Commissioned by St Peter's School, Huntingdon

  • 1(pic)111/1000/timp.2perc/pf/str(
  • chorus
  • 6 singing parts
  • 1 hr 30 min
  • Stephen Tunnicliffe after Chaucer
  • English

Programme Note

An Opera for young people, loosely based on The Pardoner’s Tale from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; the action takes place in and around a small country town in medieval England during the time of the Black Death.


Act I: Three friends, a girl - Malkyn - and two young men - Aleyn and Oswald, shocked at the lying low of their close companions by the invisible villain Death, decide to go in search of him and destroy him. They meet a fellow wayfarer, a mysterious old man, who confesses that he is Death's servant. Pressed by the three young people to disclose the whereabouts of his master, the old man directs them to a tree in the forest: death, he tells them, lies at its foot. In great excitement the three set off again. They come to the tree, but instead of the evil monster they were expecting to contend with they find a heap of treasure. Inflamed by greed they forget their quest and fall on the glittering hoard. They decide to carry it away secretly, but need sacks and provisions. Oswald agrees to fetch these while Aleyn and Malkyn guard the treasure.

Act II: On market day Oswald returns to make his purchases. After buying food and drink he approaches an old woman selling potions and tries to persuade her to sell him poison. At the sight of some of the gold Oswald has taken from the hoard she does so, being assured by him that it is intended for their common enemy Death. In reality he wants to poison his two former friends and keep all the treasure for himself.

During his absence Aleyn and Malkyn discover their love for one another. At the very time when Oswald returns they are sauntering through the glades, leaving the gold unguarded. Oswald lays the poisoned wine and the food ready for them, then prepares to fill his sacks with the treasure. Before setting to work he drains his own, unpolluted, wine, ironically toasting the ending of his oath of fellowship with the others. Aleyn, returning at this moment and overhearing him, rushes at Oswald in a rage and stabs him to death. Aghast at this crime, he seizes the poisoned wine and drinks deeply to calm himself, passing the fatal draught to Malkyn as she too faces the horror of the lifeless Oswald. Soon all three lie amongst the scattered treasure. They have found Death.

The old man returns to survey the scene. He links the deaths with winter, which holds within itself the promise of Spring. In the final scene Spring has indeed returned with its cleansing and reviving power. The three young wayfarers wake as from a ream, to find that it is now Easter. They have magically slept the winter through. The plague too has been cleansed from the air, and they can live freely and without fear. They whole community give thanks to God.