ACT I. A rowdy crowd at the Falcon,
a lively tavern, keeps the hostess busy. Among the heaviest drinkers
are the actor John Plake and his friends. When they try to drink
the best wine in the house without paying for it, the hostess attempts
-- in vain -- to have them thrown out. Dolly, the mistress of the
Earl of Westmoreland, arrives for some entertainment away from the
oppressiveness of the court. Everyone is greatly impressed with
her beauty and dignity. Westmoreland himself soon arrives to take
her back to his palace, but at Dolly's urging, he agrees to spend
some time with her in the tavern.
The poet Christopher Sly arrives -- narrowly evading capture by
Snare, the sheriff's officer, who has come to arrest him for his
debts. Sly, a favorite among the tavern's clientele, entertains
the crowd with a song. During the course of the evening he becomes
increasingly drunk and eventually passes out. Westmoreland decides
to play a trick on the poet, and orders his friends to take Sly
to his palace and dress him in finery. When Sly awakens, they will
all try to convince him that the palace is his. John Plake expresses
reservations about carrying out the joke.
ACT II. In the palace, Westmoreland
and his servants wait for Sly to awaken. When the poet opens his
eyes, he sees the luxurious surroundings and discovers that he is
dressed in expensive clothing, and is convinced that he must still
be dreaming. Westmoreland, pretending to be Sly's faithful servant,
tells the poet that he had fallen into an explained sleep that lasted
for ten years. During this time, Westmoreland continues, Sly's wife
has prayed continually for the restoration of his health. Dolly,
posing as Sly's wife, can now be heard praying in another room.
Intrigued, Sly asks to see her.
When Dolly, pretending to be Sly's long-suffering wife, is presented
to the poet, he asks to be left alone with her. Sly suddenly finds
himself face to face with the woman of his dreams. Dolly is greatly
moved by his gentle talk. As they begin to exchange words of love,
Westmoreland puts a stop to the charade by imitating Snare's voice.
Westmoreland and the courtiers laugh raucously, and Sly is abruptly
brought back to reality.
ACT III. Sly has been thrown into the cellar
of the palace, where the servants mock him. Despite his humiliating
treatment, Sly is convinced that Dolly's words of love were genuine.
As he imagines her in the arms of another man, Sly slashes his wrist
with a broken bottle. Dolly arrives to beg his forgiveness, and
admits that her emotions were real. Sly, who is dying, begs her
for a kiss. Dolly curses the reckless courtiers who drove her beloved
to his death.
-- courtesy of Mark Lyons/The Washington Opera