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Emmeline 1996

July 27 - August 9, 1996

A young girl’s seduction and betrayal…

…in the sweatshop mills of 19th-century Massachusetts is central in the true-life story of Emmeline Mosher.  After years of hidden shame, she finds the romance denied her – evoking a new and wrenching tragedy played out between the two lovers, an unforgiving community and the forces of love and disaster.

Music By
Tobias Picker
Libretto By
J.D. McClatchy


Act I

Scene 1: The Mosher family burying ground. Fayette, Maine. Henry Mosher, a farmer fallen on hard times, has just finished filling the grave of another of his children. Several other Mosher children – Emmeline the oldest at thirteen – stand by; their mother Sarah weeps on the shoulder of her sister-in-law Hannah. A sternly religious woman, Hannah berates Henry for his weakness and urges him to send Emmeline to work in the Massachusetts textile mills, in the hope of sending money home to save the family. Henry resists but, quoting scripture and by the force of her will, Hannah takes the frightened girl away with her.

Scene 2: The Mill. Lowell, Massachusetts. The foreman Hooker, a huge man with a great black ledger, is interviewing girls who have come to be hired. One girl, because she has a small child in tow, is summarily dismissed. Hannah leads Emmeline up to Hooker, and answers his questions for the girl. Emmeline is hired, told she will live in Mrs. Bass’ boarding house, and put to work at once. Sophie, an older girl, explains to Emmeline how to work the machines. The mill owner, Mr. Summers, enters with his son-in-law, the factory supervisor Stephen Maguire, who notices Emmeline and comes over to speak with her. Emmeline is both embarrassed by and grateful for the attention. Almost before it has begun, their conversation is swallowed up by the relentless routines and loud clatter of the mill.

Scene 3: The boarding house. An air of thrift, cleanliness, and propriety prevail in the dining room. The meal is just over, and Mrs. Bass is directing the girls to tidy up and go off to bed. Before retiring herself, she tries to comfort the new girl, Emmeline, whose exhaustion is obvious. Sophie and Emmeline stay behind, and Sophie tells her of the rewards of hard work. Together, the two girls sing of their fantasies of wealth and freedom – though Sophie warns Emmeline to stay away from Maguire, a married man with a dangerous reputation.

Scene 4: The Mill. The work day is coming to an end. Emmeline lingers at her seat. Maguire approaches, and comments on her sad look. To cheer her, he tells her the story of his adventurous life – emigrating from Ireland, working his way up at the mill. When Emmeline teases him about marrying the boss’ daughter, Maguire complains about his wife’s coldness and asks Emmeline if he might stand in as her father, and if she will be his friend. Emmeline frees herself from his grasp and rushes out of the factory, as Maguire calls after her.

Scene 5: The boarding house. Emmeline is alone, finishing a letter to her parents. Suddenly, from outside, she hears Maguire’s voice calling her name. She rushes to the window and sings to the dark of her confusion: ”What am I to answer? What does he want me to say?” She blows out her lantern and walks through the door into the blackness. We see her running, looking back over her shoulder. She seems to be running away. It is gradually revealed that she is in:

Scene 6: A forest near Lowell. Emmeline is running, and Maguire is pursuing. She laughs and it is apparent she has been playing a sort of teasing game with him. Tired by the chase, he pauses and tells Emmeline how beautiful she is. Despite her protests, he insists on telling her that she alone understands his loneliness and can soothe it. She needs a man she can trust, he needs a woman to love. His arguments increase her confusion. In Maguire’s face she sees her sad, defeated father. She reaches up to touch the face, and Maguire kisses her. He picks her up, laughs, and walks slowly off, Emmeline huddled in his arms.

Scene 7: The Mill. Hooker is rehearsing the factory girls in a song to entertain Mr. Summers. Emmeline is working with a pained, exaggerated determination, and Sophie questions why Maguire won’t see her any longer. As Mr. Summers enters, with his daughter and Maguire, the girls start their song, but as the group nears Emmeline, she faints. People gather around the stricken girl. Sophie realizes that Emmeline is pregnant. Mrs. Bass defends her guardianship; Hooker insists the girl be sent away; Maguire tries to give Emmeline money; Maguire’s wife – understanding the situation – gives Emmeline the beautiful shawl she is wearing and leaves on her father’s arm, disdaining Maguire. Hooker looks in his ledger and finds the name of Emmeline’s Aunt Hannah, who is sent for. Helped to her feet, Emmeline is led off.

Scene 8: A bedroom in Aunt Hannah’s house. Lynn, Massachusetts. In a small, sparsely furnished bedroom in Aunt Hannah’s house, Emmeline is in bed, thrashing in pain. Hannah tells her that the couple who have agreed to take the child are downstairs, waiting. They are moving far away “where the poor child may have a new life in the Lord.” Emmeline, though resigned, still pleads that her child not be taken from her. Hannah coldly remarks that the child, as Emmeline was, will be born to sorrow, born to sin. Emmeline gasps and sinks back in the bed. The moment of birth has arrived. Hannah moves to help her.

Act II

Scene 1: The parlor of the Mosher home; the great field. Twenty years have passed. Emmeline’s mother, wearing Mrs. Maguire’s shawl, sits in a parlor chair, paralyzed. Emmeline reads a letter from Hannah and grieves that there is never any news of her child. She tries to imagine the life her lost daughter may be leading. Her father bursts in, announcing that the new boarder has arrived, and again urging her to marry Simon Fenton, a prosperous business man in town. Simon presses his own case but Emmeline declares she will never marry. The new boarder enters, along with Emmeline’s sisters. He is a handsome young railroad worker named Matthew Gurney. He and the other men talk of the coming Civil War. Everyone eventually leaves except Matthew, who takes out his harmonica and plays a tune. Emmeline returns and watches him, then goes to fetch her Bible. Matthew admits he’s never learned to read properly, and Emmeline offers to teach him. In a succession of quick scenes, Matthew learns to read-and reveals that he has fathered a child back in Kansas, but abandoned it. When he asks Emmeline if she has any secrets, too quickly she answers no. Emmeline has fallen in love with Matthew. Henry Mosher comes to tell Matthew that the railroad crew is moving north. Matthew refuses to go, and declares his love of Emmeline, and asks Henry for her hand. Henry protests that Matthew is too young and unreliable – but the couple runs out. Entwined and walking through the dark, they come to a great field. He tells Emmeline he can see the future from there, and the house he will build them. Hesitant, Emmeline asks if he doesn’t want to know more about her, about her past. Matthew tells her she only came to life when she met him. “I love you,” Emmeline sings passionately, “more than I love my life. May God forgive me, but I love you more than I love God Himself!” They walk away into the darkness, and the stage brightens, as festive wedding music plays. The townsfolk have gathered and are singing a hymn. Pastor Avery intones the Marriage Service before the bride and groom. Emmeline’s sister Harriet and a few other women talk among themselves spitefully about the spinster and the young man. The service ended, the crowd congratulates the pair. There is general dancing. At first a part of the crowd, then gradually isolated, Emmeline and Matthew dance alone with each other.

Scene 2: Matthew’s house. It is a cold winter night some months later. The house Matthew and Emmeline are building for themselves is not yet finished. They are waiting for Harriet to arrive with news of the funeral. Mrs. Mosher has died and the family is gathering. Harriet enters, and accuses Emmeline of abandoning their mother – which angers Matthew. Harriet mentions that Aunt Hannah will be coming. Emmeline is frightened that Hannah will disapprove of her having married.

Scene 3: Parlor of the Mosher home. Mrs. Mosher’s coffin is where her chair used to be. Pastor Avery is leading the family and townsfolk in prayer. Guests continue to arrive. Hannah comes in and greets Emmeline warmly. When Emmeline confesses she was afraid Hannah might disapprove of her happiness, Hannah tells her she has redeemed her good name and asks to be introduced to her husband. When Matthew tells Hannah his name, she stands there as if frozen. Emmeline is worried. In a tense encounter, Hannah begins to question Matthew about his background, finally revealing to the horrified crowd that Matthew is in reality Emmeline’s lost child. Emmeline flees. Matthew runs after her.

Scene 4: The great field. Emmeline has run desperately to the place where they first declared their love and crumples, sobbing convulsively. Matthew catches up with her, and confronts her: “You never told me the truth.” Emmeline tells him she never knew the truth, and begs him to stay. She cannot bear to lose him all over again. ”What use is love if it’s wrong?” asks Matthew and, disgusted, backs away from her. Mrs. Mosher’s funeral passes in the background. Emmeline staggers toward the procession. Her father – with his rifle – and Pastor Avery bar her way. Defeated, she runs after Matthew.

Scene 5: Matthew’s house. Emmeline bursts into the empty house and collapses. A rock is thrown through the window, and angry women’s voices are heard outside, cursing her. Pastor Avery, Harriet and Hannah quiet the crowd and enter. They accuse her of a terrible sin. The Pastor offers her money. With a sudden rage, Emmeline refuses their judgment, their money, their ultimatum. She refuses to leave. She puts on Mrs. Maguire’s shawl and sits in a chair – just like her mother – and tells them she is waiting for her child to come back. They leave. She picks up one of Matthew’s shirts and clutches this last reminder of her son and lover. In a final aria, she deliriously recalls scenes from her life, as ghostly voices from the past are heard. The house disappears into the dark void of the night sky. She is utterly alone.


Patricia Racette headshot

Patricia Racette


Emmeline Mosher

Kurt Peterson headshot

Curt Peterson


Matthew Gurney

Anne-Marie Owens headshot

Anne-Marie Owens


Aunt Hannah

Kevin Langan headshot

Kevin Langan


Henry Mosher

Victor Ledbetter headshot

Victor Ledbetter


Mr. Maguire

Josepha Gayer headshot

Josepha Gayer


Mrs. Bass

Herbert Perry headshot

Herbert Perry


Pastor Avery

Wright Moore headshot

Wright Moore



Santa Fe Opera

Mary Jane Kania


Ella Burling

Melanie Sarakatsannis headshot

Melanie Sarakatsannis



Santa Fe Opera

Charlotte Dick


Mrs. Maguire

Santa Fe Opera

Gregory Keil


Simon Fenton

Michelle Bradley headshot

Michelle Bradley


Harriet Mosher

George Manahan headshot

George Manahan


Francesca Zambello headshot

Francesca Zambello


Robert Israel headshot

Robert Israel

Scenic Designer

Dunya Ramicova headshot

Dunya Ramicova

Costume Designer

Amy Appleyard headshot

Amy Appleyard

Lighting Designer

Gary Wedow headshot

Gary Wedow

Chorus Master