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Synopsis

by Arthur Robinson

Sullivan's "Original Romantic Musical Drama" The Beauty Stone, with a libretto by Arthur Pinero and J. Comyns Carr, opened at the Savoy Theatre on 28th May 1898, and closed after only fifty performances — the shortest run of any of his operas.

The major characters are: Simon Limal, a weaver; Joan, his wife; Laine, their daughter; Philip, Lord of Mirlemont; Saida, his "Eastern lady"; Guntran of Beaugrant, an elderly knight; Jacqueline, an urchin; and, as a special guest star, none other than the Devil himself. The play is set in the Flemish town of Mirlemont, in the year 1408.

Act I

Ruth Vincent as Laine

Act I opens in the house — or rather hovel — of poverty-stricken Simon Limal and his wife, Joan. They lament their dreary life and the affliction of their crippled and "uncomely" daughter, Laine. Laine has gone out for water but now returns, pursued by an unruly mob that is mocking her; she is protected by Jacqueline, who says she is "fond of mischief" but draws the line at teasing cripples. Jacqueline finally lures the crowd away with the tempting proposal that they throw stones through the windows of the local miser.

A beauty contest is scheduled in Mirlemont that day, to be judged by Philip, Lord of Mirlemont. Laine wishes she were beautiful, and indicates that she has long had a crush on Philip, a once heroic warrior who now lives in luxury and idleness. When her parents go out, Laine prays to an image of the Virgin Mary for either love or death.

Apparently the wires get crossed, for the Devil now appears, disguised as a friar. He appears genial and sympathetic (when he learns Laine is lame because of a fall, he tells her that he too once had a fall). He offers her a pebble — the beauty stone of the title — that makes anyone who has it "surpassingly beauteous." Joan, who has returned with her husband, has misgivings, but Laine takes the stone and quickly becomes beautiful and able to walk without her crutch.

The second scene of Act I take place in the market-place of Mirlemont, where the townspeople are preparing for the beauty contest, making disparaging remarks about some of the contestants. The Devil shows up, this time in the guise of an Italian count. He talks with Sir Guntran, who expresses disapproval of his friend Lord Philip's peaceful life and dalliance with the lady Saida. The Devil then encounters Jacqueline; he approves of her propensity for stealing and causing mischief, and invites her to disguise herself as a boy and become his page. She refuses at first, but he fixes his gaze on her and forces her to obey his will.

Philip arrives with his mistress, Saida, to judge the beauty contest. The contestants parade in front of Philip while Nicholas Dircks, the Burgomaster, sings (presumably Bert Parks was unavailable). Philip is bored by the maidens of Flanders and cuts the competition short, telling Dircks to give each contestant ten groats and send them home. The Devil suggests staging a betrothal between a "loathsome dwarf" and the "uncomeliest maid in Mirlemont"; the burgomaster suggests Laine for the latter. When she is brought to the market place, Philip is struck by her beauty. The townspeople are frightened by the change in Laine's appearance, believing she must be a witch; but Philip insists that her beauty could only come from heaven.

Act II

Act II begins in Castle Mirlemont, where "dissolute knights" and their "frivolous" ladies are engaged in drinking and gambling (presumably the ultimate in debauchery), while Philip impatiently awaits Laine's arrival. Saida performs a song and dance in an attempt to recapture his love; he shows signs of responding until Laine arrives, whereupon he loses interest in Saida, to the latter's fury. Philip professes his love for Laine, who admits that she has long admired him but is afraid that she is too lowly born for him.

Joan and Simon arrive; Laine embraces them and invites them to come live with her in the castle. The Devil suggests to Philip that he "dispose of these unsightly folk," and takes them off. When Laine sees them from a window, being driven off with cudgels, she is horrified and wants to cast off her beauty. She tries to leave; Philip locks her in, but at last relents and lets her go. Saida rejoices, but the Devil warns her that to regain Philip's love she must gain Laine's beauty; he offers to help her do so. Three lords appear to seek Philip's help in a war; ashamed of his long sloth, and of his treatment of Laine and her parents, he agrees to join them.

In the second scene of Act II, Joan and Simon return to their home. They are soon followed by Laine, who throws the beauty stone on the ground and retreats to her room. Her parents debate what to do with the stone. Each wants the other to take it; they reminisce about each other's beauty when they first met many years earlier. At last Simon takes the stone and becomes a handsome youth; Laine reappears, once again lame and uncomely. But Saida arrives and, with the Devil's help, lures Simon away, as his wife and daughter lament.

The final scene of Act II takes place outside the castle. Jacqueline recounts to the Devil how Saida has been trying to persuade Simon to reveal the secret of his beauty. Philip arrives, accompanied by a crowd, on his way to battle; Laine tries to approach him, but he does not recognize her and, tossing a purse to the "poor cripple," marches off. The crowd follows him, trampling Laine. The act ends with Joan bending over her senseless daughter and raising her hand to heaven "in malediction," while the Devil, according to the stage directions, "looks on approvingly."

Act III

Act III is set on the terrace of the castle. Laine's voice is heard from somewhere outside the castle, lamenting her lot. Simon and Saida come on stage; the former is conscience-stricken to hear his daughter. Saida, hearing that Philip is returning victorious from battle, finally persuades Simon to reveal the secret of his beauty, promising in return to stay with him forever.

The Devil is pleased with the progress of his "jest," but when Jacqueline reveals that she has fallen in love with him, he flings her aside, annoyed that she is "sick with pure, honest, maidenly devotion. Puh!" Saida steals the beauty stone and rejects Simon, who without the stone has become once again "a feeble, broken old man." She greets Philip as he arrives with a bandage over his eyes. Guntran proclaims that it is a time for rejoicing, as Philip has fought heroically; he considers it an unimportant detail that his friend has been blinded in the process. Since Philip cannot see Saida, he shows no interest when she describes how beautiful she now is. But when he hears Laine singing, he demands to be taken to her. Saida tells him how ugly Laine has become, but he says he can see how beautiful she is, because he can see into her soul. Enraged, Saida casts off the beauty stone; the Devil cheerfully picks it up.

The final scene is set in the market-place. Simon returns to Joan, who forgives him. The Devil reappears, again disguised as a friar. Jacqueline, recovered from his influence, wonders whether she has dreamed the events of the past week, and asks the "friar" for his blessing, promising to "be a good girl for evermore," which horrifies the Devil. Laine is reunited with her parents, her friend Jacqueline, and (of course) Philip, who proclaims that now that he is blind, he can see Laine truly at last. The curtain falls on general rejoicing from all except the Devil, who steals off, evidently allergic to happy endings.


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