Opera Scotland

Hermiston

Music

Robin Orr (born Brechin, 2 June 1909; died Cambridge, 9 April 2006).

Text

Bill Bryden (born 1942).

Source

Unfinished novel Weir of Hermiston (pub 1896) by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94).

 

Premières

First performance: Edinburgh (King's Theatre), 27 August 1975).

First performance in UK: As above.

First performance in Scotland: As above.

Scottish Opera première: As above.

 

Background

In 1972, Scottish Opera commissioned a group of four modestly-scaled new operas. The brief meant that forces required must not exceed a chorus of 36 and orchestra of 45; and the works not excessively long; and suitable for touring. Hermiston had a lot to live up to after the success of The Catiline Conspiracy the year before. At the Festival, there was also the intriguing juxtaposition of Catherine Gayer giving a superb performance, with her home company from Berlin, of Berg's Lulu. It was a challenge for the new piece to live in such company, though much of Orr's music was immediately interesting, attractive and dramatic. The librettist made a generally fine job of completing the plot, and Toby Robertson, as director, was also involved from the start. It is very unfortunate that the work was never revived.

The unfinished novel has a denouement left open at the time of the author's death. One theory is that Stevenson intended Archie and Christina to escape to America. Another is that Archie is hanged. In both cases the judge dies. Stevenson even seems to have wondered whether a judge would have been permitted to sit in judgment on, and condemn, his own son. Sadly, it would have needed a genius of Stevenson's talent to avoid the potential hazards of too much melodrama. The Bryden / Orr solution involved a Lucia-like mad scene for Christina, and the death by coronary of the judge, tortured by the knowledge that his son would be executed.

 

Main Characters

Adam Weir, Lord Hermiston, Lord Justice Clerk (bass)

Archie Weir, his son (baritone)

Frank Innes, Archie's friend (tenor)

Kirstie, housekeeper at Hermiston (mezzo-soprano)

Christina Elliot, Kirstie's niece (soprano)

Dand, Christina's brother (baritone)

 

Plot Summary

The plot is a fast moving condensation of the novel, with one possible completion selected and developed. Lord Hermiston is a notoriously harsh "hanging judge", and his son Archie has grown up to despise his attitudes. Matters come to a head when a pauper, Duncan Jopp, is condemned and hanged. His friend Frank is an enthusiastic supporter of the punishment, but Archie denounces his father and is banished to the family estate at Hermiston. He is looked after by Kirstie, and forms a relationship with his neighbour Christina. He is joined in the country by Frank. The relationship between Archie and Christina falters, due to warnings - from Kirstie about damaging Christina's reputation and from Frank about the unsuitability of the match. Innes takes advantage of Archie's coolness towards Christina to rape the girl. The country people search for Christina, and Dand blames Archie for her disappearance. Christina has gone mad, and Archie shoots Innes in revenge. The judge comes to Hermiston to find out what is happening. Kirstie complains of his constant lack of affection towards Archie, and he dies, overcome by the horror of these events. Archie watches his funeral cortege from the scaffold.

The Cast

Archie Weir
 Hermiston's son
Christina
 Kirstie's niece
Dand
 Christina's brother, a poet
Duncan Jopp
 a pauper
Frank Innes
 Archie's college friend
Grieve
 
Groom
 
Kirstie
 housekeeper at Hermiston
Lord Hermiston
 Lord Justice Clerk
Milkmaid
 
Parson
 
Priest
 
Shepherd
 

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