Opera Scotland

Mary, Queen of Scots

Tours by decade

1970s - 1 tour

1977 - Scottish Opera
Fully Staged with Orchestra

Tours by location


Thea Musgrave (born Barnton, near Edinburgh, 27 May 1928)

The Composer

Play Moray by Amalia Elguera.

First performance: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), 6 September 1977.
First UK performance: As above.
First performance in Scotland: As above.
Scottish Opera premiere: As above.

This was the last of the quartet of new commissions from Scottish composers launched by Scottish Opera with BBC assistance from 1974. The first performances of Mary in Edinburgh were greeted with great enthusiasm, and it certainly had the warmest reception of the four, in spite of the fact that the operatic competition at the 1977 Festival came from the legendary Carmen with Berganza, Domingo and Abbado. The music was immediately attractive and the dramatic situations very effective. The plot is not an entirely accurate reflection of history – Beaton was already dead, and Gordon is an invention combining more than one historical figure. It was given an excellent production by Colin Graham and featured substantial roles for a number of excellent singing actors who were almost regarded as resident company members, such as Catherine Wilson, Gregory Dempsey, David Hillman, Stafford Dean and William McCue. It seems surprising that it was not subsequently revived on a regular basis.

Main Characters
Cardinal Beaton (bass)
James Stewart, Earl of Moray, half-brother to Mary (baritone)
Mary, Queen of Scotland (soprano)
James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell (tenor)
Lord Gordon (bass)
Henry, Lord Darnley (tenor)
David Riccio (bass)

Plot Summary
The action begins in 1561, as Mary, widow of the King of France, returns to Scotland for the first time since childhood. She is met at Leith by two rivals for power, her bastard half-brother Moray and Bothwell. Moray does become Mary’s trusted adviser, and so avoids blame for his involvement in the murder of Beaton. When Darnley arrives from England, Mary is quickly attracted to him to the disgust of Moray and the jealousy of Bothwell. When Moray attacks Darnley, he is banished from Court, and Bothwell also leaves when Mary’s intentions towards Darnley become clear. Mary marries Darnley and appoints his friend Riccio as her secretary. Both moves displease her Council, since, although Mary is quickly pregnant, her husband is a drunkard and pesters her to make him King. She sends for Moray in order to have a strong adviser. However Moray is now embittered and determined to have power for himself. Mary realises that she is on her own. Darnley is encouraged into a jealous, drunken rage by Moray and his associates, and murders Riccio during a supper in the Queen’s apartments. Moray attempts to have Mary blamed for the murder, but with Gordon’s help she is supported by the people and Moray is again banished. After James’s birth, Mary is weak. Gordon is appalled at her decision to send for Bothwell, who quickly seduces her. Darnley is murdered and Mary blamed, so she flees to England. Gordon kills Moray and James is proclaimed King.

The Cast

Cardinal Beaton
David Riccio
Earl of Morton
Earl of Ruthven
Henry, Lord Darnley
James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell
James Stewart, Earl of Moray
 half-brother to Mary
Lord Gordon
 Queen of Scotland
Mary Beaton
 a lady-in-waiting
Mary Fleming
 a lady-in-waiting
Mary Livingstone
 a lady-in-waiting
Mary Seton
 a lady-in-waiting

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