Opera Scotland

King Olaf Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf

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Edward Elgar (born Broadheath, Worcestershire, 2 June 1857; died Worcester, 23 February 1934


H A Acworth (1848-1933)


Tales of a Wayside Inn by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)



First Performance: Hanley (Victoria Hall), 30 October 1896.

First Performance in Scotland: Dundee (Kinnaird Hall), 20 December 1898.



A cantata for soprano, tenor, bass, chorus and orchestra, the work was commissioned for the North Staffordshire Festival. While it is certainly not an opera, King Olaf nevertheless shows a degree of talented dramatic writing by Elgar. Given that the seminal Enigma Variations were still three years in the future, the quality of much of the music is hugely impressive, even with a less than brilliant text to work on.

The subject is the life of Olaf Tryggvasson (c950-1000), an unusual Christian leader to feature as a hero in the Norse sagas. Longfellow's text consists of twenty-two episodes, necessarily subjected to a substantial editing process by Elgar and Acworth. The inevitable result was therefore entitled Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf. The scenes are mounted in a frame that provides a narrative thread - the ballad-singers who recite these tales, representing the oral tradition so important in that culture.

The Cast


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