Ruddigoreor, The Witch's Curse
An early Baronet of Ruddigore had a witch burned at the stake, and she cursed him and all his family line, dooming them to commit at least one crime a day, under penalty of dying in unspeakable agony. Dame Hannah narrates this legend to the Chorus of Professional Bridesmaids, gathered around the cottage of Rose Maybud, an attractive young damsel who has not yet found a husband. Robin Oakapple is in love with Rose, but is too bashful to declare his passion. We now learn through Old Adam, Robin's servant, that Robin is really Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, the true Baronet of Ruddigore, who has fled from the Curse, leaving it, with the title and estates, to his younger brother, Despard. His foster-brother, Richard Dauntless, who has just returned from sea, also knows Robin's true identity. Learning of the deadlock in Robin's love affair, Richard volunteers to see the lady and clear up the situation. On meeting Rose, however, he too falls in love with her, and, as his guiding principle is to obey "the dictates of his heart", avows his love to her, and is accepted. But when Rose learns of Robin's love for her, she promptly transfers her affections to him, remarking that while Richard is a penniless sailor, Robin is a prosperous farmer.
Mad Margaret enters, and we learn that she had been in love with the present baronet, Despard. In a song, Despard reveals the depths of his infamy, but notes that he makes a point of atoning for every bad action by following it with a good one. Richard reveals to him that his brother, Sir Ruthven, is alive, and is in this very village, masquerading as Robin. Robin now enters with his promised bride and the Bridesmaids to celebrate his nuptials. But the wedding is interrupted by the revelation that Robin is really the Bad Baronet. Rose promptly offers herself to Despard, who declares that he, being no longer the Bad Baronet but a virtuous person, will be true to Mad Margaret. So Rose, not at all abashed, once more falls back on Richard.
The second act takes place in a gloomy gallery of Ruddigore Castle, where the portraits of his ancestors look grimly down upon a sadly changed Robin. Richard and Rose dance in with their train of Bridesmaids to ask Robin's consent to their marriage. After some trouble, they obtain it, and depart. Robin then makes an impassioned appeal to his ancestors to relieve him of the necessity of doing a daily crime. Stepping down from their frames, and led by his uncle Roderic, they accuse him of evading the terms of the Curse, and order him to do something wicked — carry off a maiden that very day. When he refuses, they give him a sample of the "agonies" they have the power to inflict, and he is compelled to yield. The ancestors return to their frames, and Robin orders Adam to go at once and bring him a maiden — any maiden!
A reformed Despard and Margaret now appear, soberly attired, and describe themselves as District Visitors engaged in charitable activities. They have come to implore Robin to forswear his wicked ways. He declares he will do so, when, upon their departure, Adam enters with the "maiden" he was sent to abduct. She turns out to be none other than the mature Dame Hannah, who proves so able to protect herself that Robin has to call upon his uncle Roderic for help. Roderic steps down from his frame, and we learn that he and Hannah were once lovers. Robin is summarily dismissed, and the reunited pair indulge in a sentimental duet. Their reunion is interrupted by the excited entrance of Robin — he has the solution for the whole business...