Opera Scotland

Hugh the Drover or Love in the Stocks

Tours by decade

1920s - 3 tours

1924 - British National Opera Company
Fully Staged with Orchestra
1925 - British National Opera Company
Fully Staged with Orchestra
1926 - British National Opera Company
Fully Staged with Orchestra

Tours by location


Ralph Vaughan Williams (born Down Ampney, 12 October 1872; died London, 26 August 1958)


Harold Child.



First Performance in UK: London (Parry Theatre, Royal College of Music), 4 July 1924.

First Professional Performance: London (Her Majesty's Theatre), 14 July 1924.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (King's Theatre), 29 October 1924.



Vaughan Williams composed several operas which are full of attractive music, influenced by his enthusiasm for traditional English folksong. None of them has ever entered the mainstream repertoire, though most have been successfully revived in recent years, by the major English companies. The only organization in Scotland to have performed his vocal work with any regularity is Haddo House in Aberdeenshire.

Hugh the Drover, described as a 'Romantic Ballad Opera' was his first attempt, composed before the First World War, during a period after his studies with Ravel in 1909. It was revised when he prepared it for performance in 1924, with further adjustments shortly before his death. It is perhaps the only opera in which the two leading male characters are required to perform a bare-knuckle boxing match on stage. This can hardly have increased its chances of frequent revival. This was, however, the idea that sparked the composer's interest in producing an English equivalent to Smetana's Bartered Bride. He then had to find a librettist able to provide the lines for the plot that was already forming in his mind. Harold Child was a journalist, a leader-writer on The Times, with no previous experience, and he required frequent guidance from the composer as to what was required.

The opera was completed by the time war broke out in 1914, and Vaughan Williams was on military service throughout. When he had the score published in 1924 it was taken up by both the Royal College of Music and BNOC. The College gave five performances, described as 'private dress rehearsals' in July, and BNOC gave the first formal public performance only three days after the last student show. The BNOC cast, conducted by Malcolm Sargent, included Tudor Davies as Hugh, Mary Lewis as Mary and Constance Willis as Aunt Jane.


Main Characters

Showman (baritone)

Mary (soprano)

Aunt Jane (mezzo-soprano)

Turnkey (tenor)

Constable, Mary's father (bass)

John, the butcher (bass-baritone)

Hugh, a drover (tenor)

Sergeant (baritone)


Plot Summary

The action of the opera takes place during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, in a small village community in the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire - the part of the country where the composer grew up.

The local people have congregated for a fair, at which various hucksters and tradesmen offer their wares. John, the prosperous local butcher, is engaged to Mary, who views the prospect without enthusiasm. Hugh arrives, a stranger to the area, who has brought animals to the fair. He falls for Mary immediately,and she finds him attractive. A prize-fight contest is to be held, with John, the local champion, challenging all-comers. The prize on offer is £20. None of the men shows any enthusiasm for this until Hugh volunteers to take up the challenge. To everyone's surprise, he wins, but John immediately suggests he must be a French spy. He is arrested and put in the stocks pending further investigation.

As dawn breaks, Mary comes to release Hugh, having purloined her father's keys. They are unable to leave before other villagers arrive, fresh from Mayday celebrations. Hugh hides her under his cloak and accepts the likelihood that he will be executed. By the time her father and aunt arrive - her absence having been discovered - she has locked herself in the stocks next to Hugh, and refuses to be released. She is disowned by her father and by John. When the troop of soldiers arrive to arrest Hugh, he is recognized by the sergeant as an old friend who is most certainly not a French spy. The tables are turned on John, who is now pressed into the army. Mary decides to join Hugh for a life on the road, and they leave the village behind.

The Cast

Aunt Jane
 the Constable's sister
 the Drover
 the Butcher
 the Constable's daughter
Shellfish seller

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