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The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Bune-Jones. Nimue reads to the wizard from a book of spells. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Beguiling of Merlin, by Edward Burne-Jones. The wizard is trapped in a hawthorn bush as Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, reads from a book of spells. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Merlin magic comes to St Mary in the Castle

Marcio da Silva is well known in town for his magnificent Hastings Philharmonic concerts with winners of the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition. Not so well-known is the strength and depth of his opera productions with the Ensemble OrQuesta, writes Chris Cormack. This month he takes another bold leap forward with his first production of contemporary opera, Merlin, by local composer Keith Beal. The production has much welcome local support, including costumes by Gill Jenks, the wardrobe mistress for the Stables Theatre.

Marcio has produced 15 operas with Ensemble OrQuesta in as few years as one can count on one hand, often lesser known works from such composers as Cavalli, Rameau, Purcell and Lully, but always eye-opening. This number does not include some international productions that took Marcio as far afield as his home country, Brazil.

Scheduled for 2019 are another four operas by composers as diverse as Monteverdi, Rameau, Mozart and Händel. Hastings Philharmonic Choir will have a significant involvement in The Magic Flute chorus for the June 2019 production.

Many of these are produced in Surrey and London as part of the Woodhouse and Grimeborn opera festivals. “Grimeborn often achieves minor miracles,” wrote reviewer Owen Davies of one of their productions this summer. “[Xerse] by Cavalli from seventeenth century Venice is a triumph – both for Marcio da Silva and his team.”

Composer Keith Beal.

Composer Keith Beal.

A bold proposition

From Venice to Camelot, Keith Beal’s Merlin will be altogether a bold proposition: the opera music owes something to minimalist music and Keith’s personal experience playing jazz and working with African musicians. Believing that all art should be a balance between the emotional and the intellectual, he has sought euphony, something easy on the ear that enhances the drama of his contemporary piece.

At the time Keith wrote this opera he was experimenting with the ‘diminished whole tone scale’. This scale, from the tonic to the flattened dominant, is often associated with Debussy and Ravel in classical music and commonly employed in jazz improvisation.

Keith has performed as a jazz saxophonist with world-renowned Hastings jazz musician Trevor Watts and Moire Music; he was a member of this avant garde jazz ensemble, which played at most of the European jazz festivals between 1982 and 1986. (See Moire Music with Watts, Beal and Liam Genockey here.)

Cutler's conception of Nimue and Merlin in his painting xx. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Burne-Jones’ painting of Nimue and Merlin for U Waldo Cutlers’ Stories of King Arthur and His Knights. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Beal’s oeuvre

As a composer he has built an oeuvre of six symphonies, four concertos and dozens of other compositions, which have accumulated since the 1980s, while dividing his activities between Hastings and the Netherlands, increasingly as a composer but also as a performer. He had some early success  with a composition for the Dutch Tuba Quartet, which became a seminal tuba piece at the World Tuba Convention – so started his  ‘classical’ composition career.

In Keith’s opera Merlin is a 2,000 year old dysfunctional legendary magician and Nimue a poor young Welsh girl on the make. He has spent his life trying to do good for mankind, but everything has gone wrong.  There follows a story of sexual awakening, intrigue, incest, failed magic and war based loosely on some of the many legends of Merlin from England, Wales and other parts of Europe. A tragic ending allows Nimue as the Lady of the Lake to join Merlin in the ether.


Ensemble OrQuesta and Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra present the world premiere of Keith Beal’s opera Merlin, with James Schouten as Merlin, Caroline Carragher as Morgan La Faye, Helen May as Nimue, Claire Filer as Gwenevere and Kieran White as King Arthur. Marcio da Silva is stage/music director and conductor. 

Saturday 27 October, 7pm,at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings. Tickets £15 + £1.50 fee, available online or on the door, under 18s and students free on the door.


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Posted 11:45 Tuesday, Oct 16, 2018 In: Music & Sound

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