Synopsis courtesy of San Diego Opera and the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.
The citizens of Cold Sassy Tree, Georgia, are outraged when Rucker Lattimore, proprietor of the General Store, announces his intention to marry Love Simpson, a "Yankee" milliner half his age. At the same time, Rucker's grandson, Will Tweedy befriends a classmate, Lightfoot McClendon, who lives on the wrong side of the tracks.
Rucker's grown daughters, Mary Willis Tweedy and Loma Williams, coldly receive Miss Love, who explains the "marriage arrangement" between herself and Rucker. She will cook and clean in return for the deed to the house and its furnishings. She explains that as an orphan, she grew up in rented rooms and boarding houses.
The citizens of Cold Sassy Tree shun the new Mrs. Lattimore at church on the Sunday following their marriage, prompting Will and Love to leave the service defiantly. Rucker responds by setting up a makeshift church in his parlor and preaching his own sermon, creating further public outrage. His inspired address ends with Love and Will joining in the Doxology 'Praise God from whom all blessings flow...'
Love has redecorated Rucker's house, much to his daughters' dismay. When Rucker begins to make some changes of his own, including shaving off his beard, Mary Willis and Loma are inconsolable. Loma's husband, Camp, announces the arrival of a Texas rancher, Clayton McAllister, who is Love's former fiancÚ. Clayton disconsolately returns to Texas.
Lightfoot is distressed about having to quit school to support her family. She confides to Will her love of learning. Will offers to help her get an after-school job at his grandfather's store. They embrace and are discovered by Loma, who strongly disapproves. Will responds by spreading humorous but embarrassing rumors about Loma.
While Love is away in Atlanta, Rucker equips their house with modern conveniences: electricity and plumbing. He asks Will to apologize to his Aunt Loma for the rumors he started and shows him the improvements to the house. Love's surprise is tempered by her growing attraction to Rucker, and his to her. Overwhelmed by her feelings, she reveals that she was violated as a young girl and considers herself "damaged goods." Rather than rejecting her, Rucker tenderly proposes that she becomes his wife in every sense of the word.
At the store, Love quiets the gossiping ladies by appealing to their vanity. Rucker reproves Will for wanting to become a writer instead of taking over the family business. As Rucker closes the store for the day, he is robbed at gunpoint and critically wounded.
The family maintains a vigil for Rucker. He apologizes for his earlier criticism of Will and encourages the boy to follow his heart. He tells Love that "she was the vision he had always searched for." Love tries to interrupt the dying Rucker to tell him she is expecting his child.
Will pours out his grief to
Lightfoot and announces Rucker's funeral party plans. At Will's urging, Love
discloses to the townspeople that Rucker is to be a father again. Her
announcement is greeted with shocked silence. A few townspeople take their
leave, but most are won over at last. Love and the other members of Rucker's
family, finally united, receive the joyous congratulations of the crowd and
celebrate the legacy of Rucker Lattimore.
This opera runs 3 hours and 10 minutes. There will be two intermissions.