Where Angels Fear to Tread
Note from General Director Larry Hancock:
It will come as no surprise to lovers of English literature that E. M. Forster (A Room With a View, Howards End, Maurice, A Passage to India) disapproved of his fellow countrymen’s condescension toward those who were not like themselves. In Where Angels Fear to Tread, Forster presents us a study of personal injury caused by condescending prejudice. Set in the first years of the 20th century, the novel portrays a sunny Italian youth who gets caught up in an English family’s petty vengeance and vanity. Mark Weiser’s opera takes up the story when Philip Herriton arrives to stop the marriage of his widowed sister-in-law to this charming Italian youth.
Scene 1, Monteriano, the lobby of the Stella d’Italia Hotel (spring)
Philip Herriton arrives to stop Lilia, his widowed sister-in-law, from marrying Gino Carella, a twenty-one-year-old she met less than two weeks earlier. He arrives only to discover that, anticipating Philips interference, she married the boy that morning. Philip returns to England with a failed mission and his sister-in-law’s traveling companion, Caroline Abbott.
Scene 2, outside the walls of Monteriano (late summer)
Some months later, Lilia attempts to leave Gino, as she has discovered she is pregnant, and desperately wants to go back to England. Gino and his housekeeper find Lilia, who has fallen in the street, and take her home.
Scene 3, the lobby of the Stella d’Italia Hotel (autumn)
Philip and his sister Harriet arrive on a mission from their mother to retrieve Lilia’s child; Lilia has died in childbirth. Caroline has also returned to Monteriano for the same purpose, hoping to adopt the child herself. It is obvious that Harriet, perhaps from the strain of travel and leaving the routine of bourgeois life in an English village, has become unhinged. Insisting that Philip go immediately to fetch the infant boy, she is frantic and abusive, but at the sight of Caroline, who she knows and who she feels she can trust, she is calmed.
Scene 1, the dining room of Stella d’Italia (later that day)
Philip and Caroline have a private conversation in which Caroline reveals her intention to adopt Lilia and Gino’s baby. She feels that the Herriton’s have no feeling for the child but are embarrassed to have a neighbor offering charity to a child that is connected to their family. Of greater significance, she feels it was because of her urging that Lilia married Gino in the first place. Later, Philip returns from his first attempt to talk with Gino, but was unsuccessful as Gino was out. A poster outside the hotel announces a performance of Lucia di Lammermoor that night, and Philip insists that Harriet and Caroline attend the performance with him.
Scene 2, on the city wall, the Rocca (that evening)
After the performance the Herritons and Caroline happen into Gino, who also attended the opera. The women leave and Philip joins Gino and his friends. Philip is caught up in the beauty of the moment, the open friendliness of Gino and his friends, and in the genial, easy life of Italy.
Scene 3, Gino Carella’s house (early the next morning)
Caroline arrives to negotiate her adoption of Gino and Lilia’s eight-month-old son. She finds Gino preparing to bathe the child, and in helping him discovers how much he loves his son. When Philip arrives, Caroline rushes away, unable to continue her plan to take the baby.
Scene 1, in the church of Santa Deodata (later that morning)
Caroline is praying that the Herritons leave Gino and the child in peace, but they arrive with Harriet shouting that Caroline has tried to scuttle their plan. Caroline withdraws her support in clear terms. All three decide to leave by the night train and Philip tells Caroline he will talk to Gino in the afternoon. She assures him Gino will not part with his son.
Scene 2, in a carriage (that evening; it is raining)
Philip calls to Harriet who left instructions with the cab driver to look for her outside the city gate. Harriet arrives carrying the baby. She urges the driver to speed down the hill as they could miss the train. Once Harriet is in the cab, Philip can see that she has Gino’s son. He can’t understand how she managed to talk Gino into giving up his child, but she does not answer him, urging the driver to go faster and faster. In the dark and the rain, the carriage flips down the hillside and all are thrown into the leaf litter. Caroline’s carriage is the first to arrive and Caroline runs to them with a lantern. She is the one who finds the child, killed in the crash. Harriet confesses she did not convince Gino to give her the baby, rather, having found the child alone in his crib she stole him.
Scene 3, Gino Carella’s house (one hour later)
His arm broken, Philip arrives to tell Gino of the death of his son. Gino is at first unable to comprehend that the child is missing, but as the reality becomes clear he attacks Philip ferociously. Caroline arrives and pulls Gino off of Philip and tries to calm the grieving father. Eventually, the two men and Caroline grieve together.
Scene 4, the lobby of the Stella d’Italia (ten days later)
Caroline, Harriet, and Philip are preparing to leave Italy. Waiting for Harriet to come down, Philip tries to ask Caroline to marry him, but she tells him she is in love with Gino, that she has been in love with him for some time. Harriet enters and announces that they will not be coming back to Italy, but Philip remains behind a moment and corrects that; he will be back. He will most certainly be back.