Opera Scotland

King Priam


Michael Tippett (born London, 2 January 1905; died London, 8 January 1998.


The composer.


Classical Greek epic The Iliad by Homer.



First Performance: Coventry (Theatre), 29 May 1962.

First Performance in Scotland (projected): N/A.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.



Tippett's second opera was, as with Britten's marvellous War Requiem, given its first performance during the celebrations surrounding the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral, designed by Sir Basil Spence for a site adjacent to the ruins of the medieval building, destroyed in the Blitz. Like the Britten work, it is distinctly anti-war in its overall outlook, and while not as well received initially, has been shown to have great staying power. The original staging by the Covent Garden company, was revived regularly at the Royal Opera House through the sixties and seventies. Since then, an excellent staging has been mounted by Kent Opera and later by ENO. King Priam is now regarded as one of Tippett's greatest works, and perhaps his greatest opera.

When English Touring Opera were planning their Spring 2014 tour it was accepted that all three operas would come to the Perth Festival. Sadly, the long-term closure of the wonderfully intimate Perth Theatre for much needed renovation work dictated a transfer to the wide open spaces of the Concert Hall. Scottish premieres of King Priam and Britten's Paul Bunyan were therefore scrapped, with just a revival of the 2009 staging of The Magic Flute surviving.


Main Characters

Priam, King of Troy (bass-baritone)

Hecuba, his Queen (soprano)

Hector, their son (baritone)

Paris, their son (tenor)

Andromache, wife of Hector (soprano)

Helen, wife of Paris (mezzo-soprano)

Achilles, a Greek leader (tenor)

Patroclus, his friend (baritone)


Plot Summary

At the birth of Paris, a prediction is made that he will kill his own father. A decision is taken to kill the child. This is not done, however, and the baby is, instead, given to a shepherd for adoption. A few years later, when the boy meets his father and brother out hunting, Priam takes him back to Troy and re-admits him to the family. More time passes, and, following the marriage of Hector to Andromache, he falls out with Paris, who leaves the city to travel. In Sparta he meets Helen. She is the wife of Menelaus, but she leaves Sparta with Paris, and they go to Troy. War breaks out between the Greeks and Trojans.

Hector is keen to fight, Paris less so, but Priam persuades him to join the fray. In the Greek camp, Achilles has quarrelled with his commander, Agamemnon, and is refusing to fight. He is persuaded by Patroclus to let him wear Achilles' armour in battle. However Hector kills Patroclus, and  this is enough to rouse the furious Achilles to action.

Hecuba, Andromache and Helen are at odds because of the effect of the war, Andromache anticipating her husband's death. It is Paris who breaks the news of Hector's death at the hands of Achilles to King Priam. Grief-stricken, the old king visits Achilles in the Greek camp to beg for the return of Hector's body. Achilles agrees, and they share a moment of recognition that their own deaths are near. Achilles is eventually killed by Paris, and it is Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, who in turn kills Priam as Troy at last falls.

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