Opera in two acts, with a prologue
The libretto is written by
based on the novel
The man who laughs (a.k.a. On order of the king)
by Victor Hugo
plot of the opera
In the overture, an invisible childrens
choir is can be heard: the souls of children who have been sold and crippled,
to spend their lives in misery.
duchess Josiana. The
wealthy, beautiful and wanton Josiana is bored, and she blames her fiancée,
Lord David Dirry-Moir. The bantering argument shows the nature of their bond:
they are connected not only by romantic feelings, but also the peer rights and
the riches of the exiled Lord Linnaeus Clancharlie. Upon the royal order of Josianas
father, David Dirry-Moir inherits the peer rights, while the duchess inherits
the assets on the condition that they marry, for Lord Dirry-Moir is the
unlawful son of Clancharlie.
The Duchess turns to a servant of the
palace, Barkilphedro for entertainment, but instead of a story, she receives a
request. Barkilphedro would like to be appointed a clerks position at the admirality,
he wants to become head of the department of objects found on the shores. The
Duchess promises him the job. The conciliated lovers hurry to see the newest
amusing entertainer of London:
Gwynplaine. Barkilphedro is left alone and he is unable to hide his feelings:
he dearly wants to harm the two noble bastards he loathes.
Scene 1. The Green Box stage, on the
courtyard of the Tadcaster inn. The audience
is gathering in the square to see the most hilarious entertainment of London, the
a wandering theatre of the Green box ensemble. Duchess Josiana and Lord David Dirry-Moir
arrive and the play begins. In his opening act, the old Ursus gives the
audience a serious subject to think about, but the crowd boos him off. Everyone
is waiting for the play of The chaos tamed, with the main actor, Gwynplaine
collecting a roaring applause from the audience. Gwynplaine is the man who
laughs, a young man with a monstrous, contorted face. The other character is
played by Dea, a young, blind girl of angelic beauty.
sight of Gwynplaine arouses a grotesque desire in Josiana, and at the end of
the play, she leaves the scene in an agitated hurry with the Lord. Soon, the
courtyard is empty.
Ursus, an old
and wise actor, have been taking care of Dea and Gwynplaine for 15 years after
finding them on a cold January night. The young Gwynplaine, straying alone on
the streets had found Dea as a baby, made blind by the frost, next to her dead
mother on the street. As the children grew up, the bond between them grew into
a pure, faithful love.
The courtyard is dark, all are asleep, except for Gwynlaine.
As he strolls the night streets, a messenger brings him a love letter from
Josiana, which he takes as a wicked mockery of his countenance. The wapentake,
an unspeaking persecutor of the king approaches him in the night, arrests him
and takes him away.
Scene 2. Torture chamber of the Southwark dungeons.
Hardquanonne, one of the comprachicos is being interrogated. When the wapentake
brings Gwynplaine in, Hardquanonne recognizes him as the boy he had mutilated
at the age of two, with an operation called bucca fissa, which distorts the
human face into an eternal smile. After the confession, he dies in agony. As
the torture ends, Barkilphedro comes and reads out a notice which was found on
the shore, sealed in a bottle it is an official document, which certifies
that Gwynplaine is none other than Lord Fermain Clancharlie, the lawful son of
Lord Linnaeus Clancharlie, Lord of Clancharlie and Hunkerville, Marquis of Corleone
in Sicily, peer of England, who has been sold to the comprachicos at the age of
two on order of the king.
Scene 1. Session at the House of the Lords. The
goings-on account for feverish discussions among the Lords. The story of the
freak turning into a lord amuses them greatly. They make fun of the
predicaments of Lord David Dirry-Moir, who has lost his peer rights, and
Duchess Josiana, who would have to marry the laughing man if she wants to
keep her belongings. Gwynplaine arrives, clad in the full attires of a lord.
One item on the agenda is the increment in the annuity of Queen Anne, and when
Gwynplaine opposes the initiative, he sets hell loose. The Lords are incensed,
protesting furiously; and when Gwynplaine starts an oration on poverty, penury,
and suffering among the common people, they ridicule his ideas of the world.
Gwynplaine leaves the room, broken and humiliated.
Scene 2. Cliff at a bay,
at the southern end of Portland. The disillusioned and desperate Gwynplaine
is unable to find Dea and Ursus anywhere, and he is about to put an end to his
life at the very place where the comprachicos have abandoned him ten years
earlier. He has prepared a document in which he renounces all his wealth and
rights in favor of David Dirry-Moir. Ursus and Dea appear on the scene,
banished by the authorities. They have to leave Britain, and they are looking
for a ship. The three fugitives experience true happiness in finding each
other. However, their plans for the future are shattered by the sudden illness
and death of Dea. The old and tired soul of Ursus soon follows the girl.
Gwynplaine has lost everything, thus he puts an end to his tragic life with his
© Ars et Sanitas