Opera Scotland

Ruddigore or The Witch's Curse

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Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (born London 13 May 1842; died London, 22 November 1900)


William Schwenck Gilbert (1836-1911)





First Performance: London (Savoy Theatre), 22 January 1887.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Royal Lyceum Theatre), 8 August 1887.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.



After the unprecedented success of The Mikado, it was probably inevitable that its successor would be perceived as something of an anticlimax. It seems that Ruddigore has never quite recovered from that simple reaction. The subject of the satire is the genre of theatrical melodrama which was hugely popular in the mid-nineteenth century. By this time its popularity was already fading, so Gilbert's burlesque of a burlesque seemed less barbed than usual. Even Sullivan's use of Lucia-style mad scenes as a target in Mad Margaret's music seemed rather dated at the time. The most successful sequence, the 'Ghost's High Noon', was felt, by Gilbert at least, to have been given music by Sullivan that was altogether too serious. However, the 'matter' trio in the second act is undoubtedly one of the masterpieces of that particular style of patter singing. Whatever the ultimate reason, the authors incorporated some revisions after the opening, and although Ruddigore enjoyed a successful national tour, it then disappeared from the repertoire until the D'Oyly Carte company staged a major revival in 1921, for which Geoffrey Toye prepared some far-reaching changes to the second act. His complete rewriting of the finale meant that a new overture had to be supplied as well. That was the standard version in performance and on record for the next sixty years, until the New Sadler's Wells company returned to much of the original music for a production in 1987. This revealed that there was not too much wrong with it after all, and a recent staging by Opera North took that example further, with undisputed success.


Main Characters

Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, deisguised as Robin Oakapple (baritone)

Old Adam Goodheart, his manservant (bass)

Richard Dauntless, a sailor (tenor)

Sir Despard Murgatroyd, a bad baronet (bass-baritone)

Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, a ghost (bass)

Rose Maybud, a village maiden (soprano)

Mad Margaret (mezzo-soprano)

Dame Hannah (contralto)


Plot Summary

In the Cornish fishing village of Rederring, during Napoleonic times, a troupe of professional bridesmaids awaits employment. Dame Hannah tells them of the witch's curse, placed on all baronets of Ruddigore, that they must every day commit a crime. Each one has at last tired of the life and died in agony. To escape this fate, Robin, the genuine baronet, had absconded with his servant Adam, leaving his younger brother, Despard, to inherit the title and bacome bad in his turn. Rose and Robin have been courting, but are too diffident to take things further, Richard, Robin's foster-brother and newly returned from sea, offers to help, but ends up proposing to Rose himself and being accepted. Mad Margaret has been driven to insanity because she was jilted by Sir Despard when he inherited the title. He, meanwhile, gets his daily crime out of the way and spends the rest of the day doing good to compensate. When Rose returns to Robin, Richard reveals the secret that Robin is in fact Despard's elder brother, and therefore the true baronet, who is now obliged to assume the title.

Up at Ruddigore Castle, Robin, now in proper character as Sir Ruthven, is not enjoying his new role, because the crimes he commits, such as forging his own will, do not pass muster with his ancestors, who, led by Sir Roderic, emerge from their portraits at regular intervals in spectral form. They order him to do something serious - abduct a lady from the village. Adam goes off to do the deed. Despard and Margaret arrive, dressed soberly and leading a life of good works in the education sector. They want Ruthven to see the error of his ways. When Adam returns with his victim in a sack this turns out to be Dame Hannah. The resultant noise arouses Sir Roderic from his portrait. As with Margaret, Hannah had been jilted a generation earlier when he inherited. The solution arrived at by Ruthven is that to fail to commit a daily crime was tantamount to suicide, but that suicide was (at least in Victorian times), itself a crime, and that therefore Sir Roderic should not have died at all. Restored to life and property, he is reunited with Hannah, and Ruthven can marry Rose. Richard ends up with the lead bridesmaid.

The Cast

Dame Hannah
 Rose's Aunt
Mad Margaret
Old Adam Goodheart
 Robin's Faithful Servant
Richard Dauntless
 Robin's Foster-brother, a Sailor
Rose Maybud
 a Village Maiden
 a Professional Bridesmaid
Sir Despard Murgatroyd
 of Ruddigore, a Wicked Baronet
Sir Roderic Murgatroyd
 the Twenty-First Baronet
Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd
 disguised as Robin Oakapple, a Young Farmer
 a Professional Bridesmaid

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