William Ratcliff [ Vil’yam Ratklif ]
- Richard Taruskin
[ Vil’yam Ratklif ]
Opera in three acts by César Antonovich Cui to a libretto by the composer and Viktor Alexandrovich Krïlov drawn from Alexander Pleshcheyev’s translation of the eponymous ‘dramatic ballad’ by Heinrich Heine , with additional verses by Krïlov; St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre, 14/26 February 1869.
William Ratcliff, composed over seven years beginning in 1861, was a failure at its première; only one revival seems ever to have taken place (1900, Moscow, Private Opera). Nevertheless, Cui’s opera is important in the history of the genre in Russia, for it was the first opera by any member of the Balakirev circle to achieve production and was correctly perceived as a programmatic embodiment of their aesthetic ideals.
The plot may be sketched in a few lines. Edward Ratcliff had loved Betty and was killed by Betty’s jealous husband MacGregor (bass), Betty herself dying shortly thereafter. Edward’s son William (baritone) is haunted from childhood by a vision of the ill-starred lovers. Catching sight of Betty’s daughter Mary (soprano), he conceives a violent passion for her, recognizing the woman of his vision; but, rejected by her, he becomes a bandit and resolves that he will kill anyone who attempts to make Mary his own. Douglas (tenor), Mary’s third bridegroom, overcomes Ratcliff, who then rushes in a frenzy to MacGregor’s castle and kills Mary, her father and himself. The vision of Edward and Betty now reappears, but this time they embrace; the death of their children has united them at last....