Rattenbury by Tobin Stokes, November, 2017


Music and libretto by Tobin Stokes


November 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, and 11, 2017, at 7 pm
November 5 and 12, at 4 pm

The Baumann Centre, 925 Balmoral Road

Sung in English, with English surtitles
The performance is approximately 75 minutes, with no intermission.

Staged première, in collaboration with The Other Guys Theatre Company



The tempestuous life and death of Victoria's most notorious architect.

Meet Francis Rattenbury, architect of Victoria's Parliament Buildings and Empress Hotel – self-promoter, adulterer, alcoholic ... and murder victim. Victoria-based composer Tobin Stokes tells the story of the architect whose murder by his young wife's teenage lover led to one of the most sensational murder trials of the 1930s. Internationally renowned tenor Richard Margison performs the title role in this new opera about – and for – Victoria.


Cast and Creative Team

Special thanks to Bosa Properties



  • Opera deconstructs life and violent death of Victoria architect
    Sarah Petrescu of the Times Colonist reviews Rattenbury.

    Rattenbury ... is a delightfully dark chamber opera ...
    Tobin Stokes reveals how Rattenbury's ambition built him up and how his scoundrel tendencies tore him down. In fact, there is not a wholly sympathetic character in the opera – save for the maid – and that's what makes it fun.
    Richard Margison is Rattenbury and is best in his character's older, broody, gin-fuelled moments.
    Soprano Kathleen Brett is brilliant as his second wife, Alma, the twice-married, coquettish songwriter and dope addict he falls for at a party at the Empress.
    Read more.

  • Ambition, betrayal, murder, architecture: Rattenbury on stage
    CBC preview of Rattenbury.

    It's a story of operatic proportions, as most people know, Victoria composer Tobin Stokes said ... I wanted to know what made Rattenbury tick and what happened and why ...
    To understand his character's motivation and what happened, Stokes delved into the biography by the late Victoria author Terry Reksten. In the U.K., he read court records, Alma's suicide notes and dramatic retellings of the case.
    Read more.

  • Murder in two operas
    Monica Prendergast of Focus Magazine interviews POV Artistic Director Timothy Vernon and the composers and librettists of POV's two new Canadian operas, Rattenbury and Missing. She asks these artists about the genesis of each opera, the challenges behind its creation, and what they hope audiences might take away from seeing the work on stage.

    [Timothy Vernon] Rattenbury's life could easily provide the fodder for a few opera projects, with varying emphases and points of view. Tobin has chosen, wisely I think, an episodic treatment. Before he began, I had dreamt of an opera with the Empress and Parliament buildings as singing characters, and the use of some of the songs Alma wrote for her club/cabaret appearances ...

    [Tobin Stokes] I realized the story I could tell was less large-style about Rattenbury's entire life, his grand facades, and failed business dealings, and more about how his ambition, left unchecked, got the best of him. I realized the intimacy offered by using just four singers ... puts the audience close, like they were a jury in a court case...
    ...the story isn't just about an event that happened once upon a time, it's about youth, love, and addiction.
    Read more

  • Killing of Victoria architect Francis Rattenbury is perfect fodder for opera
    Times Colonist preview of Rattenbury.

    The Rattenbury opera has a wealth of other Victoria elements, beyond paying tribute to the city's premier architect and being penned by a local composer.
    The opera stars internationally renowned tenor Richard Margison in the title role...and...is...directed by former Victorian Amiel Gladstone.
    The set is by another well-known Victoria architect, Franc D'Ambrosio, who also designed the Baumann Centre.
    We were able to bring the designs up and look at how to make the space work for a performance, said D'Ambrosio, noting stage scrims were made from construction fabric that covered the Empress during its recent renovation, printed with an image of Rattenbury's famous hotel.
    Read more.

  • The Canadians: Francis Rattenbury

    An entertaining documentary on the life and death of Francis Rattenbury – architect, opportunist, scoundrel – produced by Historica Canada in partnership with the CRB Foundation and History Television

  • Francis Mawson Rattenbury: Biography of Rattenbury, photos of some of his buildings, and examples of coverage of his murder in the British Press, from a web site devoted to the history of Oak Bay.



Act One

It's the early 1920s in Victoria. Florrie, wife of famous architect Francis Rattenbury (Ratz) is helping Ratz out the door for a celebration in his honour. Florrie is relieved he's going out; she's content in their home only when everything is quiet and peaceful.

At the celebration, Ratz is charmed to meet Alma, a woman half his age. The two stroll the harbour, and Ratz sees a new challenge in winning her heart. The two soon begin an affair.

Ratz notices all his job prospects disappearing. He wants to marry Alma and remove Florrie from his life, but Florrie refuses to move out of the family home. He moves Alma in anyway, and as they try to enjoy their first evening with drinks around the piano, Florrie puts a stop to their fun, eventually telling Ratz that God will judge him. Alma retires for the evening, leaving Ratz to lament that his home was not designed for all this trouble.

The scandal has ruined Ratz's social standing and his career, so he and Alma decide to move away and make a fresh start. Alma is excited at the prospect of focussing on her song writing in a new country.

Act Two

It's the 1930s, and Ratz and Alma and their children have been settled for some years in a small home in Bournemouth, England, along with their maid (and Alma's companion) Irene. Despite Irene's disapproval, Alma hires teenaged Stevens as chauffeur and handyman. When Ratz meets Stevens, he believes he is seeing himself as a young man. He's resentful of this new reminder of youth, potential, and ambition in his home. Alma's not inspired with song writing, and she's bored with Ratz, who has no work and is spending more and more time alone in his chair, drinking.

Alma takes Stevens to London, where she seduces him, and Stevens learns about her medicine. On their return to Bournemouth, Alma and Ratz have a fight. Ratz, who has been reading about suicide and drinking, hits Alma. Stevens sees them making up, becomes jealous, and threatens Alma.

Stevens is cornered as both the lover and the hired help, and in an attempt to cope, he steals Alma's medicine. Ratz begins a discussion with Stevens over drinks and a game of cards, but is too drunk, depressed, and overshadowed by his long past successes to have any good effect. Stevens runs from the house, angry and distraught. He swallows all Alma's medicine, resolving to prove he is a man.

Act Three

Alma finds Ratz unconscious from blows to his head. Ratz is stuck somewhere between life and death, and can observe the goings on in his home from a different world. Stevens awakes and discovers a bloody carpenter's mallet. Ratz imagines his own court case in an abstract world where he is the judge. As witnesses and the accused spin their statements, Ratz tries to piece everything together.

While Alma wants to take blame for the crime, Irene can prove that Stevens is guilty, and reminds her of the price her children will bear in society if Alma is sentenced. Alma has no choice but to admit that Stevens is guilty. Ratz, while deploring being judged himself, sentences Stevens to hang.

Alma confides to Irene that she can't bear that Stevens will be hanged, and takes her own life. As Ratz looks on helplessly from his world, he remembers Florrie's warning that God would judge him. He's devastated and begs for forgiveness from Alma, from his children, even from Florrie. He foresees that his legacy will be entwined by both impressive success and scandalous failure, and realizes he is the architect of his own demise and all the tragedy around him. He takes full blame, admitting he is the only truly guilty one. As he begs the jury to reconsider Stevens' death sentence, he dies.


POV is deeply grateful to Creative BC for supporting our Festival of Canadian Opera, featuring the première stagings of Rattenbury and Missing through a grant from the BC Music Fund.

Creative BC is an independent society created and supported by the Province of BC to sustain and help grow BC's creative sector (motion picture; digital and interactive media; music and sound recording; and magazine and book publishing industries). The society delivers a wide range of programs and services to expand BC's creative economy. The society acts as an industry catalyst and ambassador to help BC's creative sector reach its economic and creative potential both at home and globally.




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Performances take place at the Baumann Centre, 925 Balmoral Road, Victoria.


In collaboration with
The Other Guys Theatre Company


Creative BC, Supported by the Province of British Columbia