The Witch’s Curse, or Ruddigore, is a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. The libretto was written Sir William Schwenck Gilbert, and the music was composed Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan. Following The Mikado, Ruddigore, originally Ruddygore, was their tenth operetta together. The Savoy Theatre, owned Richard D’Oyly Carte, hosted the premiere of Ruddigore on January 22, 1887.
The mad scene from Gaetano Donizetti’s 1835 opera Lucia di Lammermoor, based on a libretto Salvadore Cammarano, is parodied in Ruddigore. The plot revolves around a curse on the Murgatroyd family. Every baronet of Ruddigore, according to the curse, must commit a crime every day or die in excruciating agony. Along with the title, the curse is passed down.
Ruddigore begins in the village of Rederring, where Rose Maybud, whose entire life is guided an etiquette book, hopes to find a suitor to whom she can return her love. Robin Oakapple, real name Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, who lives in disguise to avoid the curse, is one suitor whose love she might return if he could work up the courage to say so. Despard, his younger brother, has succeeded to the title, believing Ruthven to be dead.
Richard, Robin’s foster brother and one of the few people who knows his true identity, returns home, and Robin confesses his love to him. When Richard goes to Rose to act on Robin’s behalf, he becomes enchanted and speaks his own heart instead of Robin’s, with Rose responding as he wishes. Robin enters and seduces Rose with insinuating remarks about a sailor’s difficult life.
Mad Margaret enters to warn Rose that Sir Despard intends to kidnap her as part of one of his daily heists. However, Rose is now engaged to Robin and feels safe. Sir Despard enters, bemoans the cruel curse, and explains how he gets his crime done and spends the rest of the day doing good as an act of penance.
Richard reveals Robin’s secret to Despard as a retaliation for Robin’s victory over Rose. Despard challenges Robin, claiming him to be his older brother and the true baronet of Ruddigore, at Rose and Robin’s wedding. Despard refuses because he can now keep his promise to Mad Margaret, and Rose, ignoring Richard, offers herself to Despard. Rose then turns to Richard, and Robin passes out, bringing Act I to a close.
Act II begins in Ruddigore Castle’s Picture Gallery, with Sir Ruthven and his servant attempting to concoct new crimes. Sir Ruthven threatens to commit a crime against Rose and Richard, but Richard thwarts him with a Union Jack, which he is unable to overcome. Sir Ruthven finally agrees, and they are free to leave.
The ghosts of Sir Ruthven’s forefathers emerge from the portrait, accusing Sir Ruthven of failing to fulfill the curse’s terms. They tell him he has to pick up a lady right away. Sir Ruthven dispatches his servant to procure a village maiden on his behalf. Despard and Mad Margaret arrive and inform him that he can be held accountable for all of Sir Ruthven’s crimes committed while posing as Robin. He is adamant about defying the curse and facing the consequences.
The servant returns from the village, accompanied Dame Hannah, who takes up a sword and pursues Sir Ruthven. Hannah and Sir Roderic recognize each other and demand privacy when he summons the ghost of his uncle, Sir Roderic, who had been engaged to Hannah. Sir Ruthven departs, only to return in a hurry a few minutes later, accompanied the entire cast. He’s discovered a way out. Because he must die if he does not commit a daily crime, refusing to commit a crime is also a crime, as it is the equivalent of suicide, according to the curse. As a result, Sir Roderic should not be dead and instead finds himself “practically alive,” allowing him and Hannah to be happy together. Everyone is happy when Rose returns to Ruthven and Richard finds a bridesmaid to love.