Assassin Tree, The

  • 21 August 2006

This article is from 2006.

Stuart MacRae adds opera to his burgeoning list of accomplishments

Five years ago, the EIF presented a retrospective of the music of Stuart MacRae. Remarkably, he was only 25. The next year, following its highly successful Proms premiere, his violin concerto was prominent. This year, things have moved on even further for Inverness-born MacRae. He has been commissioned by the Festival, along with Royal Opera House and Scottish Opera, to write his first opera.

Entitled The Assassin Tree, the opera is set in ancient Rome and is about the culture surrounding the goddess Diana. ‘There is a grove that gives sanctuary to her,’ explains MacRae, ‘which contains a tree representing her. It’s protected by the King of the Wood, an armed priest. We’ve made a fictionalised version of the story.’ Writer Simon Armitage has produced the libretto, filling out a number of the characters in the process. ‘I let him get on with it,’ says MacRae, ‘and from there it was a matter of responding to his libretto, while simultaneously keeping the mystical and archaic atmosphere of the story.’

As soon as he knew about the commission, MacRae soaked up every opera performance he could. ‘I saw many productions,’ he explains, ‘some by composers whose work I knew already, like Birtwistle, Janacek and Bartok. But I also looked back to early opera, to Monteverdi, to see how the genre started.’ Whereas early opera is divided into recitatives and arias, MacRae decided not to go down that route and he describes his work as ‘through composed.’

For MacRae, the opportunity to write an opera is one he appreciates enormously. ‘It’s a great privilege,’ he says, ‘and, looking back, a very good time to have started. I’ve actually got a bit addicted to opera as an art form now and would love to write some more.’ (Carol Main)

Royal Lyceum Theatre, 473 2000, 25-27 Aug, 8pm, £10-£32.

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