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The Stories of the Operas

Paula Murrihy plays a clueless bride in Chabrier's "An Insufficient Education," from the Wexford Festival.
Paula Murrihy plays a clueless bride in Chabrier's "An Insufficient Education," from the Wexford Festival.

An Insufficient Education

Emmanuel Chabrier's comedy takes place in France during the time of Louis the XVI. The newlyweds Helene and Gontran have arrived at home, after a big wedding celebration, and they're ready to spend their first night together -- but they don't seem to know what comes next.

Helene was married straight out of the convent, where she was raised. She's expecting the arrival of her favorite aunt, who has promised a bit of wedding night advice. Gontran has spent his youth in the company of a bookish tutor, Professor Pausanias, who is supposedly bringing Gontran's grandfather to the house for some similar, last-minute instructions.

Much to Helene's relief, her aunt soon knocks at the door, and Helene eagerly goes off to hear what the older woman has to say. While she's gone, Pausanias also turns up -- but without Gontran's grandfather. Instead, he has a letter from the old man, who is suffering an attack of gout and can't leave his bed.

When Pausanias leaves, Gontran tears open the letter, hoping to absorb its much-needed wisdom before Helene returns. But all the letter says is that Gontran is a wise young man, his wife is kind and beautiful, so surely no further advice is needed. Beginning to panic, Gontran goes off to find Pausanias.

When Helene returns, she hasn't done any better. Her aunt has simply told her to "obey" her husband, and all will be well. In a tender aria, Helene says she feels a strange excitement, and wonders what it is.

When Gontran appears again, Helene decides to follow her aunt's advice, and do whatever he suggests. Gontran says their next step should be a kiss, and she agrees. He takes her hands, gives her an innocent little peck, and acts as though all is well. Helene seems to sense that something more is in order -- a prospect that frightens Gontran. Finally, Helene says she's getting tired. She leaves for her own room, to go to sleep, telling Gontran that if he thinks of anything else he should let her know.

Gontran thinks he's being mocked. He calls Pausanias into the room and angrily accuses his tutor of failing to educate him properly. Pausanias is indignant. In a comic duet, he rattles off a long list of all the academic subjects he's explored with Gontran. But when Gontran tells him exactly what he needs to know now, Pausanias is clueless. He's spent too much time with esoteric books to have bothered with the practical side of life. Pausanias leaves, promising to find the required information.

A storm builds outside, and Gontran begins undressing for bed. As he stares gloomily out the window there's a rumble of thunder. Soon, Helene rushes in. She's now wearing a slinky nightdress, and Gontran is embarrassed at being caught in his skivvies.

Helene is trembling, and says the storm has frightened her. Gontran doesn't like it either, and they decide to huddle together for comfort. When they sit down on the bed, huddling soon turns to cuddling -- and they kiss again. This kiss, they both exclaim, was far different from their last one, and before long the two are embracing passionately.

Pausanias returns, peeks into the bedroom, and knows that his advice is no longer needed. He leaves the newlyweds alone as the opera ends.

The Marriage Contract

Gioachino Rossini's farce is set in an English village, at the home of a wealthy merchant named Tobias Mill. Mill's two servants, Norton and Clarina, are watching as their boss examines a map of the world.

Mill has been corresponding with a businessman from across the Atlantic, in Canada. The Canadian's name is Slook and it seems he's having trouble finding a wife in the new world. So he's made a formal contract with Mill, to find him a bride in England.

Mill, it turns out, has a young, single daughter named Fanny, and thinks a rich husband would be just the right thing for her. So he decides to marry her off to this exotic stranger from Canada -- who will arrive soon to look over his "merchandise" before finalizing the deal.

Fanny has other ideas. She's in love with a poor young man named Edoardo -- but they know her father wouldn't approve, so they've kept their relationship quiet. When Slook turns up and meets Fanny, he's thrilled with her. But she and Edoardo, who is presented as her "friend," make it clear that Slook had better head back to Canada pronto -- without Fanny -- or else.

Slook has no idea why the two young people are so hostile, but he does know trouble when he sees it. So he tries to break his contract with Mill -- who is outraged by this, and challenges Slook to a duel.

Finally, before things can truly get out of hand, Fanny and Edoardo confess that they're in love. Slook, who turns out to be quite the gentleman, has no intention of marrying Fanny against her will. So without telling her father, Slook amends their contract, signing his bride over to Edoardo -- and even making the happy young couple his heirs. Mill is forced to accept the arrangement, and in the end, reluctantly agrees that it's probably best for all concerned.

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