Co-commissioned by the Edinburgh International Festival and the Royal Opera House with support from the Morton Charitable Trust

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  • Soprano, 2 Tenors, Bass Baritone
  • 1 hr 3 min
  • Libretto by Simon Armitage based on a story from James George Frazer's The Golden Bough
  • English

Programme Note


Diana – soprano
Priest – Bass baritone
Slave – Tenor
Youth - Tenor


The story of The Assassin Tree is taken from the first section of James George Frazer’s classic study in magic and religion, The Golden Bough. According to the legend, Diana’s sacred grove is stalked by a tragic and lonely king or priest. Anyone who murders the priest will inherit the role, and slaves can win their freedom by stealing a leaf from Diana’s tree. The priest is a haunted and weary figure, constantly looking over his shoulder, never able to sleep. His duty to his goddess has turned from passionate devotion to exhausted obligation. His assassination by a stronger, younger and more virile man seems inevitable, but for the pretender who takes his crown, ambition has its price. One swing of the sword transforms the successor into a hunted man.

In this opera, Diana is a representation of nature itself. She must be revered and respected, protected and nourished. The life of every mortal depends on her survival. But to survive and be fertile she must also be loved, and if her loyal priest seems incapable of meeting her needs, then new suitors are never far away, watching from the woods, waiting to strike. And within this mythological setting, a human drama is about to unfold. Just as Diana’s roots extend deep into the ground, the priest is also part of a family tree whose branches and limbs are not always visible, and who bloodline is part of the eternal cycle of death and renewal.

© 2006 Simon Armitage


Vocal score