Ring Of White Roses by Les Emmans
& Pat Mugridge
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This intriguing one act opera tells the true, but tragic love story of two young people caught up in the horror of the 17th Century 'plague village' of Eyam (pronounced 'Eem') in Derbyshire.

It is 1665, and is the time in the year of the Eyam Summer Wakes, a happy festive time. Visitors are welcomed by the villagers who themselves eagerly await the forthcoming pleasures. Two of the village girls, Emmott and Ruth, have further cause for rejoicing - they are betrothed and plan to look at material bought from London from which they will make their wedding dresses. Herein are the seeds of tragedy, but, for the moment, joy prevails with a folk song and dance by the four principals - Rowland and Emmott, Steb and Ruth.

Rowland and EmmotA month later, the village is broken by bubonic plague, carried from London in the bales of cloth for Emmott and Ruth. There is talk of fleeing the village, to escape the ravages of the plague, but apart from the imperious Mrs Bradshaw, the Squire's lady, all decide to stay. The prayer of the chorus - urgent and beseeching - emphasises the mood.

The last meeting of Rowland and Emmott is the emotional heart of the work. It personalises the conflict between the hysteria which clamours for deliverance through flight, and the desperate dedication to duty which requires acceptance and denial.

Marshall Howe is introduced to us as another grim aspect of devotion to duty. He is a villager who has lost both his wife and his only child, and now takes the role of village undertaker. A task which earns him no gratitude however because he takes, as pay for his labour in burying the dead, anything he desires from their now empty homes.

As often happens in a crisis, a figure emerges to buck up the spirits. In a moment of light relief, Steb Mortin with Ruth at his side, cheer up the village children with some simple words and gestures. When they leave, Steb re-states his undting love for Ruth.

Emmott and her mother hold a conversation after Emmott returns home from a meeting in Cucklet Delph, a small hamlet close-by. Mrs Sydall, who with her puritanical nature disapproved of the activities during the Summer Wakes, is now a broken woman. Having lost her husban and all her children, she clings desperately to her remaining daughter. In a long, accompanied recitative, Emmott describes to her Mother a meeting at which the Rector eloquently pleaded for everyone to remain in the village so that the plague might be contained.

Some time later, as the church bells ring out to declare the village free from pestilence, Rowland hurries through the village asking for Emmott. No words are needed in answer. A cottage door opens and Mrs Sydall appears, holding a traditional Derbyshire funeral garland - a ring of white roses with a pair of white paper gloves attached.

The opera ends in the style of 'Dido and Aeneas' - with a lament over a ground bass, and the chorus chanting words of St Paul, which takes us beyond the grief of the moment, to the hope of eternal joy and peace.

 
Principals
Emmott Sydall - a young girl (Soprano)
Ruth Hadfield - serving maid at The Rectory (Mezzo)
Rowland Torre - A miller's son from Stony Middleton (Baritone)
Steb Mortin - the local Carrier (Light Tenor)
 
Support
Mrs Sydall - Emmott's mother (Contralto)
Mrs Bradshaw - The Squire's widow (Mezzo)
Marshall Howe - the village Sexton (Bass)
 
Chorus of villagers. (Some small singing parts are provided for chorus members - 'Joan', 'Boy', 'Grace', Alice' and 'Elizabeth').
Two or three non-singing children for Scene 5.

(Click on a title to hear a Windows Media clip)
 
The Overture Orchestra
Scene 1) Eyam Summer Wake Mrs Sydall, Emmott, Ruth, Rowland & Steb & Chorus
Scene 2) An Eyam Street Mrs Bradshaw, Ruth & Chorus
Scene 3) The Cucklet Delph Emmott and Rowland
Scene 4) An Eyam Street Marshall Howe & Chorus
Scene 5) An Eyam Street Steb, Ruth & Children
Scene 6) The Sydall House Emmott & Mrs Sydall
Scene 7) An Eyam Street Rowland & Chorus
 

Duration : 45 mins
Acts : 1
Characters
 
Principals
: 2m, 2f
Support
: 1m, 2f
Sets : 4
 
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