Opera Scotland

Vanishing Bridegroom

Music
Judith Weir (born Cambridge, 11 May 1954)

Text
The composer.

Sources
Tales of the West Highlands (ed. J F Campbell 1860); Carmina Gadelica (ed. Alexander Carmichael 1900).

 

Premières
First performance: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 17 October 1990.
First UK performance: As above.
First performance in Scotland: As above.
Scottish Opera première: As above.

 

Background
This successful opera takes several folk tales collected from the Scottish highlands and picks out linking material to produce three distinct parts, entitled The Inheritance, The Disappearance, and The Stranger. They are produced so that singers appear as different characters in each tale to increase the sense of unity. As with her previous Night at the Chinese Opera, Weir shows great flair for creating character and atmosphere quickly and with very economical means, using a musical style that is entirely distinctive, and without resorting to the use of folk elements, which might have been expected.

 

Main Characters
Bride (1); Wife (2); Mother (3) (soprano)
Doctor (1); Policeman (2); Stranger (3) (baritone)
Bride’s Lover (1); Husband’s Friend (2); Preacher (3) (tenor)
Bridegroom (1); Husband (2); Father (3) (baritone)
Eldest Son (1) (baritone)
Second Son (1) (tenor)
Youngest Son (1) (tenor)
Daughter (3) (mezzo-soprano)

 

Plot Summary
In The Inheritance, an old man dies leaving three sons, but his legacy is missing. It is left to the doctor to discover which of the sons stole it, and he does this by telling a parable at the end of which the youngest son gives himself away. A woman, forbidden to marry her lover, is married off to a wealthy man instead. When her husband learns of this previous lover he sends her to him, but the lover sends her back to her husband. On the way she is robbed, though one of the robbers does escort her back to her husband. The doctor asks the three sons which character they most admire. The first son admires the husband and the second chooses the lover. But the third selects the robbers who got all the money. The bride and groom become central to the second story. When their daughter is born, the husband goes to fetch the priest, but he disappears on the way. His best friend is accused of murder, but is spared execution in order to stand watch at the spot where the husband vanished. Twenty years later the groom reappears, having been with the fairies all this time. He has not aged, and is only convinced of his long absence when he meets his twenty-year-old daughter. In the third tale a wealthy and handsome stranger courts the grown-up daughter. Her parents are in favour of marriage, but the girl is herself suspicious of the man. The preacher is convinced the stranger must be the Devil in disguise, and takes the girl to a piece of sanctified ground where she will be safe, and sure enough the Devil is unable to penetrate it and his disguise is destroyed.

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