Based on Friedrich Dürrenmatt's 1956 satirical play about greed and revenge Der Besuch der alten Dame, it focuses on one of the world's wealthiest women, Claire Zachanassian, who returns to her financially depressed hometown and offers its residents a new lease on life in exchange for the murder of Anton Schell, the man who abandoned her years ago.
"The citizens of Brachen are awaiting the visit of their very own Claire Wascher, now Claire Zachanassian, the oft-widowed, richest woman in the world. It's been a lifetime's absence during which they have fallen into utter bankruptcy. In anticipation of this visit, Anton Shell, a once prosperous shop keeper, remembers himself and Clara as young lovers ("Prelude"). The Mayor and the School Master have prepared a special welcome for their distinguished visitor ("Out of the Darkness"). All Brachen marvels at their visitor's glamorous, bejeweled presence ("At Last"). Clarie explains the reason for it ("I Walk Away"). Her warm greeting to Anton makes the Mayor realize that Anton is the key to asking Claire to relieve them from their misery. Anton is confident he can ("I Know Claire). He leaves to rendezvous with Claire and their old trysting place, Konrad's Village Wood, while the others exult in their good fortune. Only the School Master has forebodings about her visit ("A Happy Ending"). Alone in the woods, the two old lovers and their younger selves reminisce ("You,You,You"). Anton is convinced that she will be their salvation ("I Must Have Been Something"). Everyone prepares for the gala banquet that evening at the Golden Apostle Hotel in Claire's honor ("Look at Me"). The Mayor and the citizens tell Claire of their inexplicable decline from prosperity to utter bankruptcy ("A Masque"). Claire then recounts her version of events, which differs considerably from theirs ("Eunuch's Testimony"). In exchange for rescuing them from finacal calamity, she asks for the life of Anton Shell ("Winter"). The Mayor expresses outrage but the seeds have been planted ("Yellow Shoes"). Claire reveals that it is she herself who destroyed Brachen's once booming economy ("A Confession"). She is resolute in her terms: Anton's death. Claire's entourage-her Butler and two Eunuchs-swear eternal fealty to her ("I Would Never Leave You"). Alone in the attic above his shop, Anton wrestles with his fears ("Back and Fourth"). The School Master visits Anton and tells him how the village is turning against him ("The Only One"). Anton struggles with his conscience ("Fear"). Embracing his fate and at peace with himself, he invites family for a drive in his son's new automobile, bought-like everything else in Brachen now-on credit ("A Car Ride"). Knowing Anton will join her in their old trysting place, Claire reflects on the incidents that have brought her to this moment in her life (Love and Love Alone). The lovers meet for a last time before the town meeting that will decide Anton's fate ("In the Forest Again"). The visit over, Claire tells her butler, "Rudi, get the bags packed. We are going to Capri" ("Finale")." - Terrance McNallly