The Nefarious, Immoral but Highly Profitable Enterprise of Mr. Burke & Mr. Hare | NOV 8-12 | Boston Lyric Opera
The Nefarious, Immoral but Highly Profitable Enterprise of Mr. Burke & Mr. Hare | NOV 8-12 2017-09-22T09:06:16+00:00

Individual Opera Tickets


Music by Julian Grant | Libretto by Mark Campbell

When Edinburgh’s world-renowned anatomy schools face a cadaver shortage in the 1820s, two men smell a money-making enterprise. Based on historical events, this highly theatrical and brutally funny chamber opera follows the infamous ten-month killing spree of William Burke and William Hare – and questions how far society will go in the name of “science”.

Individual Opera Tickets


The Nefarious, Immoral but Highly Profitable Enterprise of Mr. Burke & Mr. Hare
Music by Julian Grant | Libretto by Mark Campbell
A world premiere commissioned by Music-Theatre Group with the support of Boston Lyric Opera
Sung in English with English surtitles

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Conductor David Angus
Stage Director David Schweizer
Set Designer Caleb Wertenbaker
Costume Designer Nancy Leary
Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel
Movement Director Melinda Sullivan


William Burden, Dr. Robert Knox, MR. BURKE & MR. HARE, Boston Lyric Opera

William Burden

Dr. Robert Knox
Jesse Blumberg, William Burke, MR. BURKE & MR. HARE, Boston Lyric Opera

Jesse Blumberg

William Burke
Craig Colclough, William Hare, MR. BURKE & MR. HARE, Boston Lyric Opera

Craig Colclough

William Hare
Marie McLaughlin, Abigail Simpson, MR. BURKE & MR. HARE, Boston Lyric Opera

Marie McLaughlin

Abigail Simpson

With David McFerrin, Michelle Trainor, Heather Gallagher,
David Cushing, Michael Slattery, Emma Sorenson, Antonia Tamer

The Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts

539 Tremont Street | Boston, MA | 02116

The Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts

Surrounded by the largest collection of Victorian brownstones in New England and representing the height of urban industrial chic, The Cyclorama at Boston Center for the Arts is an historic venue located in the South End neighborhood of Boston. The building features a a dazzling copper skylight dome atop a round, brick-lined 23,000-square foot space.


  • Seating will be in a one of a kind space designed by BLO’s production and creative team. The space is based off of an Anatomical Theatre Installation at Humboldt University in Berlin, and the seating zones reflect how central and how close the seats are in the space, thereby indicating a more intimate experience.
  • Seating will be on risers, with rows elevated above each other.
  • There are no Mezzanine and Balcony sections in this theater.
The Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts | The Nefarious, Immoral but Highly Profitable Enterprise of Mr. Burke & Mr. Hare | NOV 8-12 | Boston Lyric Opera


  • There is a set of stairs off of main entrance on Tremont Street to access the theatre. Patrons unable to use the stairs should enter the venue using the elevator to the right of the stair entrance.
  • Accessible seating is located in the first row.
  • The restrooms on the main level are accessible.


  • Restrooms are located on the main level and accessible to all seating sections.


  • Accessible by Orange Line (Back Bay), Green Line (Copley) and Silver Line
Edinburgh, Scotland, 1828. The city’s world-renowned schools of anatomy suffer from a shortage of cadavers for use in dissection lessons, and seek new methods for supply to meet demand.


William Hare and William Burke, two poor Irishmen who manage a boardinghouse in Tanner’s Close with their significant others Helen and Margaret, discover one of their lodgers – Donald, a retired soldier – has died of natural causes. At first Burke and Hare bemoan the loss of rent Donald owed, but then Hare suggests they sell his corpse to an anatomy school to make up for the lost income. Burke initially balks at the idea, but eventually is persuaded, and they pack the corpse into a tea chest for transport to the surgery school run by Dr. Knox, where it is met by his assistant, Dr. Ferguson. Knox extols the pursuit of knowledge in a lecture to his anatomy students before preparing Donald’s body for dissection.


Burke and Hare celebrate their windfall with Margaret and Helen at a pub. After the women depart, Burke and Hare are harassed by Abigail Simpson, a drunk, apparently homeless woman. Hare convinces Burke to do Abigail a favor by putting her out of her misery; he suggests murdering her and selling her body to Dr. Knox. Burke again protests, then relents. Hare approaches Abigail and offers to buy her a whisky. Meanwhile, at another table in the pub, Ferguson has a romantic exchange with Mary Paterson, a young prostitute he has been seeing.


In no time, Burke and Hare’s new enterprise is a success. Because the pair prey on the disenfranchised, the identities of their victims are often unknown. Knox and Ferguson enjoy the rise in enrollment at their school, while Burke, Hare, Helen and Margaret again celebrate their prosperity at the pub.


A few months later, Daft Jamie, a beloved street character of Edinburgh, sings Knox a ditty in passing. Helen and Margaret approach Daft Jamie to offer him whisky. At the school, Knox gives Ferguson good news about a promotion, but Ferguson is distracted after recognizing the corpse of Daft Jamie. He voices suspicions about Burke and Hare’s methods of obtaining bodies. Knox reminds him that their research serves the greater good – then orders Daft Jamie’s head and feet be removed before dissection, to avoid suspicion.


In the pub, Burke struggles with his conscience while Helen and Margaret remind the group they must stick together at all costs. Hare notices Mary Paterson sitting by herself across the pub and invites her to Tanner’s Close. Later, back at the school, Ferguson is distraught to find Mary’s body on the surgery table, but Knox heartlessly observes she will be popular with the students. Ferguson protests. Knox threatens him and warns him they must stick together. He forces Ferguson to present Mary’s naked body to the students for anatomical illustration.


Madge, an itinerant Irish woman, has come to Edinburgh to find her son. She meets Hare who claims they are related. He lures her to Tanner’s Corner promising to help her. Burke and Hare ply her with whisky, and when she is too drunk to struggle, they murder her.

Helen and Margaret enter and are surprised by the body, as they have potential lodgers – an entire family – in the next room. They try to hide her body beneath some straw, but the family spots Madge’s lifeless arm and flees. At the school, a constable questions Knox, who compels Ferguson to deny all knowledge of the crimes. Victims and perpetrators alike recount the aftermath of the killing spree.

Before the World Premiere of Burke & Hare, explore the soundworld of composer Julian Grant and librettist Mark Campbell through these samples of their other works.

Mark Campbell

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Two Opera Packages Available Now!