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Music Text

Libretto by the composer, based on the novel `A Mirror of Witches' by Esther Forbes (E)

Scoring

Major roles: 2S,M,C,2T,Bar,BBar,B; minor roles: S,T,2Bar,
3 speakers; chorus;
2(II=picc).2(II=corA).2(II=bcl).2-4.2.2.1-timp.perc(4)xyl/vib/SD/TD/BD/tamb/susp.cym/crash cym/ant.cym/ant.chimes/stone wind chimes/chimes/tpl.cl/wdbl/chinese tpl.bl/gong/bells/bell tree/whip/vibraslap-harp-cel-
pft-strings

Abbreviations (PDF)

Publisher

Boosey & Hawkes

Territory
This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.

World Premiere
2/27/1976
Houston, Texas
David Pountney, director
Conductor: Christopher Keene
Company: Houston Grand Opera

Roles

Silas, the tavern keeper baritone
Deacon Thumb, a prosperous farmer tenor
Titus Thumb, his son baritone
Jared Bilby, a former sea captain bass
Mr. Zelley, a clergyman bass-baritone
Goody Goochy, the village midwife-undertaker contralto
Town Crier tenor
Hannah Bilby, Jared Bilby's wife mezzo-soprano
Doll Bilby, the Bilby's foster daughter soprano
Mrs. Thumb, wife of Deacon Thumb soprano
Sorrow, twin daughter of Deacon and Mrs. Thumb soprano
Labour, twin daughter of Deacon and Mrs. Thumb soprano
First Suitor, suitor of the widowed Hannah Bilby tenor
Second Suitor, suitor of the widowed Hannah Bilby baritone
Shad tenor
Mr. Kleaver, the village doctor baritone
Captain Buzzey, the local constable baritone
Mr. Increase Mather bass
A Young Boy non-singing
Goody Greene non-singing
A Servant Boy non-singing
Judge Bride non-singing
Judge Lollimour non-singing
People of Cowan Corners and Salem, Deputies, Judges' retinue non-singing
Time and Place

1671-73, Cowan Corners, Massachusetts

Synopsis

Setting: Cowan Corners, a Puritan Massachusetts colony, 1671–73.

Jared Bilby, a former sea captain, stops in at the Black Moon Tavern, where he will pick up a trunk full of dresses he ordered for his foster daughter, Doll. Deacon Thumb asks Bilby to join him and his son Titus for a drink, and Thumb reveals that Titus wants to marry Doll. Just then, a Town Crier announces that a townswoman has been arrested as a witch, and Titus denounces the superstition that has gripped the town. That evening, Titus comes to the Bilbys’ home to ask Doll to marry him. She turns him down, explaining that as a young girl in France, she witnessed the burning of her parents as witches and is worried she might be a witch herself.

One night, Doll meets a striking young man she has never seen before. She is instantly drawn to him; he tells her he is a demon and will stay with her ten nights. At the end of the ten days, he and Doll perform a ceremony that unites them as husband and wife and he departs. Not long after, some friends of Doll’s fall ill, and witchcraft is thought to be the cause. Suspicion falls upon Doll, and she is arrested.

Doll claims she is a witch and is now carrying the child of her demon husband. As proof that this is not just a wild fantasy, she shows a medallion her lover gave her. Mr. Zelley, the clergyman, immediately recognizes it and now knows that Doll has been cruelly deceived by his son, Shad, whom he long ago disowned. But Zelley’s description of Shad doesn’t match Doll’s memory of him, and she refuses to believe that Shad and her lover were one and the same. Clinging to her love for her demon husband, Doll dies in jail, giving birth to a stillborn child.

Moods

Dramatic, Tragic

Subjects



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