• Elizabeth Maconchy
  • The Three Strangers (1967)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Opera in one act

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  • SATB
  • Soprano, 2 Tenors, Baritone, Bass, 7 subsidiary roles
  • 40 min
  • Elizabeth Maconchy
  • the composer, from a short story by Thomas Hardy
  • English

Programme Note

The libretto of The Three Strangers is based on one of Hardy’s best known Wessex tales; I used Hardy’s own dramatised version of the story and included one of his poems and three by William Barnes, the Dorset poet whom Hardy greatly admired. The Hangman’s song is the centre-piece of the original story as it is of the opera.

A lively party is in progression in a shepherd’s cottage with a storm raging outside. The weather is so rough that the guests prepare to stay - to sing and dance and drink till morning.

Three Mysterious Strangers in turn knock at the door: first a likeable young man, drenched by the rain, who is made welcome; then a more sinister character, who gradually reveals himself as the Hangman, on his way to hang a young sheep-stealer in the morning. Lastly a third man makes a brief appearance but retreats rapidly.

When the distant sound of the prison gun announces the escape of a prisoner the Hangman concludes that ‘his man’ has escaped, and all the men set off in pursuit of the last stranger, while the women soothe the crying baby. Only at the climax of the opera we discover who the strangers are and how the hangman is foiled.

Elizabeth Maconchy