello's former lover, with an elderly admirer, Alcindoro. Marcello tries to ignore her, but she is determined to attract his attention, and her exhuberant behavior soon does the trick. She gets rid of the embarrassed Alcindoro by sending him to have her shoe fixed, and falls into Marcello's arms. She tells the waiter to add the Bohemian's bill to Alcindoro's and leaves with them.

ACT III

One of the city gates, with a customs posts and an inn nearby, the following February

Mimi arrives at the inn where Marcello and Musetta are living. Learning from Marcello that Rodolfo is there, she refuses to come inside out of the snow, explaining that Rodolfo's jealousy is spoiling their relationship. She agrees with him that it would be better for them to part.

She hides as Rodolfo comes outside, and listens as he confesses that she is dying and he cannot bear to watch helplessly. She is unable to suppress a cry and Rodolfo runs to her as Marcello, hearing Musetta's laugh, runs inside to see who she's flirting with. Mimi bids Rodolfo farewell, but then they decide to stay together for a while and part in the spring. Meanwhile Marcello and Musetta are fighting and she leaves after an exchange of insults.

ACT IV

The garret, some months later

Mimi and Rodolfo have separated. Rodolfo is attempting to write and Marcello to paint, but they are distracted by thoughts of their absent lovers. Schaunard and Colline arrive with meagre provisions and all sit down cheerfully to their spartan feast, enlivening the occasion with horseplay.

Musetta appears, explaining that Mimi is with her, but too ill to climb the stairs. She had found her wandering in the streets, wanting to return and die with Rodolfo. Mimi is carried in and made comfortable. She and Rodolfo are absorbed in one another, but the others are concerned by the lack of medicines and comforts. Musetta gives her earnings to pay for medicines and goes with Marcello to buy a muff for Mimi, to warm her hands. Colline prepares to pawn a much-loved old coat.

Left alone, Mimi and Rodolfo relive their meeting and past happiness. The others return with medicines and a muff. Mimi is delighted with the muff, but dies quietly shortly afterwards.

Giacomo Puccini:
La Fanciulla del West

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Aug 89

ACT I

California during the 1850s goldrush, the bar of the Polka

A group of miners and Jack Rance the sheriff are playing cards and drinking. The camp minstrel sings a nostalgic song and the miners are overcome with homesickness - Larkens so much so that he determines to go home at once. The hat is passed round for him. Sid, "the accursed Australian" who has been winning at cards, is discovered to have been cheating, and thrown out. Ashby, the Wells Fargo agent, arrives and tells Rance that he is hot on the heels of the bandit Ramerrez, whom he has been pursuing for three months.

Everyone is eagerly waiting for Minnie - not only Rance, but most of the miners are in love with her, and a quarrel breaks out between Rance and Sonora which is broken up by Minnie herself, who separates them firmly. The miners flock around her, offering small gifts, and she takes their Bible-reading class, according to her custom.

The post arrives. Along with the miners' letters from home is a note for Ashby from a certain Nina Micheltorena, a local good-time girl, informing him that Ramerrez is to meet her at midnight. Nick the bartender announces the arrival of a stranger who has ordered water with his whisky - unheard of at the Polka. Jack Rance proposes to Minnie, promising that he will never see his wife again if she consents; but she refuses, telling him that his idea of love is not hers, which is derived from her childhood memories of her happily married parents.

The stranger comes in, giving his name as Dick Johnson. He and Minnie recognise one another, remembering a brief meeting by a roadside which had made a deep impression on both of them. Jack Rance takes very unkindly to Minnie's friendly reception of the stranger and tries to rouse the miners against him, but Minnie quells them by announcing that he is under her protection. She and Johnson waltz briefly, accompanied by the singing of the miners, in the bar's "dance hall."

Castro, one of Ramerrez' band, is captured and brought in. He pretends to be prepared to betray his leader, but seizes a moment to whisper a message to Johnson, who is none other than Ramerrez, setting up their proposed robbery of the Polka. Everyone sets off in pursuit of Ramerrez, leaving Johnson alone with Minnie - and with the gold that he has planned to steal, which is kept in a barrel in the bar and which is now guarded only by Minnie. When he expresses surprise at this, she tells him that anyone who wants it will have to kill her first, and he, already half in love with her, is impressed by her courage and decides to give up his plan. He asks what would happen if someone wanted to rob her of a kiss and she answers that this has often happened, but that she has yet to give her first kiss. She tells him that she lives in a cabin on the mountain-side and expresses her diffidence at her lack of education and experience of the wider world.

Nick has heard whistling outside and Minnie prepares to defend the gold, telling Johnson how hard the miners have worked to save something to send home to their families. He assures her that no one will dare, and asks to be allowed to visit her in her cabin to bid her farewell before leaving. She consents and he comforts her doubts about herself by assuring her that she has the face of an angel.

ACT II

Minnie's cabin later that night

Minnie's Indian servant Wowkle and her swain Billy Jackrabbit agree to get married, following pressure from Minnie - they already have a six-months-old baby. Wowkle watches impassively as Minnie dresses herself in her best finery, including gloves and tight new shoes from Monterey, in preparation for Johnson's visit. He is impressed by her appearance and she offers him supper. She tells him more about the simple life she lives high up in the mountains and about the school for the miners which she conducts.

After some display of reluctance, Minnie gives Johnson her first kiss, but then he suddenly draws back and prepares to leave. There is a blizzard raging outside and it is clear he cannot go, and he declares his love, which she enthusiastically reciprocates. As he has to stay the night, Minnie gives him her bed and wraps herself in a bearskin by the hearth. As they are dropping off to sleep, she asks him of he knows Nina Micheltorena, and he answers "no."

The miners have learnt from a picture given to them by Nina that Johnson is Ramerrez and he has been seen going in the direction of the cabin, so several of them, with Rance, Ashby and Nick, come to see that Minnie is all right. Although horrified to learn that Nina has been Johnson's mistress, she does not reveal his presence and they are satisfied. (Nick who has found a cigar, says nothing.)

When they have gone she turns on Johnson in fury. He explains that he only became a bandit six months ago when his father died and he learnt that his only inheritance (and thus the only way he could support his mother and family) was a robber-band in good working order. He swears that from the moment he met Minnie he has resolved to lead a better life. But she doesn't care about his life of crime. What sticks in her throat is Nina and the fact that she has wasted her first kiss on him, and she thrusts him out into the snow. He is shot at once by the waiting Rance and falls against the door. Her wrath melted by his plight, Minnie drags him back in and forces him to climb up and hide in the loft.

Rance comes back, confident of his prey, but Minnie again denies that he is there. He tries to kiss her and she repulses him. He is about to leave when a drop of blood falls on his hand and he discovers the wounded Johnson. In desperation, Minnie offers to play poker with Rance. If he wins he is to have not only Johnson but her as well, but if she wins, Johnson is to go free. She wins by cheating and Rance, having declared that he knows how to lose like a gentleman, stamps out.

ACT III

A week later, high in the Sierra

The miners have been helping Rance and Ashby to search for Johnson who had been sheltered by Minnie till his wound healed and then made his getaway. Bitterly regretting his bargain with Minnie, which he has kept honorably by keeping silent - much to the surprise of Nick - Rance gloats that she will suffer when her lover is hanged. Johnson is captured and the miners, urged on by the sheriff, are ready to hang him out of hand; but Nick, warning Billy Jackrabbit not to hurry making the noose, slips away to warn Minnie. Johnson, denying many of the crimes they accuse him of, declares proudly that he is not afraid to die, but asks them not to tell Minnie, but to let her believe that he has got away safely.

Before the execution can take place, she rides up, threatening to shoot anyone who touches Johnson. She reminds the miners of all the acts of kindness she has performed for them. Rance is still urging them to string Johnson up, but they are gradually won over by Minnie, touched by her love for Johnson as well as the debt of gratitude they owe her. They agree to let the lovers go, as long as they leave California for ever, and the two ride off together, while the miners sadly bid farewell to their Girl.

Giacomo Puccini:
Gianni Schicchi

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Mar 98

Buoso Donati has just died, surrounded by his relatives, who have heard that he has left all his money to the monks. They search for the will and Rinuccio, who finds it, refuses to hand it over till his Aunt Zita promises to let him marry Lauretta, daughter of Gianni Schicchi. He sends for Schicchi and when they have read the will and found their fears to be true, tells them that only Schicchi has the ingenuity to save them.

Although they resent Schicchi as an upstart, when he arrives with Lauretta they beg him to help them. Resenting their attitude, he only agrees when Lauretta appeals to him, since her happiness depends on it. Since no one outside the family knows that Buoso is dead, Schicchi disguises himself as Buoso, summons a lawyer and dictates a will. The relatives all have particular properties in mind and he leaves each one as requested, but reserves for himself the prize items of the house, a mule and the mill at Signa.

The furious relatives are powerless to stop him, as he reminds them that the penalty for falsifying a will is having the right hand chopped off and banishment from Florence.

He chases them away, except for Rinuccio, who remains with Lauretta. Schicchi addresses the audience, begging its indulgence for his sins since it has produced such a happy result.

Giacomo Puccini:
Madama Butterfly

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jul 91

ACT I

A house on a hill overlooking Nagasaki Harbor

Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton of the US Navy is preparing to go through a form of marriage with a Japanese girl, Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly). He is being shown over their future house by the marriage broker Goro, who has provided the house as well as the bride. They are joined by the American consul, Sharpless, and Pinkerton explains that both wedding contract and house lease are for 99 years, terminable at any time at short notice.

Pinkerton finds this arrangment very convenient, as his philosophy is that while wandering the world as an American sailor he is free to take up with girls from any port, but he will eventually settle down and marry a proper, American wife.

Disturbed by this creed, Sharpless tries to warn Pinkerton against hurting Butterfly. He is even more shocked when she arrives, accompanied by friends and relations, and reveals that, her father being dead, poverty has forced her to become a geisha, and that she is only 15. Butterfly shows Pinkerton the few possessions she is bringing with her, but shrinks from explaining one of them. Goro whispers that it is the dagger her father killed himself with, at the emperor's order. She confesses that she has been to the mission, wishing to adopt her husband's religion.

The wedding is performed, but the celebrations are interrupted by the arrival of Butterfly's uncle, the Bonze (Buddhist priest), who denounces her for betraying the gods of her ancestors. Her family flees in horror. Butterfly is comforted by Pinkerton. Night falls and after an impassioned duet, they enter their new home.

ACT II

Inside Butterfly's house, three years later

Butterfly, with almost no money left, is waiting faithfully for Pinkerton's return in the company of her servant Suzuki. Sharpless arrives with a letter from Pinkerton asking him to break the news that he has married his American wife, and although his ship will soon be coming to Nagasaki, he does not intend to see Butterfly again.

Before Sharpless can begin she aks him when the robins nest in America. Her husband promised to return when the robins nested, but they have done so three times in Japan since he left, so she thinks that perhaps American robins have different habits.

At this Goro, eavesdropping, laughs and Butterfly complains that he is always hanging around, offering her new suitors. Even when one of these, the rich Prince Yamadori, arrives in person, she refuses to take him seriously. Goro explains to Sharpless that it would be better for her if she married again, but she still considers herself properly married to Pinkerton, according to American law. Sharpless tries to break the news about Pinkerton, but she keeps interrupting him with eager comments and questions and, beyond realising that Pinkerton is coming back to Japan, doesn't take in the sense of the letter. Sharpless gives up and asks her what she would do if Pinkerton were never to return and she answers that she would choose to die. He tries to persuade her to marry Yamadori. She becomes angry, then shows him the child she has born to Pinkerton. Sharpless leaves, promising to tell Pinkerton of the child's existence. Suzuki drags in Goro, who has been saying that no one knows who the baby's father is. Butterfly is furious and attacks him with the dagger, but Suzuki calms her and he scuttles off.

The gun of the port is heard, denoting the arrival of a ship. Looking through a telescope, Butterfly sees that it is Pinkerton's ship and makes joyful preparations to receive him. She and Suzuki decorate the house throughout with flowers, and, with the baby, prepare to wait through the night till he comes.

ACT III

The same, the next morning

At dawn, only Butterfly is still awake. Pinkerton has not come and she prepares to rest for a while. He arrives with Sharpless, but they warn Suzuki not to rouse Butterfly. Pinkerton is surprised that his arrival was expected and Sharpless reminds him that he had warned him three years ago that Butterfly was taking the ceremony seriously. Suzuki sees a strange woman in the garden. It is Pinkerton's wife, Kate. They tell Suzuki that she must find a way of breaking the news to Butterfly, adding that Kate is willing to take the baby back to America, as the best thing for him.

Pinkerton is overcome with remorse, but Sharpless tells him to leave, as it will be easier to break the news if he is not there. Butterfly runs eagerly out of the bedroom, expecting Pinkerton, but seeing only Kate. She forces the truth from the reluctant Suzuki. Broken-hearted, she realises that a further blow is in store, understanding that she is being asked to part with her child. For his good, she consents, but says that Pinkerton must come himself in half an hour to take him. Sharpless and Kate leave and Butterfly sends the reluctant Suzuki (who understands what she intends) to play with the child.

As Butterfly prepares to commit ritual suicide with her father's dagger, Suzuki pushes the child into the room, hoping to distract her, but she bids him a passionate farewell, blindfolds him and stabs herself, dying at Pinkerton's feet when he rushes in the door calling her name.

Giacomo Puccini:
Manon Lescaut

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

May 80

ACT 1

A sqaure in Amiens, with an inn

A group of students, drinking outside the inn, mingles with the townspeople. The student des Grieux joins his friends. In answer to some chaffing by Edmondo, one of the students, he assures them that he has never known the pangs of love. To humor them he accosts a group of girls, asking if one of them will prove to be the one to ignite the spark in him.

A coach arrives, depositing Manon, her brother Lescaut and Geronte, an elderly rich tax-collector. Des Grieux is struck by Manon's beauty, and seizes the opportunity to address her when she is alone. In answer to his eager questions she tells him she is being sent to a convent by her father. She agrees to meet him later. Des Grieuz rhapsodises about her and his fellow students are amused to find him so suddenly in love.

A brief conversation between Lescaut and Geronte shows them beginning to understand each other. Lescaut has an eye to the main chance and Geronte is obviously interested in Manon and invites Lescaut to supper. But then he waits until Lescaut's attention is turned elsewhere (he joins some students in a game of cards) and makes an arrangement with the innkeeper to have a coach ready in an hour's time. He intends to abduct Manon, but he is overheard by Edmondo who warns des Grieux and they plan to outwit Geronte.

When Manon reappears she tells des Grieux that all her joy in life is gone; but she begins to respond to his declaration of love. However when he warns her of Geronte's intentions and urges her to fly with him instead, she is most reluctant. Finally she yields and they escape, urged on by Edmondo, just as Geronte appears.

Edmondo tells him what has happened and he then tells Lescaut who, after a burst of rage, becomes philosophical, consoling Geronte with his account of Manon's character: she will not long be happy with a poor student and since he can see Geronte has such a "fatherly" interest in her he feels that the future happiness of Geronte with Manon is assured, with himself added to the menage as "son."

ACT II

An elegant room in Geronte's house

Manon is putting the finishing touches to a stylish toilette when her brother appears. He congratulates her (and himself, as architect of the scenario) on her present position. He had tracked her down and lured her away by dazzling her with Geronte's wealth. But Manon tells him she misses des Grieux and would now prefer love and poverty to her present loveless wealth. Lescaut tells her he has been helping des Grieux to make his fortune by teaching him to cheat at cards.

Some singers serenade Manon with a madrigal written by Geronte. When she complains of boredom Lescaut descides to go and find des Grieux and tell him where to find her.

Manon is instructed in courtly dancing, to the rapturous admiration of an audience of Geronte and his friends. She dances with Geronte and sings him a pastoral ditty, describing a shepherdess pining for her shepherd. The company leaves for an outing and Manon waits for her sedan chair.

Des Grieux enters and reproaches her for her faithlessness, to which she offers a variety of answers: she is sorry, she did it all for him, she loves him passionately. He is won over by her spell and reaffirms his love. In the middle of their ecstatic reunion Geronte comes back. Manon answers his reproaches with a mirror, asking him to compare himself with her and des Grieux. He departs, promising to return. As the lovers prepare to depart Manon expresses regret at leaving her life of luxury, but when des Grieux upbraids her and accuses her of bringing him to a life of shame she promises to be good.

Lescaut rushes in out of breath to tell them that Geronte has been to the police and that Manon will be punished with deportation. Manon delays their departure by trying to collect as many jewels as possible, and when the arresting party, headed by Geronte, confronts the lovers, the jewels fall from her cloak. As she is taken away Lescaut restrains des Grieux as he draws his sword, warning him that he must stay free to save Manon.

ACT III

A sqaure near the harbor of Le Havre before dawn

Manon is in a cell waiting to be deported to America. Des Grieux and Lescaut have made a plan to save her and although nervous of the outcome Manon is persuaded to try to escape. But there is a commotion and Lescaut rushes in to warn des Grieux that the plan has failed.

Manon, with the other girls being deported, is led out of the building and a sergeant calls the roll while the townspeople comment freely on the proceedings and the individual girls. Lescaut tells them a tall story about Manon having been torn away from the arms of her lover, rousing their sympathy.

Des Grieux stands with her for as long as possible. She tells him to leave her, forget her and return to his father. When they come to drag Manon away he resists at first, but then turns to the captain of the waiting ship and begs to be allowed to go with her, as cabin boy if necessary. The captain accepts him jovially - "so you want to populate America, do you?" and des Grieux joins the ship as cabin boy.

ACT IV

A desert plain near New Orleans

Des Grieux tries to support and encourage Manon who is weak from thirst and exhaustion. She begs him to try and find water and when he has gone laments her sad fate. He returns unsuccessful and she dies in his arms. He flings himself on her body.

Giacomo Puccini:
Suor Angelica

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jun 95

The courtyard of a convent at sunset

As the nuns talk and attend to their duties, the question of earthly desires is raised. Suor Genovieffa confesses that she would love to hold a lamb again and Suor Dolcina longs for rich food. Suor Angelica says that she has no unfulfilled wishes, but her colleagues do not believe her, as they know she has been longing to hear from her noble family for seven years, since she had been forced to enter the convent. One of the sisters has been stung by a wasp and Angelica, who has extensive herbal know-ledge, provides the appropriate medication. Two nuns who have been out in the world in search of food report that a fine carriage is outside the gates, but are unable to answer Angelica's questions about its coat of arms. She is summoned by the abbess: her aunt the princess has come to see her, not from sympathy but because, as the legal guardian of Angelica and her sister Anna Viola, she needs Angelica's signature to a document. Anna Viola is to be married, to a man, she adds harshly, who has forgiven the stain on the family honor caused by Angelica's sin.

Angelica longs for news of her baby son, but is told that he had died. Left alone in her grief, she mixes a fatal brew and drinks it. Realising that she has committed a mortal sin, she prays for forgiveness. As she dies she sees a vision of the Virgin leading her child to her.

Giacomo Puccini:
Il Tabarro

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jun 95

A barge on the Seine at sunset

The stevedores relax with a drink and dance after the day's work. Michele is moody, aware that Giorgetta no longer returns his love. Frugola comes to collect her husband Talpa. Luigi's reflections on the futility of existence cause the others to relate their dreams of happiness: Frugola's in a cottage with her cat, Giorgetta's in Paris instead of on the dreary barge. She and Luigi realise that they came from the same village near Paris and recall its pleasures.

Luigi and Giorgetta arrange an assignation for later that night, but then he surprises her by asking Michele to leave him in Rouen on the next trip. He explains to Giorgetta that he cannot bear to share her with her husband, but agrees to come on board when she lights a match as a signal. Michele asks Giorgetta why she no longer loves him and both reflect sadly on how their lives have changed since the death of their child. She evades his question and goes inside, while he broods over the likelihood that she has a lover, dismissing Luigi as a possibility because of his request to go to Rouen.

He lights his pipe and Luigi, believing this to be the signal, comes on board. Michele forces him to admit his love for Giorgetta, then strangles him and hides the body under his cloak. He invites Giorgetta to protect herself from the night air under his cloak as she used to, flinging it open to reveal Luigi's body.

Giacomo Puccini:
Tosca

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Apr 95

The action takes place in Rome, in June 1800

ACT I

The church of Sant'Andrea della Valle

Angelotti, a political prisoner who has just escaped from the fortress of Castel Sant'Angelo, runs into the church, looks for a key and uses it to open a private chapel, where he hides. The Sacristan bustles about and the painter Mario Cavaradossi continues work on his picture of Mary Magdalene.

He has used as his model a fair-haired woman who has been frequenting the church. While admiring her fair beauty, he prefers the dark loveliness of his mistress, the celebrated singer Floria Tosca. When the Sacristan goes outside, Angelotti emerges from his hiding place and is recognised by Cavaradossi as a fellow revolutionary. Tosca is heard calling to Cavaradossi and he advises Angelotti to hide again, giving him a basket of food he has brought for his own meal. Tosca, having heard his voice, is suspicious that he has been entertaining a woman. He soothes her and they look forward to being together in his villa after her concert that night. She is about to leave when she sees the painting. Her jealousy is aroused again, particularly when she recognises the model as the Marchesa Attavanti. Cavaradossi assures Tosca that he does not know the lady, but has seen her in the church, and she leaves, warning him playfully henceforth to paint only dark-eyed women. Angelotti, emerging from the chapel, reveals that the Marchesa Attavanti is his sister, her presence in the church due to her part in his escape plan, as she has brought women's clothes for him and hidden them in the family chapel. Cavaradossi offers him refuge in his villa outside the city, but before he can leave, a cannon shot signals that the escape has been discovered, and Cavaradossi leaves with him.

The Sacristan, full of the news of the defeat of Napoleon, calls the choirboys to prepare to sing a celebratory Te Deum. Their riotous celebration is interrupted by the arrival of Scarpia, the chief of police, with some of his agents. A search verifies his suspicions that Angelotti had taken refuge in the church, one clue being a fan which Angelotti has dropped. Tosca, returning to tell her lover that she will be late that night because she has to sing in a victory cantata, is disconcerted to find him gone. Scarpia, who has had a lustful eye on her for some time and suspects Cavaradossi's part in the escape, plays on her jealousy in the hope that she will lead him to Angelotti. He shows her the fan, claiming that he found it near the painter's easel - a sign of an interrupted assignation.

Recognising the Attavanti crest, she is only too easily persuaded that Cavaradossi has been unfaithful and sets off for the villa to confront the supposed lovers. Sending his agents after her, Scarpia congratulates himself on the success of his plans, then joins in the Te Deum.

ACT II

Scarpia's apartment in the Villa Farnese that night Scarpia eats his supper as he waits for his agents to bring in Angelotti. He sends a note inviting Tosca to visit him after the victory cantata. He is furious when his agent Spoletta confesses that they had found no trace of Angelotti, but mollified when he learns that they have arrested Cavaradossi because of his suspicious behavior. Cavaradossi defies Scarpia and denies knowing anything about Angelotti, so Scarpia orders his interrogation - using any means necessary. He is unsuccessful in his attempt to trick Tosca into revealing Angelotti's whereabouts, but she is unable to resist Cavaradossi's cries of pain as he is tortured, and gives the information.

Cavaradossi reproaches her bitterly. When news is brought that Napoleon had after all been victorious at Marengo, he exultantly taunts Scarpia, who orders his immediate execution. At first Scarpia turns a deaf ear to Tosca's pleas for mercy, but then reveals that the price for Cavaradossi's life is Tosca herself. In despair, she sees no way out, despite her revulsion, which only makes her more desirable in Scarpia's eyes.

In her presence he gives the orders for a fake execution, expressing himself in such a way that it is clear to Spoletta, but not to Tosca, that the execution is in fact to be real. She demands a safe-conduct for herself and Cavaradossi, so that they can leave Rome for ever. As he writes it, she notices a knife on the table, and as Scarpia prepares to embrace her, she stabs him.

ACT III

Castel Sant'Angelo towards dawn

A shepherd sings in the distance and church bells ring as preparations are made for the execution. Cavaradossi tries to write a last letter to Tosca, but is overcome by memories of their happiness.

Tosca runs in with the safe-conduct and tells him that she has killed Scarpia. Telling him about the mock execution, she instructs him how to fall and wait till the soldiers have gone, but when she calls him, Cavaradossi does not move and she discovers that he is dead. Angry cries indicate that Scarpia's death has been discovered and Spoletta leads the soldiers in pursuit of Tosca, but she leaps from the battlements.

Giacomo Puccini:
Il Trittico

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

 

 

Please see:

Il Tabarro

Suor Angelica

Gianni Schicchi

Giacomo Puccini:
Turandot

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Dec 94

ACT I

Near the walls of Peking

A mandarin reads a proclamation that the Princess Turandot will marry any man of royal rank who successfully answers three riddles propounded by her, but if he fails he must lose his head. The Prince of Persia, having just failed, will be beheaded at moonrise. The crowd is eager for the execution and nearly tramples underfoot the old blind Timur, deposed Tartar king, who is led by the slave girl Li, who cries to the crowd to take pity on him. Calaf, son of Timur, who had been separated from him in exile, recognises his father. Their joy at finding one another still alive is overshadowed by the continued persecution of the king who had defeated them, who is still pursuing Calaf. Li explains that she has guided Timur since his kingdom was lost, because once Calaf had smiled at her.

Although the people have been longing for the moon to rise and the execution to take place, when they see the young prince led to his death, their mood changes and they call for mercy. But Turandot appears on a balcony and signs for the execution to proceed. Calaf is struck by her beauty and, ignoring the warning of his father and Li, the arguments of the three courtiers Ping, Pang and Pong, and not even swayed by the dying cry of the Prince of Persia, strikes the gong as a signal of his challenge for the hand of the princess.

ACT II

Scene 1. A pavilion in the palace grounds

Ping, Pang and Pong remember wistfully the peaceful retreats they have left to become courtiers under the cruel regime of Turandot. They express the hope that she will eventually yield to love and bring to an end the parade of executions, but they are brought back to the immediate prospect of another potential victim as the crowd gathers.

Scene 2. A vast square before the palace

The people hail the appearance of the emperor, who, weary of so much bloodshed, tries to dissuade Calaf from attempting the contest. But Calaf respectfully insists.

Turandot appears and, having explained that her aversion to men is based on the fate of a princess of her race who was violated and murdered by an invader, asks the riddles. Calaf successfully answers: Hope, Blood and Turandot. Turandot begs her father not to force her to marry the stranger, but he answers that he is bound by an oath. She tells Calaf that she will never be his, and he, touched by her distress, agrees to set her one riddle in his turn: if by dawn she can learn his name, he will die; if not, she must marry him. She consents, and the emperor hopes that at dawn Calaf will be his son-in-law.

ACT III

Scene 1. The garden of the palace at night

Heralds proclaim that no one in the city shall sleep till the mystery of the unknown prince is solved. Calaf repeats their words, confident that by dawn he will have conquered and Turandot will be his. He is approached by Ping, Pang and Pong, offering beautiful girls, riches and glory if he will go away and leave them in peace. The people are angry with him because they are suffering on his account. Guards drag in Timur and Li, who have been seen with Calaf and are assumed to know his name. To save Timur, Li declares that she alone knows the secret and will not reveal it.

Turandot appears as the guards begin to torture Li and is unable to understand what gives her the strength to endure. Li answers that it is the power of love, which Turandot will soon feel herself. Seizing a knife from a guard, Li kills herself. Timur and the people, fearing that her offended spirit will seek revenge, pray to her ghost not to harm them, and even Ping, Pang and Pong feel something stirring in their long atrophied hearts.

The body of Li is carried out and Calaf and Turandot are left alone. He removes her veil and kisses her. With the first tears she has ever shed she confesses that she has feared and loved him since first seeing him. In response to her admission of defeat, he tells her his name.

Scene 2. Outside the palace

Turandot triumphantly announces to the emperor and assembled people that she knows the stranger's name: it is Love. Calaf and Turandot embrace and the emperor and people rejoice.


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