The Devil to Pay, or The Wives Metamorphos'd

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The Devil to Pay, or The Wives Metamorphos'd is an English ballad opera[1] by Charles Coffey (?-1745 )[2].

(Also written The Devil to Pay, or The Wives Metamorphosed in some editions, and often simply referred to as The Devil to Pay)

The text

The first, three act version of this work was written by Charles Coffey (?-1745 ), aided by John Mottley (1692-1750) and was based on Thomas Jevon's farce The Devil of a Wife, or, A Comical Transformation (1686). Apparently Coffey and Mottley were each responsible for half of the three acts, and it first performed at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane, by His Majesty's Servants in 1731.

The original source text

The source of the opera , The Devil of a Wife, or, A Comical Transformation, by Thomas Jevon (1652–1688) , was in its turn based on a plot borrowed from a Philip Sidney story. First performed in 1686 at Dorset Garden, after which various versions , with added music, were performed in later years, including the Coffey and Mottley version of 1731

Translations and adaptations of the Coffey work

In 1731 the libretto was apparently printed in a two act version, and in 1732 the libretto of a much shorter and more well-received one-act version of the Coffey libretto, edited by Theophilus Cibber, appeared in print. Initially called a "ballad opera", or simply "an opera", it was referred to as "a ballad farce" in later editions of the 19th century, usually only crediting Coffey as the author.

The shorter version became the most successful ballad opera of the 18th century after The Beggar's Opera.

Translated into German as Der Teufel ist Los, oder Die Verwandelten Weiber and performed in Berlin, 24 January 1743, it strongly influenced the development of the German Singspiel[3].

Performance history in South Africa

Given that it was usually played as an afterpiece, at times in a very full programme, it is most probably the published one-act version that was played in 19th century Cape Town.

1802: Performed as The Devil to Pay in Cape Town's African Theatre on 10 May by the Garrison Players, as afterpiece to Three Weeks after Marriage (Murphy).

1802: Performed again (but now announced wrongly as The Devil to Pay, or The Wives Metamorphised) in Cape Town's African Theatre on 28 June by the Garrison Players, this time in celebration of the King's birthday. It was performed alongside The Little Hunchback, or A Frolic in Bagdad (O'Keeffe), the interlude of The Magic Zone and The Cunning Wife, or The Lover in the Sack (Petersen).

1818: Performed in the African Theatre on 24 January by three visiting professional performers from Liverpool - a Mr Cooke, Mrs Cooke, Mrs Brough and Miss Williams, assisted by the Gentlemen Amateurs. Played as an afterpiece to The Honey Moon (Tobin).


Facsimile of the 1732 one act edition, Internet Archive[4]

Facsimile of the 1748 one act edition, Internet Archive[]

Facsimile version of the 1831 edition, Google eBook[5]

The Devil to Pay Or, The Wives Metamorphosed: A Ballad Farce, Google Books[6]

John Hopkins library catalogue[7]

The Library Company of Philadelphia[8]

F.C.L. Bosman, 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [9]: pp. 68-9, 151,

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