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Good Angel, Bad Angel

chamber opera for three singers and four players

Year:  2005   ·  Duration:  1h
Instrumentation:  mezzo-soprano, bass-baritone, baritone; clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello

Year:  2005
Duration:  1h
Instrumentation  mezzo-soprano, bass-bariton...

Composer:   Lyell Cresswell


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Markheim is a man at the end of his tether. What started as a robbery gone wrong has ended in a murder – a murder that seems certain to force him to kill once more. And then kill again. Trapped, he is made to confront circumstances that have brought him to this terrible crisis. Just at the moment a mysterious stranger appears – but it soon becomes clear that this saviour is not all he seems. Is he the devil driving to further temptation and inevitable damnation? Or an angel come to save him from himself?

Loosely based on R. L. Stevenson's macabre story, Markheim, a haunting story of guilt and redemption, Good Angel, Bad Angel is a chamber opera for three voices and four instrumentalists.

SYNOPSIS: The opera opens in an old curio-shop where the owner and his daughter are having a row. She feels unappreciated by her miserly father and says she'd prefer to spend Christmas Day with someone who cares for her – her boyfriend. She storms out leaving the old man to his gold and silver. A knock at the shop door. The shopkeeper is reluctant to open, but realising it could be a potential customer, lets in the caller. It is Markheim, a small time thief. He claims he wants to buy a Christmas present for his girlfriend. The old man shows him his stock. When the old man's back is turned Markheim kills him. Believing that there is a hoard of gold hidden somewhere in the shop, Markheim is now free to look for it. Another knock at the door. Two drunks are wanting to visit the old man. Markheim doesn't answer and tries not to panic. Finally the drunks wander off. Quite unexpectedly, a complete stranger - the visitant – enters from the back of the shop. He offers to tell Markheim where the gold is hidden. Fearing the unknown, Markheim refuses to answer. The visitant tells him the old man's daughter is coming back to the shop to apologise for her outburst. If Markheim is still here when she arrives, he will have to kill the daughter as well to cover his crime. A dialogue follows with Markheim realising more and more the hopelessness of his position. The visitant keeps reminding him that the daughter will be arriving very soon. Markheim insists the money will allow him to start a new life and in a high dramatic solo passage declares that freedom is within his grasp. The murder is one-off, he claims, and from now on his life will be on the straight and narrow. A knock at the door. It is the daughter. The visitant says Markheim will have to let her in. Then he will have to kill her. Markheim opens the door and tells her that her father is dead. At first she thinks the old man collapsed and that the doctor has been called. Then Markheim shows her the knife. Realising what has happened she sings a moving lament for her father and begs for her life. The powerful trio that follows is interrupted by a knock at the door. It will be her boyfriend. The girl starts to scream for help. For Markheim this is the end. Or perhaps a new beginning.

Commissioned note

Commissioned by the Hebrides Ensemble with subsidy from the Scottish Arts Council

Text note

Libretto by Ron Butlin, based on Robert Louis Stevenson's Markheim

Performance history

20 May 2005: Performed by the Hebrides Ensemble; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland

01 Apr 2008: Good Angel, Bad Angel

03 Apr 2008: Good Angel, Bad Angel

04 Apr 2008: Good Angel, Bad Angel

06 Apr 2008: Good Angel, Bad Angel

08 Apr 2008: Kiwi Shorts Opera Festival

11 Apr 2008: Good Angel, Bad Angel

11 Apr 2008: Kiwi Shorts Opera Festival 3

Performed by the Hebrides Ensemble

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