Comic opera in three acts by Richard Strauss
A suburb of London, around 1780: Sir Morosus, a retired admiral, leads a secluded life due to his extreme sensitivity to noise following an explosion on his ship. Rich and in his midsixties, he associates only with his housekeeper, whose constant chatter irritates him, and his barber, his only friend. The housekeeper considers she would be the ideal wife for the old Morosus and tries to enlist the barber’s help with her plan. However, the barber accuses her of being an «blithering, doddering old woman” and she him a «hedge-priest and fugitive on the run”. Their noisy quarrel attracts the attention of Sir Morosus, who shoos the housekeeper away. As he shaves him, the barber tries – not without success – to persuade Morosus to marry a young woman. However, Morosus has his doubts: «The only place you will find a silent woman is in a graveyard ...” To everyone’s surprise. Henry enters the scene, Sir Morosus’s nephew who disappeared while studying in Italy. Morosus is ecstatic to have found a blood-relative to whom he can pass on his fortune. However, he soon discovers to his horror that Henry has travelled to England as a member of a touring Italian opera troupe and, adding insult to injury, has married the troupe’s prima donna, Aminta. When Henry’s colleagues appear, Morosus hurls insults at them about their station in life. He disinherits his nephew and orders the barber to find him a young, silent wife. The outraged players are pacified by the barber. They listen with fascination as he tells them of the riches of Sir Morosus and are manifestly moved when Henry avows his love for Aminta and his loyalty to the troupe, even at the cost of his inheritance. When the barber finally puts forward a plot to «cure” Sir Morosus and win back Henry’s inheritance for him, their enthusiasm is boundless.
The following day, the barber puts his plan into action with the help of the opera troupe. The three female members of the company are presented to Sir Morosus as potential wives. He chooses Aminta, who plays a sweet, quiet peasant girl. Two actors, one playing the role of priest, the other that of notary, complete the bluff by marrying the two, toasting the bride and groom. Hardly are they alone than the bride becomes a woman possessed: her destructive frenzy brings Morosus to the edge of despair. As if by chance, Henry enters and calms her. He appeases his grateful uncle with the prospect of a quick divorce. The two are reconciled, and Mororsus retires to bed. Henry embraces his beloved Aminta.
On the third day, the final stage of the barber’s intrigue is carried out.
As Lady Morosus, Aminta has the admiral’s house cleaned out and redecorated to suit her taste. The noise of the workmen makes Morosus’s life hardly worth living, but the final straw comes in the form of Aminta pretending to give a singing lesson, with Henry playing a musician.
Finally, the barber announces the arrival of the Chief Justice to make arrangements for the divorce. Once again, the players take their revenge for Sir Morosus’ insults. The old man threatens to commit suicide when the Chief Justice denies his request for a divorce.
The time has come to reveal the hoax.
When Morosus discovers what a rough time he has been given, against all expectations he responds with conciliatory amusement, recognising the beneficial effects of the charade. The players have found a new friend, Henry and Aminta a home.
In silent contentment, Morosus acknowledges his satisfaction with his life.