Alison Jones's Opera Plot Summaries.

George Friderick Handel:

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jan 98


Admeto, King of Thessaly, is mortally ill. His brother Trasimede is reported to be sighing over the portrait of a woman (Antigona). When Admeto's wife Alceste prays to Apollo for his recovery, she is answered by a voice from the statue of the god: Admeto can only be saved if someone consents to die in his place. Alceste prepares to sacrifice herself for her husband.

Antigona, a Trojan princess, who was once betrothed to Admeto (sight unseen) and her companion Meraspe prepare to go to the palace, disguised as a shepherdess and shepherd.

Alceste kills herself and her husband recovers his health to find his wife dead. He begs Ercole (Hercules) to rescue her from Hades. Meanwhile Antigona, who has heard the news and hopes to marry Admeto, meets Trasimede, who recognises her, but she insists she is only a shepherdess. He engages her and Meraspe as gardeners.


Ercole rescues Alceste from the furies in hell. The portrait of Antigona, which Trasimede had thrown away, is brought to Admeto who admires its beauty but does not believe it to be Antigona, believing her to have died in Troy. He had been deceived by his brother who, entrusted with bringing Antigona from Troy, had fallen in love with her himself and given Admeto a false portrait.

Antigona still hopes to marry Admeto, but he is still distracted by grief at the loss of his wife. Alceste plans to return to the palace in disguise, to test her husband's fidelity; Ercole will assist her by pretending to Admeto that his mission had been unsuccessful. Disguised as a soldier, Alceste overhears Antigona declaring her love for Admeto and her hopes of marrying him. She interrogates Antigona, who is evasive about her prospects of marrying Admeto.


Meraspe reveals Antigona's true identity to Admeto. When Ercole reports on his purportedly unsuccessful rescue attempt, Admeto decides to marry Antigona.

Still disguised as a soldier, Alceste confronts Antigona and is arrested by a courtier. Ercole rescues her and tells her that Admeto is about to marry another woman.

As Admeto is about to take a new wife, the jealous Trasimede tries to kill his brother, who is saved by Alceste.

Admeto forgives Trasimede, who now hopes for Antigona, who has to yield her hopes of Admeto in favor of his restored wife.

George Friderick Handel:

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Feb 96

All the action takes place on Alcina's enchanted island.


Scene 1. A deserted spot surrounded by hills

Bradamante, disguised as her brother Ricciardo, and her tutor Melisso have been ship-wrecked and cast ashore while searching for her lover Ruggiero. They meet Morgana, Alcina's sister, who falls in love with the disguised Bradamante and promises to take them to Alcina. With a clap of thunder the hills part and Alcina is revealed, surrounded by her court, including Ruggiero and a young boy called Oberto. She receives the travellers graciously and tells Ruggiero to show them the sights of the island.

Bradamante confronts Ruggiero, who recognises her as Ricciardo but denies any interest in Ricciardo's sister - he is the faithful lover of Alcina.

He runs off to find her and Oberto asks the travellers if they have seen his father Astolfo. They too had been cast ashore by a storm, but his father, after a welcome from Alcina, had disappeared. Bradamante suspects that Astolfo has been changed into a wild beast, like Alcina's other victims.

Oronte, Alcina's commander-in-chief, rightly suspecting the constancy of Morgana, whom he loves, charges Bradamante with having stolen Morgana's love. Morgana defends Bradamante and insults Oronte. Bradamante tries to calm their mutual recriminations.

Scene 2. A room in Alcina's palace

Oronte, coming upon Ruggiero who is sighing for the absent Alcina, decides to alleviate his own jealousy by making Ruggiero jealous too, and concocts a tale that Alcina now loves "Ricciardo" and will no doubt soon add Ruggiero to her collection of discarded and transformed lovers. Ruggiero believes him and heaps reproaches on the puzzled Alcina, who assures him that her feelings are unchanged.

Bradamante accuses Ruggiero of disloyalty, but he retaliates with defiance, accusing her, as Ricciardo, of having stolen Alcina's love. Bradamante discloses her identity, but Melisso, worried that Ruggiero is not yet ready for this information, convinces him that she is not really Bradamante.

Morgana warns Bradamante that Ruggiero has persuaded Alcina to change her into a wild beast, so Bradamante tells Morgana to assure Ruggiero that she does not love Alcina, but another. Morgana departs happily, thinking she is that other.

Alcina laments Ruggiero's jealousy, hoping that their love will soon be as untroubled as before.


Scene 1. A room in Alcina's palace

Melisso, disguised as Ruggiero's tutor Atlante, reproaches him with having abandoned the path of glory and gives him a magic ring which brings him to his senses.

Ruggiero regrets his faithlessness to Bradamante and wishes to send a message of defiance to Alcina, but Melisso advises him to pretend that he still loves her and make his escape on the pretext of going hunting. Bradamante again reveals her identity, only to have Ruggiero reject this revelation as another of Alcina's deceptions.

Scene 2. Near the palace gardens

Alcina is preparing to change Ricciardo into a wild beast to appease Ruggiero, while Morgana tries to dissuade her and Ruggiero assures her that he is no longer jealous, so drastic measures are no longer necessary. Alcina notices that Ruggiero is not in his usual spirits and he suggests a hunt as a restorative. She consents and he departs. Oberto continues to lament his father's disappearance and Alcina falsely raises his hopes of a speedy reunion.

Oronte brings the news that Ruggiero is planning to flee and Alcina prepares to foil this plan. Oronte tells Morgana that her new love is about to leave her, but she refuses to believe this and departs scornfully, leaving him to lament her power over him.

Ruggiero is at last convinced that Bradamante is really herself. Morgana discovers them embracing, and, apparently taking in her stride the revelation that Bradamante is a woman, reproaches her with being a faithless guest and Ruggiero with betraying Alcina. Ruggiero looks forward to the ending of the enchantments.

Scene 3. An underground magic chamber

Alcina begins to make spells to bind Ruggiero to her, but loses heart and casts her wand aside.


Scene 1. The entrance to the palace

Morgana tries to ingratiate herself with Oronte, who pretends indifference, but has to admit to himself that he still loves her. Alcina upbraids Ruggiero for trying to leave her. He tells her that his betrothed Bradamante now has his love, and she threatens vengeance, though unable to obliterate her tender feelings for him. Bradamante and Melisso join Ruggiero to plan their campaign. Melisso tells them that the island is surrrounded by Alcina's enchanted monsters and advises Ruggiero to take the Gorgonian shield and the winged horse (items not previously mentioned) to help him in the fray. Although worried at leaving his beloved, Ruggiero sets off, followed by Melisso and Bradamante, who vows to free those lying under enchantment. Oronte announces to Alcina the complete defeat of her forces and she laments her cruel fate.

Scene 2. Outside the palace

Alcina tries to make Oberto kill a lion, but he realises that it is his father, and threatens to turn the spear on Alcina herself. Ruggiero and Bradmante confront Alcina, each advising the other not to be taken in by her deceptions. She tries both pleading and threats in vain.

Ruggiero returns the defeated Oronte's sword and then smashes the urn which holds Alcina's secret power. All her spells are broken and the rocks, trees and animals, including Astolfo, Oberto's father, resume their human shapes. They rejoice at their liberty and all celebrate the triumph of love.

George Friderick Handel:
Giulio Cesare

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jun 94


Scene 1. A bridge over the Nile

The people of Egypt acclaim the exultant Giulio Cesare, who has just defeated his rival Pompeo (Pompey) in battle. When Cornelia and Sesto, wife and son of Pompeo, come to beg Cesare for a cessation of hostilities, the Roman tribune Curio confesses that he has long loved Cornelia. Cesare agrees to receive Pompeo if he comes in peace, but Achilla, general of Tolomeo, King of Egypt, brings the head of Pompeo as a token of friendship, offering hospitality at the same time. Cesare angrily rejects the cruel deed and Cornelia faints. Achilla is struck by her beauty. Recovering from her swoon, Cornelia wishes to kill herself, but is restrained by Curio, who offers to avenge her if she will be his wife. She rejects his offer. She can find no source of comfort, but Sesto resolves to seek vengeance.

Scene 2. A room in the Egyptian royal palace

Cleopatra, co-ruler of Egypt with her brother Tolomeo, resolves to be sole ruler. Hearing from her confidant Nireno of Tolomeo's overtures to Cesare, she decides to go to Cesare herself, to press her claim to the throne.

Tolomeo confronts her, suggesting she return to women's weapons, the needle and spindle, and leave Egypt to him, but she answers him spiritedly and sets off with Nireno.

Achilla reports to Tolomeo who is angered at Cesare's rejection. Achilla suggests that Cesare be killed as Pompeo was, and offers to carry out the deed if Tolomeo will grant him Cornelia.

Scene 3. Caesar's camp

Cesare meditates on the transience of life as funeral rites are celebrated for Pompeo.

Cleopatra presents herself, pretending to be Lydia, one of her own attendants. He is bewitched by her beauty and promises her redress against Tolomeo, whom she accuses of having deprived her of her patrimony. She and Nireno watch as Cornelia bids a formal farewell to her dead husband and draws a sword from among his weapons, planning to kill Tolomeo. She is prevented by Sesto, who says it is for him to take revenge. Hoping that Sesto will assist her path to the throne by killing Tolomeo, Cleopatra, without revealing her identity, offers assistance to Sesto, who rejoices in the prospect of revenge. Nireno will guide him. Cleopatra looks forward to power and love.

Scene 4. A hall in the Egyptian palace

Tolomeo welcomes Cesare, who replies politely but makes it clear he disapproves of the murder of Pompeo. Neither trusts the other and Cesare likens himself to the hunter stalking his prey.

Achilla brings Cornelia and Sesto to Tolomeo. They abuse him and Sesto offers single combat, but he orders them imprisoned, promising to reserve Cornelia for Achilla, while having designs on her himself. Cornelia refuses Achilla's offer of freedom for herself and her son if she will marry him. Sesto is taken to prison, Cornelia sent to work in the harem garden. Mother and son bid one another farewell.


Scene 1. Cleopatra's apartments

Having fallen in love with Cesare and hoping to arouse a reciprocal passion, Cleopatra stages a pageant (in which she herself takes part, representing Virtue enthroned, surrounded by the muses) for his benefit; he is enchanted.

Scene 2. The garden of the harem

Cornelia laments. Fleeing from the advances of Achilla, she runs into Tolomeo, who offers love on his own account. Her scornful rejection provokes his rage.

Sesto restrains his mother from leaping from the walls to be devoured by the wild beasts outside and swears to avenge their wrongs. Nireno has been ordered to place Cornelia in Tolomeo's harem, but promises to take Sesto as well, so he may kill the king. Both he and his mother look forward to vengeance.

Scene 3. Cleopatra's apartments

When Cesare is shown to Cleopatra's apartments, she pretends to be asleep to find out if he loves her. He is so enraptured he murmurs that she must become his wife, but, still believing her to be Lydia, he is disconcerted when she accepts. They are interrupted by Curio with the warning that Cesare's camp has been attacked by Tolomeo.

Failing in her entreaties to keep Cesare by her side, Cleopatra reveals her identity and declares that her presence will be enough to quell the attack, but finding that this is not so, urges Cesare to flee. Cesare rushes out into the midst of his enemies, leaving Cleopatra a prey to conflicting emotions.

Scene 4. A room in the harem.

Tolomeo is surrounded by his favorites, Cornelia among them. She reacts indignantly when he gives her the handkerchief signifying she is the chosen one for the night. Sesto bursts in, taking the sword Tolomeo has left lying, but Achilla takes it from him and gives it back to Tolomeo. He reports that Cesare and Curio are dead, but Cleopatra has fled to the Roman camp and is rousing the soldiers.

Tolomeo rejects Achilla's request for Cornelia in return for his services and sets off to do battle, leaving Sesto so despairing of the prospect of revenge that he thinks of killing himself, but Cornelia urges him to seek battle with Tolomeo.


Scene 1

Achilla has turned on the ungrateful Tolomeo and gathered a band of soldiers.

Scene 2. The Egyptian palace

Defeated and captured by Tolomeo, Cleopatra is still defiant. Tolomeo has her put in chains and threatens to tame her rebellious spirit. She laments her fate.

Scene 3. The harbor of Alexandria

Cesare had saved himself by jumping into the harbor, but he is now alone, without his army.

Achilla, lying mortally wounded on the shore, confesses to Sesto and Nireno that he advised the killing of Pompeo and stirred up the rebellion against Cesare in the hope of winning Cornelia. He gives them a seal which his followers will obey and dies.

Cesare steps forward and takes possession of the seal and sets off with Sesto and Nireno to rescue Cleopatra and Cornelia.

Scene 4. Cleopatra's apartments

Surrounded by her weeping women, Cleopatra fears that Tolomeo is about to kill her, but Cesare frees her.

Scene 5. Tolomeo's apartments

Cornelia again rejects Tolomeo, who tries to embrace her, but Sesto bursts in sword in hand and kills him.

Scene 6. The harbor of Alexandria

Cesare embraces Sesto as the avenger of his father and Sesto swears allegiance to Cesare, who proclaims Cleopatra Queen of Egypt and they rejoice in their love amid general festivities.

George Friderick Handel:

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jun 99


Scene 1. The Christian camp outside Jerusalem

Goffredo (Godrey of Bouillon, leader of the First Crusade), rejoices that their labors are near to being rewarded. His enthusiasm is echoed by Rinaldo, a leading crusader, who reminds Goffredo that he has promised Rinaldo the hand of his daughter Almirena. Goffredo confirms that the wedding will take place when Jerusalem has been taken and Almirena exhorts Rinaldo to fight bravely.

A herald announces the arrival of Argante, King of Jerusalem, who, with evil intentions (he hopes that his lover, the enchantress Armida, will be able to find a weakness in the Christian forces), proposes a three-day truce, which Goffredo accepts.

Left alone, Argante reflects on his love for Armida, who arrives in a chariot borne aloft by fire-breathing dragons, invoking furies.

Her magical arts have shown her that the Christians will be powerless if they lose the support of Rinaldo, a task she intends to undertake herself.

Scene 2. Almirena's garden

Rinaldo and Almirena are rejoicing in their love when Armida appears and snatches Almirena from Rinaldo's arms, calling on monsters to subdue him when he tries to resist. Grief stricken, he relates the events to Goffredo and Eustazio, Goffredo's brother, and vows to rescue Almirena.


Scene 1. A vast calm sea

Accompanied by Goffredo and Eustazio Rinaldo arrives at the shore and, brushing aside the warnings of Goffredo, is lured into a boat by a mermaid promising to take him to Almirena. The boat puts out to sea.

Scene 2. Armida's enchanted palace

Almirena is lamenting her fate when Argante declares his passion for her. She wants only her freedom and in his infatuation, he promises to free her. Rinaldo confronts Armida and demands Almirena, but she is struck with love for him and offers herself to him. When he continues to spurn her, she transforms herself into the likeness of Almirena.

He is temporarily deceived, but comes to his senses and rejects her. He escapes and she is torn between love and the desire for revenge.

Argante comes upon her while she is disguised as Almirena and promises to set her free. She reproaches him for his faithlessness and he defies her, only to be overcome by her superior magical powers.


Scene 1. A fearful mountain beset with obstacles, Armida's castle on the top

Goffredo and Eustazio come to the magician's cave at the foot of the mountain to ask advice. The magician gives them a magic wand to defeat Armida's monsters. Beset by monsters and thunder and lighting, they make their way with difficulty to the top of the mountain.

Scene 2. Armida's garden

Armida is about to stab Almirena, but is prevented by the arrival of Rinaldo. Armida confronts him but he is rescued by Goffredo and Eustazio, who destroy the garden with the magic wand, but Armida escapes, as the scene is transformed to a plain outside Jerusalem.

Armida and Argante confront one another, are reconciled and threaten vengeance on the Christians. Rinaldo, Almirena and Goffredo are rejoicing in their escape when Eustazio brings news that the Saracens are advancing. Rinaldo leads the Christians to victory.

Argante and Armida are defeated, she breaks her wand and they are converted to Christianity and reconciled and Rinaldo wins Almirena.

George Friderick Handel:

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jul 96


Scene 1. A summer house on one side of a garden

Resting under a plane tree, Xerxes expresses his gratitude to the tree for its shade. Arsamenes is looking for his beloved Romilda who is in the summer house, deriding Xerxes for his vegetable enthusiasm. Hearing her voice, Xerxes is smitten with love for her and orders Arsamenes to tell her. When Arsamenes evades the task, Xerxes decides to tell her himself.

Although he swears that she will be his, Arsamenes wonders whether Romilda may be influenced by Xerxes' passion. She assures him that she will not be swayed away from her love for him, while her sister, Atalanta, who also loves Arsamenes, hopes that Romilda will incline to Xerxes. When Romilda tells Xerxes she does not aspire to be his queen, he blames Arsamenes and banishes him. He continues to press Romilda, who continues to reject him.

Scene 2. A courtyard

Disguised as a man, Amastre, to whom Xerxes is betrothed, comes to check up on him. She watches as Ariodates, Xerxes' general and father of Romilda and Atalanta, reports on his success in battle. To reward him, Xerxes promises that his daughter Romilda will have a royal husband. Ariodates leaves with his soldiers and Amastre listens as Xerxes soliloquises about his love, at first believing herself to be its object, but soon learning that he loves another.

She gives a hasty explanation for her exclamation of anger, Xerxes sends her away and continues to brood on his passion for Romilda. Arsamenes gives his servant Elviro a letter for Romilda, for whom he continues to pine.

Amastre broods on revenge for her slighted love. Atalanta tries to persuade Romilda to accept Xerxes, but Romilda sees through her pretence of disinterest and rejects the idea. Atalanta continues to hope.


Scene 1. A city square

The disguised Amastre learns from Elviro, who is pretending to be a flower-seller, that Xerxes wishes to marry Romilda, who loves his brother Arsamenes.

Elviro is recognised by Atalanta, who persuades him to give her Arsamenes' letter to Romilda, promising to deliver it, but telling him that Romilda has no thought of Arsamenes, intending to accept Xerxes. Xerxes discovers Atalanta reading Arsamenes' letter to Romilda. She lets him read it, claiming that she was the intended recipient. She says that while Romilda loves Arsamenes, he is only pretending to love her, to disguise his passion for herself.

Xerxes confronts Romilda with the letter, telling her it was written to Atalanta, but she still resists him and clings to Arsamenes, even if faithless, but when Xerxes has left, she gives vent to jealousy. Elviro prevents Amastre from killing herself. He tells Arsamenes that he gave the letter to Atalanta, who has convinced him that Romilda loves Xerxes. Arsamenes expresses his jealousy.

Scene 2. A bridge joining two shores

Pointing to the bridge he has had constructed to join Asia and Europe, Xerxes sends Ariodates to conquer Europe. Xerxes makes peace with Arsamenes, offering to marry him to Atalanta while he marries Romilda, but the reconciliation breaks down when Xerxes learns that his brother still loves Romilda. Xerxes advises Atalanta to forget Arsamenes, who does not love her, but she is unable to forget him. Xerxes, also, is unable to forget the object of his love.

Elviro looks in vain for Arsamenes.

Scene 3. A quiet place near the town.

Xerxes and Amastre (still disguised) brood on their unrequited loves. Xerxes accepts Amastre into his service, but when Xerxes resumes his suit of Romilda, Amastre warns her again him. He orders her arrested and leaves as she prepares to defend herself. Romilda orders the soldiers to leave Amastre alone. Amastre warns her that while Xerxes is pressing her to become his queen, he is really in love with another.


Scene 1. A gallery.

Romilda and Arsamenes discover that others have deceived them. They renew their vows of love and Atalanta resolves to seek love elsewhere. Arsamenes hides as Xerxes appears and continues to press Romilda, who agrees to marry him if her father consents. Xerxes is delighted, but Romilda and Arsamenes bid one another a sorrowful farewell.

Scene 2. A grove.

Xerxes repeats his promise to Ariodates of marrying Romilda to an unspecified prince, and Ariodates believes he means Arsamenes. Romilda confesses to Xerxes that Arsamenes had once kissed her and he swears to have him put to death. Romilda begs Amastre to warn Arsamenes, but he reproaches Romilda for her faithlessness

Scene 3. A large temple.

Thinking he is following Xerxes' instructions, Ariodates supervises the marriage of Romilda and Arsamen es. Xerxes is furious. He receives a letter from Amastre accusing him of faithlessness. When Xerxes confronts Romilda and Arsamenes, threatening to kill Romilda, they are interrupted by Amastre, who offers to plunge her sword into the faithless heart, but turns it on Xerxes, then revealing her identity. He agrees to return to her, and Romilda and Arsamenes are free to rejoice in their love, while Atalanta repeats her intention of finding love elsewhere.

Roberto Hazon:
Eureka Stockade

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Oct 88


Scene 1. A clearing at Eureka

Peter Lalor and Tim resent the heavy Government tax which deprives them of the fruits of their toil. When Rede, the Police Commissioner, arrives to inspect their miners's rights, Tim is unconcerned because he has just paid for his, but Rede makes difficulties by pretending not to see the date. Tim is knocked down in the scuffle. Peter points to the date, but Rede, although momentarily satisfied, warns Tim and his young son, who tried to protect him, of future harassment.

The men are angry, as they are not mere adventurers - Peter and Tim have left Ireland to find a place where they could live with dignity. They threaten to respond to violence with violence.

Scene 2. Outside the Carboni house

Carboni and his wife admire the school report of their daughter Agnese, who has to go away to school because the diggings are too rough. Carboni hopes to make his fortune soon, so they can return to Italy, which they all miss, though the pain of having had a son killed by the invading Austrians is still with them.

Father Walsh enters as Agnese goes off to admire the sunset. He warns Carboni against bringing his old hatreds to a new land and when Peter, reporting on the day's troubles, when several men were hurt, declares that it is time to take a stand, Walsh warns of the dangers of rebellion. When Peter, recalling Carboni's revolutionary past in Italy, asks for his help, Carboni responds negatively. He finds Australia intolerant and unworthy of his assistance, though Donna Angela realises that the same struggle is involved in Australia as in Italy.

They go into the house and Agnese, returning, looks forward to the dawn of love. Peter falls in love with her at first sight, and when he approaches her she reciprocates.

Scene 3. The Eureka Hotel

Rede and his men, relaxing after harrying the miners, drink and call on Nanette to sing the Governor's Song - in which a lady of apparently easy virtue nonetheless declines the advances of the Governor.

When Tim brings his son Pat to the pub for a drink and to hear Nanette sing to celebrate his 16th birthday, Ben refuses to serve them and in the ensuing fight Pat is pushed violently by Ben and Tim is dragged away by the police.

Nanette prays for the boy, but is griefstricken to learn that he is dead.

Scene 4. A clearing in the town

The children sing The Wild Colonial Boy.

Tim's wife Ann is worried because he and the boy have not returned. Carboni and his wife bring the news of Tim's arrest and the boy's death. Donna Angela remembers her own suffering at the death of her son. Nanette joins the miners and tells Ann that the boy was murdered, though the police planned to make it appear an accident. Peter is angry at the injustice and Carboni is stirred to declare that he now finds it his fight. The miners unite and decide to begin their campaign against the authorities by burning first their miners' rights and then the Eureka Hotel.


Scene 1. The garden of the Governor's residence

Rede interrupts a party to bring news of the rebellion at Eureka. The Leader of the Legislative Council sympathises with the very real grievances of the miners but the Governor orders Rede to suppress the rebellion.

Scene 2. The plain of Eureka before dawn

Peter is in favor of marching on Melbourne, but the more experienced Carboni advocates a barricade as safer for men untrained in battle, and the stockade is built.

Nanette comes from the ruins of the hotel bringing her jewels for the cause, in the hope that the gift will atone for the boy's death. Peter calls on the miners to take a solemn oath to fight to make the country free and they raise the flag of the Southern Cross. The battle is represented by a symphonic interlude.

Scene 3. The plain after the battle

Agnese tries to find Peter among the dead and dying. Nanette reports the troopers killed men and families in their tents.

Father Walsh finds Peter, unconscious and seriously wounded in one arm and offers to hide him in his house; Agnese will tend him and Father Walsh will marry them. As they set off with Peter, Rede rides up with troopers and tries to stop them. Carboni intervenes and is shot. Bidding farewell to his wife, he dies.

Scene 4. At the edge of the town

Ann watches as riders approach. Peter, his arm amputated, is prepared to go to Melbourne if the trial of the miners has gone wrong, but the Leader of the Legislative Council brings news of the verdict: the Governor has declared an amnesty for all those who fought at Eureka.

Tim and the other miners arrive, having been acquitted and set free. Father Walsh leads them in thanksgiving and all sing the praises of freedom.

Arthur Honegger:
Joan of Arc at the Stake

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jun 83


The chorus bewails the desolation of France during the war with England. A voice proclaims the coming of a girl named Joan, but the chorus continues to lament.

Scene 1. The voices from heaven

The chorus calls on Joan.

Scene 2. The book

Brother Dominic (St Dominic, the founder of the Dominican order) brings a book down from heaven and shows it to Joan as she stands chained to the stake. It contains the story of her life and he reads from it.

Scene 3. The voices from earth

Dominic reads out the accusations of heretic, sorceress and apostate. Joan tries to understand why they should wish to burn her, since she had revered the priests and loved the people.

The people call for her death. Dominic tells her that the priests who condemned her had become beasts.

Scene 4. Joan thrown to the beasts

Joan's trial is conducted by the animals. The tiger, the fox and the serpent decline the role of president of the court, which is accepted by the pig. The sheep are the assessors and the donkey is the recorder.

Joan admits that she overcame the English by her own strength, but denies the accusation that she was helped by the devil. However, the court rules that she has said Yes. The court and the people call for her death.

Scene 5. Joan at the stake

The chorus proclaims Joan a heretic and a witch and she repeats the accusations, feeling that they must be true if the wise priests have said so. But Dominic assures her that the great men who have condemned her believe not in God but the devil, and therefore believe she was helped not by angels but by the devil.

When the bewildered Joan asks how a poor shepherdess could have come to this, Dominic answers that it was the result of a game of cards invented by a mad king.

Scene 6. The kings, or the invention of card games

The heralds announce the game. There are four kings: the kings of France and England, the Duke of Burgundy and Death; four queens: Stupidity, Pride, Avarice and Lust; and four knaves: The English Duke of Bedford and three French noblemen.

They play cards, in a game where to win is to lose and in either case the result is a pocket full of money. As a result Joan is handed over to the Duke of Bedford.

Scene 7. Catherine and Margaret

Bells toll and Joan welcomes them as friends. The voices of the saints Catherine and Margaret call on her and she remembers how she first heard them in her home in Domremy. They command her to escort the King of France to Rheims to be crowned.

Scene 8. The king departs for Rheims

The people of France celebrate the marriage of the miller Heurtebise (representing good French bread) with Mother Barrel (representing good French wine). They are interrupted by a priest who reproves them for celebrating Christmas Eve like pagans while the king is on his way to Rheims to be crowned.

He gathers the people round him to sing a coronation hymn. They cheer as the king goes by. Joan cries out that it was she, with the help of God, who brought the unwilling king to be crowned and thus saved France.

Scene 9. Joan's sword

Joan rejoices at the beauty of the spring around her. Dominic asks her to explain her sword. She hears the voices not only of the saints calling her but also the people, who call her by her name, no longer witch and heretic. Dominic again asks her about the sword and she answers that he would have to be a child in her native Lorraine to understand.

The voices of children are heard singing Trimazo, a carol of Lorraine. Everything is made clear by the glory of spring in Lorraine, Joan explains. Her sword, which was given to her by Saint Michael, is the sword of love. She proclaims that hope and faith will triumph over her burning.

Scene 10. Trimazo

Joan herself sings the children's song Trimazo.

Scene 11. The burning of Joan of Arc

The chorus reproaches Joan for stirring up trouble and disturbing the peaceful order of things by resisting the English and having the king crowned. They praise the fire which will show whether God or the devil was on her side. The Virgin tells Joan that she is not alone, but Joan is afraid to die.

A priest offers her the escape of signing a paper declaring she had lied, but she replies that she is held back by stronger chains than those that bind her hands - those of love.

The Virgin continues to encourage Joan and to help her overcome her fear of the flames. She says that Joan herself is a flame in the middle of France and the people sing praises of Joan, the flame of France. The voices of the Virgin and saints Catherine and Margaret call Joan and she breaks her chains: the chains that hold soul to body. She proclaims the power of joy, love and God.

Brian Howard:

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Dec 84

Gregor Samsa wakes one morning from an uneasy sleep to find he has turned into a giant insect.

He has been working as a commercial traveller in the cloth trade and should already have been up and away on an early train. He is the only one in the family who works and he has been trying to pay off a debt owed by his father to the chief clerk of his firm.

The chief clerk comes to enquire why Gregor has not set off and suspects that Gregor is not ill (as his alarmed family thinks must be the case), as he is always so punctual. He accuses Gregor of shamming. He also makes unpleasant hints about the standard of Gregor's sales and accuses him of tampering with the cash.

Gregor, locked in his room - a habit acquired from living in strange hotels - tries to answer the clerk and his anxious parents and his sister Greta, but his words are unintelligible to them, coming out like the whistling of an insect. At last, using his jaws and hurting himself in the process, he succeeds in unlocking the door and is revealed to his horrified family and the chief clerk, who runs away screaming. His father forces Gregor back into his room with a stick and shuts the door.

As time passes the family accepts the situation to some extent. Greta feeds Gregor, at first offering him milk which he has always liked. But when he finds he has lost his taste for this, she develops the habit of throwing any old scraps into his room. Although he cannot communicate, he is still able to understand his family as they discuss him in the next room, though they do not think he can understand them. They remember how hard he has always worked to support them and how he had hoped to be able to send Greta to the conservatorium to study the violin.

He does nothing but move up and down in his room until he realises he is now able to climb walls and hang from the ceiling, a position he finds most comfortable. At first he likes to look out the window, but his eyesight gradually fails and everything seems grey to him. The only person who goes into his room is Greta, and to spare her the sight of him, he hides under the bed.

To earn some money his father is obliged to work again and finds employment as a bank messenger in a fancy uniform. Mrs Samsa wants to see her son again and summons up the courage to attempt this when she and Greta decide to move some of the furniture out of Gregor's room to allow him more room to move about. He is upset by this decision, feeling that everything that reminds him of his humanity is being taken from him; and he defends a favorite picture, with a frame he made himself, so fiercely that his mother collapses. His father, arriving home at this moment, pelts Gregor with apples and one of them lodges in his back, causing him great pain. While the two women restrain Mr Samsa Gregor is able to crawl back into his room, wondering at the way his father, who had seemed so feeble, has regained his vigor.

Mrs Samsa is now worried that Gregor's room is left dirty and uncared for and that the apple is festering in his back, but Greta no longer feels able to cope. Mr Samsa is now alienated from Gregor, saying that his son has "gone away." They are worried about their expenses and would like to move to a smaller house but feel it is impossible to transport Gregor, though he is convinced they could manage if they tried.

They decide to take in a lodger who tyrannises the family until one night when Greta plays the violin and Gregor crawls out of his room to listen. The lodger sees him and leaves at once, threatening legal action.

In despair Greta feels that if Gregor could understand them, he would realise what a burden he was to them and leave of his own accord. They would then have fond memories of Gregor, but they now think "this creature" has no feelings for them and only persecutes them.

Gregor crawls back into his room and dies, thinking only fondly of his family at the end. Relieved at the removal of the burden, the family decide to take time off from various obligations and spend a peaceful day in the country.

Brian Howard:

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Aug 88

The opera is set on a tropical island in North Queensland


Scene 1.

The family arrives for a picnic. Clara, the Kanaka maid, is excited by her first boat trip. As she unloads the picnic things, she nearly collides with Johnson, who speaks roughly to her.

Zoe is displeased because Ernest has brought his flying machine ( an attempt to recreate a design used by Houdini) on to the island to work with, while she wants to explore. The boatman brings Lawrence's book, The Fall of the House of Usher, which he had left on the boat. Henry takes a group photograph.

Scene 2.

A scene of contentment after the picnic: most are still eating or resting, while Ernest is assembling his flying machine, Lawrence is reading and Clara is watching him. Zoe sings the Petticoat Song, to which Aunt Mary takes exception: "songs like that can corrupt."

Zoe confides to Amelia her opinion that Aunt Mary has never loved anyone, but Amelia declares she has "secretly yearned after Mr Johnson for years" - to Zoe's surprise, as she finds him a brutal man.

Henry, displeased at the idleness of his sons - one with his head in the clouds and the other with his head in a book - contrasts their idleness with his own industry, remembering how he had cut back the jungle to create the biggest sugar plantation in the State.

Beatrice, noticing Clara singing by herself, remarks that she is a strange girl and a terrible servant, and Aunt Mary comments that her mother must have been mad, as a white woman, to have married a Kanaka. Johnson explains that the Kanakas are like children, and describes the tactics of terror he used as a blackbirder to keep them quiet on the boat when they wanted to go home. Beatrice is shocked, but he reminds her that it was because of what he did that the country became rich. Amelia advises Clara to pay no attention to Johnson.

As Clara goes over to Lawrence, Amelia remarks how good they look together and Beatrice answers in shocked tones that Clara is a black servant. Clara hears spirit voices heard by no one else, and remembers that her father had told her that the spirits live on the island, unable to live in the white man's world. She tries to make Lawrence believe in them, but even when he seems to hear something, he continues to deny their existence. Their conversation is interrupted by the appearance of Ernest in a tree, preparing to attempt to fly.

Clara declares that they must leave the island before night. There is a sudden silence as darkness begins to cross the island and Clara exclaims fearfully that the spirits are beginning to appear. Lawrence is suddenly alone, and when he calls his family, a stranger appears and tells him the world he knew is gone and his family dead. Then he vanishes.


[Librettist's note: In these night scenes the names of the characters are more an indication of their purpose, as they are never really referred to by name.
The night characters are also an extension of the daytime characters of the various members of the cast: Skyman ... Ernest; Emperor ... Johnson; Stranger ... Boatman; Mali ... Zoe; Crazywoman ... Aunt Mary.]

Clara is alone and afraid in the darkness, frightened by strange noises and pebbles which are thrown at her by unseen hands, but a recitation of her father's description of the spirits brings calm.

A male voice is heard singing:
Little blackbird
Sing from a tree
Little blackbird
Sing for me.

It is the emperor. He says he is flesh and blood, not a spirit, and that he rules the night kingdom. He tells her not to be afraid. When she asks for Lawrence, he says he has not seen him, but she will be safe with him. Mali brings Clara gifts which please her.

Lawrence, also alone, finds his book, but in this world it means nothing to him. The crazywoman explains that the book is useless in the world of terror. She tells him that Clara has been taken by the emperor, who had once loved her but cast her off. Fireflies appear and Lawrence runs away, remembering that Clara had said they mean death; but they form a golden cloak around the crazywoman.

Mali and Clara are in the emperor's palace. Mali has just dressed Clara in a beautiful dress. Clara thinks she can hear Lawrence calling her. But it is the emperor who appears, singing his blackbird song, telling Clara not to be afraid, as he has saved her from the evil spirits. But she believes he is a spirit and wants to return to the picnic and the daylight world; but there, he points out, she is only a servant, whereas he can give her great wealth. Even Lawrence, he assures her, does not care about her. She is disturbed when he touches her as he tries to persuade her to give herself to him.

Lawrence continues searching for Clara, and is interrupted by a strange picnic which seems to consist of his family, but whose members say odd things and take no notice of him. They are silenced by the emperor who tries to frighten Lawrence and tells him Clara is dead. The skyman appears, but he knows nothing about Clara. Then Lawrence hears her voice and they call to one another through the darkness; but just as Clara thinks he is close, the emperor appears and Lawrence fades.

Clara is no longer under the emperor's spell; she is now convinced that he is an evil spirit. He says he could kill Lawrence, but instead will let him go mad, as he himself went mad after he killed his lover. He tries again to seduce her and she begins to weaken.

Lawrence is in a mist, this time meeting two blind men who have, they say, been lost for years. They try to hit him. The stranger comes to take everyone home, but says it is too late for Clara, who now belongs to the spirits. He guides the blind men away, but Lawrence refuses to leave his search. He hears a woman's voice; but it is not Clara, but the crazywoman, on fire from the inside because the fireflies caught her. He insists that she take him to Clara.

In the palace Mali is again dressing Clara, preparing her for the emperor, when Lawrence and the crazywoman arrive. At first Clara does not recognise or remember Lawrence, but he gradually succeeds in bringing back her memory and they acknowledge their attraction for one another. She hears the emperor coming and he, brought by Mali, threatens Lawrence, but the crazywoman says she has come back to destroy him.

As the emperor continues to threaten Lawrence and Clara, the crazywoman declares that she will destroy him, helped by the fireflies which have given her strength as they bring her death. She seizes the emperor and calls for light, and after an intense struggle, the daylight returns, finding the picnic party just as it was before the eclipse, with Zoe calling to Ernest not to jump.


Although the others comment on the strange effect of the eclipse, it is clear that none of them have had the supernatural experiences of Lawrence and Clara. The family is shocked when Lawrence, remembering the night world, where Ernest flew as the skyman, urges him to try, and Ernest jumps and falls to the ground.

Lawrence's attempt to describe his night experiences fails to convince the others and when he calls on Clara to corroborate his story, she is afraid and denies it.

As everyone packs up to go, he tries to talk to her, but she tries to avoid answering until he sings the blackbird song. Then everyone else seems to freeze and Clara admits remembering and admits that she returns his love. Hand in hand, they join the frozen family group.

Engelbert Humperdinck:
Hansel and Gretel

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Apr 93


Inside a poor cottage

Supposedly working, but unable to concentrate because they are so hungry, Hansel and Gretel distract themselves by singing and playing. Gretel reveals that a neighbor has given them some milk, so they hope their mother will make a pudding with it when she comes home. Hansel tastes the cream.

Gretel tries to teach him to dance and Gertrude, their mother, discovers them playing when she comes home. She scolds them and in the ensuing scuffle, the milk is knocked over. Hansel's laughter is the last straw and she sends the children out into the wood to gather strawberries, ordering them not to come back till the basket is full. She sinks down exhausted at the table and falls asleep worrying that she has no food to give the children.

Peter the broom-maker can be heard approaching, singing a cheery song about the evils of hunger, and when he arrives home, his wife berates him for his alcohol-assisted high spirits. But he has had a good day selling brooms to a wedding party and has brought home plenty of food, which she joyfully helps to unpack.

Noticing the absence of the children, Peter is horrified to learn that they are in the wood, explaining to his increasingly alarmed wife that it is the haunt of a witch who eats children. They set off together in search of Hansel and Gretel.


A clearing in the wood at sunset

Gretel sings a riddle song as she weaves flowers into a garland, while Hansel searches for strawberries. They start eating the strawberries and suddenly realise that they have eaten them all and it is too dark to look for more. They discover that they don't know the way home and become alarmed by strange sounds and misty figures as night sets in. The Sandman calms their fears and prepares them for sleep. They sing their evening prayer, invoking the protection of angels during the night, and as they sleep, the angels appear and guard them (the dream pantomime).


The same clearing the next morning

The children are awakened by the Dew Fairy. When the mist clears a house made of cake and sweets is revealed, surrounded by gingerbread children. Hansel and Gretel approach cautiously and, convincing themselves that their guardian angels must have put the house there for them, decide that it is all right for them to eat some of it. Only momentarily deterred by the voice of the witch, asking who is eating her house, they continue to eat until she emerges and catches them. Unimpressed by her attempts at charm, they try to run away, but she casts a spell on them, rendering them immobile.

She puts Hansel in a cage and forces Gretel to run errands. She orders Hansel to put his finger through the bars, and, being short-sighted, is deceived when he substitutes a bone and decides that she must fatten him up.

When her back is turned, Gretel picks up her wand and frees Hansel from the spell. The Witch tells her to see if the oven is hot enough, but Hansel, creeping out of the cage, warns her to take care, so she pretends not to understand what she has to do. Impatiently the Witch demonstrates, and the children shove her into the oven and close the door. They dance with glee and the oven explodes. They realise that the gingerbread children have come to life, although they are unable to see. Thanking Hansel and Gretel for freeing them, the children explain that if they touch them they will be able to see, and they do so. Gertrude and Peter arrive in time to join in the rejoicings and thank God for the deliverance of their children..

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