Opera Scotland

Confessions of a Justified Sinner

Tours by decade

1970s - 1 tour

1976 - Scottish Opera
Fully Staged with Orchestra

Tours by location


Thomas Wilson (born Trinidad, Colorado, 10 October 1927; died Glasgow, 12 June 2001.


John Currie (born Prestwick, 1934).


Novel The Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) by James Hogg (1770-1835).



First performance: York (Theatre Royal), 15 June 1976.

First UK performance: As above.

First performance in Scotland: Inverness (Eden Court Theatre), 26 June 1976.

Scottish Opera première: York (as above).



The third of the four commissions from 1972, Confessions seems to have had the least successful launch, in spite of the stellar cast (Philip Langridge, Thomas Hemsley and John Shirley-Quirk) and an excellent staging by Michael Geliot, who was always keen to get his teeth into new work. The source novel, acknowledged by academics as a masterpiece, was, it must be said, obscure verging on unknown for most of its audiences.

The form of religious mania that forms the driving force of the plot makes it seem a real period piece, even though the work has been dramatised a number of times in conventional theatrical presentations. Those audience members familiar with the book seem to have considered the work a great success, but others found it too obscure. Certainly the idea of launching it at the York Festival was a brave one.


Main Characters

Robert Colwan, the Sinner (tenor)

Mrs Colwan, his mother (mezzo-soprano)

George Colwan, his elder brother (tenor)

Rev Wringhim, the Sinner's mentor (baritone)

Gil-Martin (baritone)


Plot Summary

During family prayers in the Wringhim household, Robert becomes fascinated by the idea of being 'chosen', or one of the elect. In an ecstatic state he meets a young man who encourages him in these thoughts. He then tells Wringhim and Mrs Colwan of his meeting with 'an angel'. Wringhim tells Robert that as one of the elect he can carry out acts of vengeance with impunity. Robert again meets his new friend, who gives his name as Gil-Martin. Their conversation again has the effect of turning Robert's thoughts towards vengeance. On their walk, they meet Blanchard, a young man. Gil-Martin advises Robert that this youth's religious beliefs are wrong, and he must be destroyed. Initially reluctant, Robert is soon convinced and murders Blanchard. An entirely innocent man is seized for the murder, and the Sinner and Gil-Martin make their escape..

The Sinner feels pangs of guilt about the murder of Blanchard and the hanging of the innocent youth. Gil-Martin reassures him, and steers him to his next task, the murder of his 'earthly parents'. He watches his real family at a dance, but his behaviour is an embarrassment to everybody. The Sinner, taking a stroll on Arthur's seat in the mist is begged by a woman in white to give up his evil life. Gil-Martin appears and urges him on. His brother George is also on the hill, and the Sinner tries to stab him, but George overcomes him and escapes. Later, back in town, George is with some friends in a drunken group at an inn. Robert is encouraged to challenge George again, and although he is himself timid, he is helped by Gil-Martin and enabled to stab his brother to death.

The Sinner has inherited his brother's estates, but is spending his time drinking, to the contempt of the servants. A woman led in by Gil-Martin now accuses the Sinner of various atrocities. Even Wringhim now denounces him, as having fallen from grace. When the body of his mother is brought in he is accused of murdering her and is forced to flee. As he crosses the moors, terrified, he is met by Gil-Martin, and they embrace. At this point the characters seem to merge, and Gil-Martin vanishes. In an epilogue, the Sinner is seen completing his Memoirs as the gallows loom in the background.

The Cast

Arabella Logan
 Dalcastle's 'housekeeper' (The Woman in White)
 servant to Wringhim
George Colwan
 Dalcastle's elder son and the Sinner's brother
Laird of Dalcastle
Mrs Colwan
 originally Dalcastle's wife, now in Wringhim's household
Rev Wringhim
 the Sinner's mentor
 Robert Colwan or Wringhim, living in Wringhim's household
Woman Accuser
Young Man

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