- Magda Győri
- Norbert Németh
2018.07.18. - Frigyes   
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Opera in two acts, with a prologue


The libretto is written by

Magda Győri

based on the novel
”The man who laughs” (a.k.a. On order of the king)
by Victor Hugo




The plot of the opera


In the overture, an invisible children’s choir is can be heard: the souls of children who have been sold and crippled, to spend their lives in misery.



Boudoir of 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 Josiana’s 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 clerk’s 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.


Act I.

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.

The abhorring 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.


Act II.

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 own hands.


© „Ars et Sanitas”