Opera Scotland

Undertaker The Undertaker

Tours by decade

1960s - 1 tour

1969 - Scottish Opera
Fully Staged with Orchestra

Tours by location


John Purser (born Glasgow, 1942).


The composer





First performance: Edinburgh (Gateway Theatre), 1 September 1969.

First performance in UK: As above.

First performance in Scotland; As above.

Scottish Opera première: As above.



This short one-act comedy, lasting barely half an hour, was commissioned rather hurriedly by Scottish Television as a companion piece for its earlier commission, Robin Orr's Full Circle, a rather more serious piece. Its purpose was to provide a late-night entertainment to launch the company's newly-converted Edinburgh colour studios - the old Gateway Theatre on Leith Walk. The opera was subsequently televised.



Juliette, a girl (soprano)

Pierre, a boy (tenor)

The Undertaker (bass)

Marie, a prostitute (soprano)

An Abbot (baritone)


Plot Summary

The programme note was as follows:

The story is set in the South of France. Anytime. A room-full of coffins.

The Boy chases the Girl. She resists and runs away. The Undertaker enters and calls back the Boy. He explains to the Boy that the villagers buy their coffins in advance on account of the heat of the climate, which requires a quick burial. He offers the Boy some wine which he received from the Abbot when the latter died.

It transpires that the Undertaker keeps this wine in the coffins. The Prostitute (upon whom the Abbot sired a child) enters and announces a death. The coffin affected is the largest and they set about emptying it. The Undertaker sends the Prostitute to find a girl to make up a foursome. The Angelus sounds and the Undertaker and Boy kneel and pray.

The Prostitute returns with the Girl, who ignores the Boy in favour of the Undertaker, while the Boy ignores her in favour of the Prostitute. An orgy develops, but the Girl loses her nerve and the Undertaker accuses her of leading him on to no purpose. The Prostitute tells the Boy that even the old Abbot was a better lover than he is. The Abbot himself emerges from a coffin.

The Boy and Girl, upset and terrified, seek comfort in each other and embrace. The Prostitute embraces the Abbot, who orders the Undertaker to return to his coffin and suggests to the Prostitute that she share his. She declines. The Abbot comments upon the reconciliation of the Boy and Girl. Then he and the Prostitute return to their respective coffins.

The Boy and Girl, unaware that the questionable reality of their experiences was perhaps their own imagining, sing of love.

The Cast

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