The Hebrides Ensemble
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Sat 21 Jun
Based on George Mackay Brown’s prose and re-imagined by Scottish composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, The Martyrdom of St Magnus was always going to leave an extraordinary legacy. Uniting the talents of two of Orkney’s most inspired residents, the popular opera came to fruition over 30 years ago, when musical supremo Davies created the piece to open the island’s, now annual, celebration of the arts, The St Magnus Festival.
Now, more than three decades on, the Hebrides Ensemble will revisit the piece, first in Inverness and Edinburgh and then back at its spiritual home, in Orkney. Everything, says Davies, is as it should be. ‘The Hebrides Ensemble is incredible, what they do is wonderful,’ says the composer. ‘As musicians, they will absolutely engage with it, because as a piece it appeals on a very human level.’
A chamber opera in nine continuous scenes, The Martyrdom is widely considered a modern piece of music theatre, telling as it does the dramatic story of the martyrdom of Saint Magnus and the precarious balance between good and evil. Thirty years after its conception, its sweeping score and striking literary origins will be captured by a cast of five with an 11-strong instrumental ensemble completing the picture.
‘The St Magnus story is one to be relished and treasured and still feels relevant,’ says Davies, who admits he is yet to see the new production, although he has witnessed its recreation in many other contexts over the years. He is confident that director Ben Twist will channel the spirit of the island, while affording it renewed life. ‘When we began the St Magnus Festival and showcased this opera all those years ago, I remember being so nervous, but something has really taken root here both with the festival and with this work. It’s not dissimilar to having a child, I suppose. You see it grow and develop into a new phase of its development and you just think, yes, this is wonderful.’