Opera Scotland

Fanny Robin

Tours by decade

1970s - 1 tour

1978 - Scottish Opera
Fully Staged with Orchestra

Tours by location


Edward Harper (born Taunton, 17 March 1941; died Edinburgh, 12 April 2009)


The Composer


 Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) and Wessex Tales (1888) by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)



First Performance: Edinburgh (George Square Theatre), February 1975.

First Performance in UK: As above.

First Performance in Scotland: As above.

Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 15 November 1978.



Edward Harper was born and raised in that part of south-west England that is indelibly associated with the works of Hardy. He spent his entire professional career in the Music Department at the University of Edinburgh, but the influence of Hardy always remained strong.

The Edinburgh University Opera Club (still going strong under the name Edinburgh Studio Opera) had an excellent record for unearthing unknown works, ranging from French operettas of the nineteenth century, to the Scottish premieres of Monteverdi's Orfeo and Lully's Alceste. Purcell may not have been quite so unknown, though the Club had already had a brave stab at The Fairy Queen in its original format. To turn to  Dido and Aeneas seems almost a conservative move, but the evening was completed by a new work by Harper. Fanny Robin was composed deliberately as a companion piece for Dido, and was shot through with traditional folk melody with which Purcell would have been entirely familiar, as well as musical references to the earlier work.

Three years passed, and Scottish Opera decided to mount a final production for Janet Baker, luring Sir Charles Mackerras north to conduct (this was several years before his attachment to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra blossomed during his wonderful final years). Holst's Savitri is shot through with folky influences, and Dido was a work associated with Dame Janet throughout her career. What could be more appropriate than to link these two works by performing Fanny Robin as a brief (30 minute) centrepiece? The result was an excellent evening of music theatre, and the new work's undoubted success led to the commissioning of Harper's next opera, the full-length Hedda Gabler.


Main Roles

Fanny Robin (soprano)

Sergeant Troy (singer)

Narrator (speaker)


Plot Summary

The story of Fanny Robin is a relatively small sub-plot within Far From the Madding Crowd, in which Bathsheba Everdene, the owner of a farm, is loved by three men. Gabriel Oak is a shepherd in her employ, Farmer Boldwood is a wealthy neighbour, and Sergeant Frank Troy is a handsome officer of the militia stationed nearby. Bathsheba marries Troy, but he becomes violent and, when the marriage fails, he goes away. As Boldwood courts Bathsheba, Troy eventually returns. He is shot by the farmer, who is then declared insane. Gabriel is able to marry Bathsheba at the end.

Fanny Robin is a servant in the Everdene household, and Troy is attracted to her before his involvement with Bathsheba commences. He seduces the girl, and a marriage is arranged. But Fanny mistakes the church, and by the time she arrives for the service her intended husband has jilted her. She is pregnant, and ends her life in the workhouse.

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