Opera Scotland

Amber Witch The Amber Witch

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Music

William Vincent Wallace (born Waterford, 11 March 1812; died Vieuzos, Haute-Pyrenées, 12 October 1865)

Text

Henry Fothergill Chorley (born Blackley Hurst, Lancs.  15 December 1808; died London, 16 February 1872)

Source

Novel Maria Schweidler, die Bernsteinhexe (1838) by Johann Wilhelm Meinhold (1797-1851), translated (1844) by Lucie, Lady Duff-Gordon (1821-1869).

 

Premieres

First Performance: London (Her Majesty's Theatre), 28 February 1861.

First Performance in Scotland:  Edinburgh (Royal Lyceum Theatre), 22 March 1900.

 

Background

The Amber Witch was Wallace's fourth opera, derived from a German novel, which was translated into English in 1844.  The book remained extremely popular throughout the nineteenth century. 

Wallace apparently considered it to be his best work. However, while the opera was initially successful, and admired by the critics, it did not catch on with audiences. 

The initial cast could hardly have been bettered, with Charles Hallé conducting, alongside Helen Lemmens-Sherrington in the title role, Sims Reeves as hero and Charles Santley as villain. When the prima donna moved on she was succeeded by Edinburgh-born Euphrosyne Parepa-Rosa, but audiences were still inadequate.

The location of the plot is the island of Usedom, which was Meinhold's birthplace. His father was the Lutheran pastor there, and Meinhold also performed that function briefly, before he turned to writing fiction.

The Moody-Manners revival at the end of the century was probably inspired by the success of an edition of the novel handsomely illustrated by Burne-Jones.

 

Characters

Mary, the 'Amber Witch' (soprano)

Elsie, a servant, leader of a band of witches (contralto)

Count Rudiger  of Ravenstein (tenor)

Commandant (baritone)

Pastor, Mary's father (bass)

Claus (tenor)

King (bass)

 

Synopsis

The opera takes place in the early 17th century, during the Thirty Years War. The location is an island off the Baltic coast of Pomerania.

Because of the war, the people are close to starvation. Mary, daughter of the local pastor, has discovered a valuable vein of amber. In secret, Mary uses the proceeds of this to keep the community fed and clothed.

Count Rudiger loves her, and disguised as a peasant, makes his addresses, which she returns. However she has also attracted the attention of the local military commandant, who is not so welcome.

Elsie, the pastor's servant,  is jealous of Mary's good fortune. Although she is herself leader of a local coven of witches, she accuses Mary of witchcraft.

A trial scene follows, during which Mary is forced to confess, and is condemned to be burnt at the stake.

Count Rudiger has also fallen foul of the Commandant and is in prison. However he manages to escape and is also able to free Mary before her execution can be carried out. 

The King arrives and pardons Mary.  Elsie's guilt is discovered and he orders her to take Mary's place at the stake. However she is poisoned by the Commandant, who is then exiled by the King. 

Mary and Rudiger are united.

The Cast

Claus
 a half-witted postman
Commandant
 
Elsie
 servant to the Commandant
King
 
Mary
 the 'Amber Witch', the Pastor's daughter
Pastor
 Abraham Schweidler, Mary's father
Rudiger
 young Count of Ravenstein

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