Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse, is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It is one of the Savoy Operas and the tenth of fourteen comic operas written together by Gilbert and Sullivan. It was first performed by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company at the Savoy Theatre in London on 22 January 1887.
The first night was not altogether a success. After some changes—including respelling the title (it had been Ruddygore)— it achieved a run of 288 performances. There were further changes and cuts, including a new overture, when Rupert D'Oyly Carte revived Ruddigore after the First World War. Although never a big money-spinner, it remained in the repertoire until the company closed in 1982. A centenary revival at Sadler's Wells in London restored the opera to almost its original first-night state.
In 2000, Oxford University Press published a scholarly edition of the score, edited by Sullivan scholar David Russell Hulme. It includes a substantial introduction that explains many of the changes, with the deleted material included in appendices. Many feel that the changes made by the authors and in 1920 were beneficial, while others continue to experiment with restoring some or all of the cut material in place of the traditional D'Oyly Carte version.
Ruddigore includes elements of comic melodrama. There is a villain who carries off the maiden; the priggishly good-mannered poor-but-virtuous-heroine; the hero in disguise, and his faithful old retainer who dreams of their former glory days; the snake in the grass sailor who claims to be following his heart; the wild, mad girl; the swagger of fire-eating patriotism; ghosts coming to life to enforce a curse; and so forth. But Gilbert, in his customary topsy-turvy fashion, turns the moral absolutes of melodrama upside down: The hero becomes evil, the villain becomes good and the virtous maiden changes fiances at the drop of a hat. The ghosts come back to life, foiling the curse, and all ends happily.
In the town of Rederring, in Cornwall, a chorus of professional bridesmaids frets that there have been no weddings for the last six months. All of the eligible young men are hopeful of a union with Rose Maybud, the prettiest maiden in the village, yet they are too timid to approach her.
The desperate bridesmaids ask Rose's aunt, Dame Hannah, if she would consider marrying, but she has vowed to remain eternally single. Many years previously, she had been betrothed to "a god-like youth" who turned out to be Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, one of the bad Baronets of Ruddigore. Only on her wedding day had she discovered his true identity.
Dame Hannah tells the bridesmaids about the curse of Ruddigore. Centuries ago, Sir Rupert Murgatroyd, the first Baronet of Ruddigore, had persecuted witches. One of his victims, as she was about to be burnt at the stake, cursed all future Baronets of Ruddigore to commit a crime every day, or perish in inconceivable agonies. Every Baronet of Ruddigore since then has fallen under the curse's influence, and died in agony once he could no longer bring himself continue a life of crime.
After the horrified bridesmaides exit, Dame Hannah greets her niece, Rose, and inquires whether there is any young man in the village whom she could love. Rose, who takes her ideas of Right and Wrong from a book of etiquette, replies that all of the young men she meets are either too rude or too shy. Dame Hannah asks particularly about Robin Oakapple, a virtuous farmer, but Rose replies that he is too frightened to approach her, and the rules of etiquette forbid her from speaking until she is spoken to. Robin enters, claiming to seek advice from Rose about "a friend" who is in love. Rose says that she has such a friend too, but neither of them is able to come to the point.
Richard Dauntless, Robin's foster-brother, arrives after ten years at sea. Robin tells him that he is afraid to declare his love to Rose, and Richard offers to speak to her on his behalf. When Richard sees Rose, he falls in love with her himself, and proposes immediately. After consulting her book of etiquette, Rose accepts. When Robin finds out what has happened, he points out his foster-brother's many flaws. Realizing her mistake, Rose breaks her engagement with Richard, and accepts Robin.
Sir Despard Murgatroyd, the current bad Baronet of Ruddigore, now enters, frightening everyone in his wake. Despard had become Baronet twenty years previously when his elder brother, Ruthven (pronounced "Rivven"), died mysteriously. Richard approaches him, and reveals that Robin Oakapple is in fact Despard's long-lost brother. The elated Despard declares that he is "free at last."
The village gathers to celebrate the nuptials of Rose and Robin. Sir Despard interrupts, revealing that Robin is his elder brother. Rose, horrified at his identity, resolves once again to marry Richard. Despard, now free of the curse, reunites with Mad Margaret, to whom he had once been betrothed. Robin leaves in disgrace to take up his rightful identity as Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd.
At Ruddigore Castle, Robin tries to come to grips with being a bad Baronet, a task at which he proves to be spectacularly lacking. His loyal retainer, Old Adam, suggests various evil crimes, but Robin prefers minor acts of rudeness that aren't criminal at all. Richard and Rose enter to ask Robin's consent to their marriage, which he gives grudgingly.
Robin's weak crimes stir his ancestral ghosts from their usual haunt of the castle's portrait gallery. The curse requires them to ensure that their successors are duly committing a crime every day, and to torture them to death if they fail. Robin's uncle, the late Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, orders him to "carry off a lady" that day. After the ghosts give him a sample of the agonies he would face, Robin reluctantly agrees. He tells Adam to go to the village and abduct a lady – any lady.
Despard has atoned for his previous evil acts and has married Mad Margaret. The two of them now live a life of charity. They come to the castle and urge Robin to renounce his life of crime. When Robin asserts that he has done no wrong yet, they remind him that he is morally responsible for all the crimes Despard had done in his stead. Realizing the extent of his guilt, Robin resolves to defy his ancestors.
Meanwhile, Adam has complied with Robin's orders and abducted Dame Hannah. However, she proves adept at defending herself, and Robin cries for his uncle's protection. An angry Sir Roderic once again steps down from his picture frame and dismisses Robin. He and Dame Hannah enjoy a brief reunion.
Robin interrupts them, accompanied by Rose, Richard, and the bridesmaids. He points out that each Ruddigore ancestor in turn has, at some point, declined to perform a daily crime and accepted his fate. However, in doing so, they have all effectively committed suicide – which is itself a crime. Thus, Robin's predecessors should never have died at all.
Now that Robin is free of the curse, Rose once again drops Richard and happily resumes her engagement to him. Roderic and Dame Hannah embrace, while Richard settles for the First Bridesmaid, Zorah.
Changes during the initial run
The first night was not successful, partly due to controversy over the name and objections that bringing ghosts back to life and marrying them off was not suitable for a family entertainment. Over the coming days, Gilbert and Sullivan made numerous significant cuts and alterations.
The original vocal score, published in 1887, represented the revised version of the text. The Oxford University Press edition, published in 2000, also represents this version, but has material from earlier versions included as appendices.
A 1987 recording by the New Sadler's Wells Opera restored most of the surviving material from the first-night version, including "For thirty-five years I've been sober and wary", as well as extra music from the ghost scene that Gilbert and Sullivan deleted during rehearsals. The recording and the production were based on a pre-publication version of the 2000 Oxford University Press edition, in which the music for these passages were published for the first time.
Revisions in the 1920s
Ruddigore was not revived professionally during the authors' lifetimes. When it received its first professional revival in December 1920 in Glasgow – and then in London, in October 1921 – the D'Oyly Carte company made a number of changes. It is impossible precisely to allocate responsibility for the changes, or to say precisely when they occurred. Two recordings from the period, in 1924 and 1931, do not agree on a musical text, which suggests that the changes were not made all at once. In the Oxford University Press edition, editor David Russell Hulme attributes the changes to Geoffrey Toye, Harry Norris, and Malcolm Sargent, but he is unable to say for sure which conductor was responsible for each change, except that Geoffrey Toye undoubtedly composed the new overture.
There were various changes to the orchestration and minor changes to several numbers, including cuts in the Act I finale. The most conspicuous changes that became traditional were as follows:
The four D'Oyly Carte Opera Company recordings (1924, 1931, 1950, 1962) agree substantially with the 1920s cuts and alterations, although they disagree in some details. None of the four recordings include Robin's Act II recitative and patter song.
The standard Chappell vocal score was revised in the late 1920s to reflect this new tradition, including the Toye overture, the deletion of Robin's Act II song, the revised finale, and numerous other changes. However, the Melodrame and "The battle's roar is over" continued to be printed. The G. Schirmer vocal score published in America agreed with the revised Chappell score, except that it also included Robin's Act II recitative and patter song "Henceforth all the crimes" and both versions of the Act II finale.
Until the Oxford University Press edition was published in 2000, the available orchestral parts reflected many of the standard D'Oyly Carte alterations, although the traditionally cut songs were available to those who wanted them. The Oxford edition has led to an increased interest in the opera as Gilbert and Sullivan wrote it, and has also made it easier to restore passages deleted from the opera. Due to the many different editions available and the work's complex textual history, there is no standard performing version of Ruddigore.