Ruddigore, Gilbert & Sullivan

Title Ruddigore or The Witch’s Curse
English Title
Composer Arthur Sullivan
Librettists William Gilbert
Language English, Dutch translation available
Genre Light opera. Two acts
First performance 22 January, 1887, Savoy Theatre, London
Time of action Early nineteenth century
Place of action
  1. The fishing village of Rederring, in Cornwall, England
  2. The picture gallery in Ruddigore Castle
Main parts
  • Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, disguised as Robin Oakapple, a young farmer, baritone
  • Richard, his foster-brother, tenor
  • Sir Despard Murgatroyd, of Ruddigore, a wicked baronet, bass
  • Rose Maybud, a village maiden, soprano
  • Mad Margaret, mezzo-soprano
  • Dame Hannah, Rose’s aunt, contralto
Prominence of chorus Large

2 flutes, 1 oboe, 2 clarinets, 1 bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani/percussion, strings

Special demands

In the second act portraits of ancestors must come to life. The nicest way to do this is also the most laborious: take photographs of the actors in their costumes, copy them in paint on panels, mount panels in frames on hinges, darken the stage for a moment while panels are turned back and actors take position, then relight stage. A simpler way is to make actors stand motionless within frames from beginning of act two, though they must keep this up for quite a while. The easiest way is of course just to darken the stage for a moment and make actors appear, whether framed or not.

Full score and orchestral parts Available
Level Not difficult
Length About 2 hours. Two acts

It was Gilbert & Sullivan’s fixed recipe to treat totally ludicrous subjects in a totally serious manner. Sullivan’s serious music thus enhances the absurdity of the action. So we get a succession of lovely aria’s, duets and ensembles, well-written for voices, tastefully scored; a stirring sailor’s song reminiscent of Rule Britannia, a very operatic mad-scene, a perfectly beautiful madrigal, a magnificent duet of the scoundrel and the madwoman (the one reformed, the other cured, both crazier than ever), a truly terrifying ghosts’ chorus, and many another gems.


Centuries ago a witch pronounced a curse on the baronets of Ruddigore: unless they commit a crime every day, they must die. The present bearer of the title, Sir Ruthven, is believed dead; in fact he has settled in a little village under an adopted name in order to evade the curse. Now his younger brother, Sir Despard, is doomed to commit the daily crime. On the day Sir Ruthven is to marry the village-girl Rose Maybud, the fraud is revealed. Now Rose cannot marry him; she announces she will take his brother instead, but the latter, having become a good person, decides to fulfil his obligation of marrying his former fiancée, whom he drove to madness by his criminal ways.
In the second act, the new baronet finds it difficult to do his daily criminal duty. When, however, the ancestors in his portrait-gallery step down from their frames and demand a crime that counts, he cannot refuse and so he orders his servant to go and kidnap a lady immediately. But the (elderly) lady defends herself so effectively that Sir Ruthven, terrified, invokes the help of one of the ancestors, who then recognizes in her his fiancée of long ago. At last, by an ingenious line of reasoning, it is found that the curse is selfcontradictory, so a happy ending follows for all, whether dead or alive, the chorus included.


The women – all of them – are professional bridesmaids. The men were originally dressed in magnificent military uniforms; for this there is no justification in the story; costumes of fashionable gentlemen will do as well. In act II the ancestors wear historic dress (1500 – 1800)

Link Wikipedia

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Tags: Gilbert | Sullivan | Knoppers