The Plumber’s Gift synopsis
Music by David Blake
Libretto by John Birtwistle
First performed: 1989
Mrs Worthing’s guesthouse, afternoon Scene One Mrs Worthing is cleaning when she gets a last-minute reservation. The new arrivals are James and Marian Singleton, who have come to sort out their marriage problems. The other guests are Colin, a plumber, and Sylvia, a secretary, who are very much a in love and do not want company. Mrs Worthing introduces the couples unaware that James and Sylvia already know each other from an affair which went sour. The social embarrassment increases when James provokes Colin. Scene Two Sylvia watches the trailer for an opera on television while she waits for dinner. James tries to regain his intimacy with her but she angrily objects. Mrs Worthing’s resident guest, a retired naval commander, surprises them together. He engineers a crisis with his brusque home truths and difficult questions. James challenges Collin to describe his professional abilities. Sylvia shows everyone Colin’s love-gift, which is a plumber’s apprentice piece. The Commander bursts out in a tirade against both couples and the party disintegrates. Pastoral An idyllic rural setting Colin and Sylvia sing their love for one another. James and Marian arrive. The Commander, now transformed into the Baron, orders James to destroy the freedom of the pastoral scene by hiring Colin to work for him. He rails again.
The same, A few hours later
As the television opera ends, the Commander falls asleep in his chair. Colin innocently recites his Sheppard’s lore to impress James and, absorbed in playing his pipes, he disappears. James makes love to Sylvia who yields to him. Colin realizes that he has been abandoned and Marion comforts him. She passes on the Baron’s commands to him. She advices him that to win Sylvia back he should follow the Baron’s orders to go to the Hiring Fair and offer himself for work. Although Colin resolves to be true to Sylvia, he decides not to go the Fair. But when Astraea, goddess of Justice, tests him with a riddle, he finds that his skill has deserted him. Sylvia’s innocence delights James, who is now ready to forget orders from the Baron, and to stay with her. Astraea reminds Sylvia of Colin with a riddle. Sylvia strikes James with Colin’s gift and kills him. Colin and Sylvia are reunited but Astraea warns that the end of the golden age is near. Marian surrenders to the Baron. A long-expected storm breaks.
At the dawn of a new day, all the voices express their potential for unity.
A sea-side Café
James and Marian are getting nowhere in resolving their problems when Sylvia appears, and James admits infidelity to his wife. Mrs Worthing and the Commander join them with apologies for last night’s incident. They observe the tensions among the couples: Colin quarrels with Sylvia but they make it up; James, however, is unable to match Marian’s honesty and resorts to cocaine. In a sequence from business life, James interviews Colin for a job and they come to a financial arrangement, which appals Sylvia because she imagines that Colin has capitulated. Colin however makes it clear, however, that now he will work only on his own terms, and that his skills are employed for her. Marian finds herself alone, wondering what life holds for her.
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