Edinburgh Festival Stages World Premiere of Stuart MacRae's Opera The Assassin Tree | Playbill

Classic Arts News Edinburgh Festival Stages World Premiere of Stuart MacRae's Opera The Assassin Tree
When Brian McMaster, outgoing director of the Edinburgh International Festival, looked to commission an opera for his last season in the Festival City, he turned to a Scot for the music. But not to James MacMillan, currently the best-known of Caledonian composers. Instead McMaster settled on Stuart MacRae, a relative youngster (now only 30) whose Violin Concerto had a big success in 2001 when Tasmin Little premiered it at the BBC Proms and another when Christian Tetzlaff played it in Edinburgh the following summer. (The Sunday Telegraph's critic called it "one of the best pieces of new music I have heard.")
MacRae, in turn, wanted a poet for a librettist. So, according to an interview in The Scotsman, he went hunting through the Forward Book of Poetry and picked Simon Armitage, an earthy, streetwise Yorkshireman. (His most recent book, his 13th, is titled Tyrannosaurus Rex Verses The Corduroy Kid.)

Together they came up with The Assassin Tree, a chamber opera with a mythological theme. The work begins its world premiere run tonight at the Edinburgh Festival and goes on next month to the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House in London.

According to The Scotsman, the pair took their inspiration from The Golden Bough, anthropologist James Frazer's examination of the rites and beliefs of various ancient cultures. The result is a neo-myth in which a King Priest of the goddess Diana is condemned to wait in her sacred grove for his successor, who must murder him in order to win office and the goddess's affections. (The titular tree is the site of the killing.) The successor must then take his turn awaiting his own assassin.

Soprano Gillian Keith sings the goddess Diana and baritone Paul Whelan is her King Priest; representing the next generation, as the Youth and the Slave, are tenors Colin Ainsworth and Peter Van Hulle. Garry Walker conducts the Britten Sinfonia in a production designed and directed by Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten, who made a big splash at the EIF in 2004 with their staging of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice.

The Assassin Tree runs for three performances at the Edinburgh International Festival (www.eif.co.uk): tonight, tomorrow and Sunday (August 27) at the Royal Lyceum Theatre. Then the Royal Opera House in London (www.roh.org.uk) presents the work in its Linbury Studio Theatre for three performances September 6-8.

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