2 Baritones, Bass, Contralto, Mezzo Soprano, Soprano, Tenor
With the cooperation of a witch-woman, Geills, the Abbot of Drimock feathers his nest by persuading the dying rich of the neighbourhood to alter their wills in his favour. In a particularly complex case, however, he declines to reward Geills. Bess, whose husband, the local laird Sir William, is grievously ill, has borne a child, Maggie, by the Abbot. Sir William dies too soon, leaving his fortune to Maggie (whose plans to marry do not have her mother’s favour) and to the Edinburgh lepers. Determined not to be outdone, Bess and the Abbot hush up the death and prepare to stage a reenactment which will prevent the marriage and save the fortune. The plans go awry and with Geills’s help Maggie manages to turn everything to her advantage.
This is the first opera written by Thea Musgrave. It was written very shortly after her return from Paris (1955). The story was taken from J. M. Wilson's "Tales of the Scottish Border" and the parallel to Gianni Schicchi is obvious, but in fact this version of the story predates Puccini by many years. They share a common source…Dante's Inferno.
The date is mid sixteenth century in prereformation Scotland. The first scene is set in the study of an Abbot. He is quietly working, a glass of brandy at his elbow. Geills, believed by some to be a witch, enters suddenly. She is gifted with second sight, and comes to tell him that the Laird of Drimock is on his death bed. She is furious that he does not reward her for this information. She accuses him of having cheated her yet again and exits in a fury vowing revenge.
The Abbot starts to leave, but is interrupted by the arrival of Bess, the Laird's wife. The Laird has died suddenly. He has left some of his money to their daughter Maggy, a small amount for Bess, and the rest…to the lepers of Edinburgh. Bess is also outraged that the Laird has given his blessing to the marriage of Maggy with her low-born boy friend, Tam. The Abbot instructs Bess to send for Tam.
In the second scene outside Tam's cottage Maggy is waiting for Tam. She reflects sadly on her future. Now her father is dead and it is clear that her mother will oppose her marriage to Tam. Tam arrives and comforts her.
Geills enters. She describes how the Abbot has cheated her. Now she has found a letter, evidence that Maggy's father is not the Laird, but the Abbot himself. Maggy is distraught, but Tam realizes that this letter gives them a hold on Bess and the abbot.
The last scene is set in the bedroom of the Laird of Drimock. Bess enters shouting orders that the Notary be summoned right away. When Tam and Maggy arrive Bess outlines the Abbot's plan. Tam is to take the place of the dead Laird and give the notary details of the Will that she will dictate to Tam. If he will not do this she will never allow him to marry Maggy. To Maggy's dismay, Tam agrees to this. The Abbot arrives, but seeing what is afoot hides behind a screen.
Now the doctor arrives. He is delighted to find that is patient seems so much better. Then closely on his heels the notary arrives. Tam proceeds to dictate "his" Will, instead of the money going for the upkeep of Abbey and grounds, he leaves it to Thomas Dickson, provided he marries Maggy within a month of "my:" demise. There is also a generous bequest for Geills Duncan.
Bess asks what would happen if the man in the bed is not really the Laird. The notary gives details of severe punishment. Tam then insists on signing the Will at once since he is so ill. The abbot is forced by the notary to be one of the witnesses. When the Doctor and Notary have gone, the Abbot furiously confronts the young couple. He will see to it that no priest will ever consent to marry them. But Tam has the letter that Geills has given him and threatens the Abbot with disclosure it if he should ever reveal what has happened.
The singers turn to the audience with the moral of the story, "Love has triumphed over evil as in proper tales it should…"