Opera Philadelphia

Elizabeth Cree Synopsis

PROLOGUE 

April 9, 1881; Camberwell Prison

Elizabeth Cree is hanged for the murder of her husband, John. As the noose tightens around her neck, Elizabeth utters an enigmatic phrase: “Here we are again.”

SCENE 1 

January, 1881; The Courtroom

Elizabeth stands on trial for murdering her husband. The prosecuting attorney inquires about her former life before she met and later married John Cree.

SCENE 2 

September, 1878; A Street in London

Elizabeth returns in memory to her youth when she was known as Lambeth Marsh Lizzie and lived in poverty with her abusive mother, mending sails for the fishermen on the Thames. After her mother dies, Elizabeth uses the collection the fishermen have raised to fulfill her dream of visiting the music hall. She runs across town to a theatre, buys a ticket, and goes inside.

SCENE 3 

September, 1878; The Music Hall, Onstage

Elizabeth watches a variety show, enthralled as the famous comedian Dan Leno performs a skit playing Bluebeard’s housekeeper.

SCENE 4 

September, 1878; The Music Hall, Backstage

Elizabeth slips backstage after the performance and meets Dan Leno, as well as others in his company: “Uncle” the Ventriloquist; Doris, the Goddess of Wire-Walking; Little Victor Farrell the Magician; and Aveline Mortimer the Wide-Eyed Warbler (who leaves soon after Elizabeth arrives). The performers, hearing of Elizabeth’s plight, quickly adopt her into their stage family.

SCENE 5

September 10, 1880; The Diary of John Cree

An entry in the diary of John Cree recounts the murder of a young prostitute named Jane Quig.

SCENE 6

September 12, 1880; An Office in Scotland Yard

Panic grips London after the murder of Quig, and Inspector Kildare of Scotland Yard is assigned to the case. Searching for clues, he learns that Quig occasionally swept the floors of the Reading Room in the British Museum, so he interrogates the noted novelist George Gissing who does his writing there.

SCENE 7

February, 1881; The Courtroom

At her trial, Elizabeth is questioned by the defense attorney. Elizabeth suggests that John took his own life, due to a “morbid disposition.” The prosecution attorney implies that Elizabeth murdered John for his money and calls Aveline Mortimer to the stand.

SCENE 8

April, 1878; The Music Hall, Backstage and On

After working for several months backstage with the troupe of actors, Elizabeth makes her stage debut, replacing an increasingly truant Aveline Mortimer. It is a great success. When she leaves the theatre after her performance, John Cree, playwright and critic, approaches her and introduces himself.

SCENE 9

September 12, 1880; The Diary of John Cree

Another entry in the diary of John Cree records the murder of Solomon Weil, a Hebrew scholar.

SCENE 10

September 14, 1880; An Office in Scotland Yard

Kildare interrogates Karl Marx, who was a colleague of Weil’s and also frequents the Reading Room. Meanwhile, public panic grows and the murderer is dubbed “The Limehouse Golem,” because of the geographic location of the crimes and because a Jewish man is the latest victim.

SCENE 11

February, 1881; The Courtroom

At the trial, the prosecution attorney interrogates Aveline Mortimer and raises the suspicion that Elizabeth killed John by poisoning him with a “physic” she concocted herself.

SCENE 12

November, 1878; The Music Hall, Backstage and On

Elizabeth has risen to star status in the world of the music hall, but grows bored with ingénue roles. She performs a song in male attire with Dan called, “Here We Are Again.”

SCENE 13

September 15, 1880; The Diary of John Cree

An entry chronicles another brutal murder: that of the entire Gerrard family, slaughtered to commemorate the Marr family murders immortalized in Thomas De Quincey’s “On Murder As One of the Finer Arts.”

SCENE 14

September 26, 1880; An Office in Scotland Yard

Kildare seeks clues in the Gerrard family murders and questions Dan, as Mr. Gerrard once served as his dresser. After Dan leaves Scotland Yard, he quietly bemoans a world in which such evil exists. Meanwhile, the panic in London builds and Kildare feels more pressure to find the murderer.

SCENE 15

February, 1881; The Courtroom

At the trial, Aveline raises stronger suspicions that Elizabeth murdered her husband.

SCENE 16

November, 1879; The Music Hall, Backstage

After a performance, Uncle learns that Elizabeth is about to go on another date with John Cree. He accuses her of opportunism, mentioning that John is both a theatre critic and wealthy.

SCENE 17

November, 1879; A Street in London, Under a Full Moon

John confesses his love for Elizabeth and proposes marriage. Elizabeth accepts.

SCENE 18

June, 1880; The Music Hall, Backstage

At a marriage celebration, Dan toasts “Lambeth Marsh Lizzie’s” new life...as Mrs. John Cree.

SCENE 19

September, 1880; The Home of John and Elizabeth Cree

John is frustrated that Elizabeth refuses to consummate their marriage. He leaves for the Reading Room at the British Museum. Elizabeth decides to engage Aveline as a maid to satiate John’s desires.

SCENE 20

September, 1880; The Reading Room, the British Museum

In the Reading Room, John expresses despair about his marriage. While working on his new play, entitled Misery Junction. Karl Marx appears and requests a book from the librarian.

SCENE 21

September, 1880; The Home of John and Elizabeth Cree

Aveline is engaged to work in the Cree household as a housekeeper. John meets and is instantly attracted to Aveline. He leaves, but returns and flirts with Aveline while Elizabeth looks on approvingly

SCENE 22

September, 1880; The Reading Room, the British Museum

John continues to voice his sorrow at his unhappy marriage while working on Misery Junction. He is joined in the Reading Room by Karl Marx, George Gissing and Dan Leno.

SCENE 23

September, 1880; The Home of John and Elizabeth Cree

Elizabeth tells Aveline that John suffers from mad dreams and orders her to give him a “physic” that she prepares herself every night.

SCENE 24

March, 1881; The Courtroom

The two attorneys conclude their arguments in the trial of Elizabeth Cree.

SCENE 25

October, 1880; The Reading Room, the British Museum

John is absent from the chair in which he usually sits. Marx, Gissing, and Leno continue to read their books. Elizabeth returns three books to the librarian.

SCENE 26

November, 1880; An Office in Scotland Yard

Kildare is dumbfounded that the Limehouse Golem's murders have suddenly stopped and that the public now turns its fickle attention to the trial of Elizabeth Cree.

SCENE 27

March, 1881; The Courtroom

Elizabeth is convicted of murdering John and sentenced to death.

SCENE 28

April 9, 1881. A Cell in Camberwell Prison/The Diary of John Cree

The Priest visits Elizabeth and hears her confession.

SCENE 29

September, 1881; A Theatre

A year later, it’s opening night of John Cree’s play, now entitled The Crees of Misery Junction, which has been rewritten to capitalize on his murder and stars Aveline Mortimer (“The Woman Who Was There”) as Elizabeth Cree. Unfortunately, there is a calamitous scenic malfunction, prompting Dan to remark, “Here we are again.”

MapPerelman Theater

Thu, Sep 14 8:00 p.m.
Sat, Sep 16 2:30 p.m.
Tue, Sep 19 8:00 p.m.
Thu, Sep 21 8:00 p.m.
Sat, Sep 23 2:30 p.m.

Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission

© 2017 by Mark Campbell

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