Mad King Suibhne: An exciting new commission for our 2017 Season


I am a young British conductor and composer and am so excited to have the unique and wonderful opportunity to compose Mad King Suibhne that has been specially commissioned by John Coke and Suzanne Lemieux to celebrate Bury Court Opera’s 10th Anniversary. This is the fifth music drama I have written, and is the largest in scope and size. It is a real joy to create this piece with such a considerate and engaged Opera company and artistic team, and to compose for such a talented and brilliant cast.

I love Ireland and its culture and music. When I was a child we visited one of the possible locations of Glen Bolcain, which features importantly in the opera. Two years ago I was music director at a summer school near Wexford where we performed a short children’s opera I had composed. The beautiful and vibrant tradition of Irish stories is perfect for me to try and accomplish what I want to do in opera: to create lyrical, dramatic music that tells a compelling story in a way that is immediately engaging and moving.

The libretto of Mad King Suibhne brilliantly balances a fast-paced and magical world of animals, colour and the supernatural, with more serious themes, like the difficulty of loving someone with a mental illness, and the destructive effects of an aggressive, competitive society. Creating these conflicting themes musically is a joyful challenge. A woman pretending to be a witch and terrifying soldiers can be created with tremolo strings and scary chords; a man calling out when looking for his dear, lost friend is a Spiritual; a wife worrying about her missing husband becomes a loving folk aria; and alone in the forest, a mad king’s poetic gloominess and versification of his jealousy of sheep (who are lucky enough to live in flocks) comes out as a melancholic romantic aria.

Playing with style and music to create varied dramatic worlds is hugely satisfying and great fun.


My name is Ella Marchment and I am the director of Mad King Suibhne, the opera commissioned for Bury Court Opera's 10th anniversary.   I am a freelance theatre and opera director who has directed at The Mariinsky, The Rose, Copenhagen Opera Festival and the West End. I am also artistic director of Helios Collective, director of productions at Constella OperaBallet and part of a steering committee in Denmark re-imagining grand opera in the streets. I am committed to creating opportunities for young artists and work that is emotionally honest that an audience can connect deeply to. Opera is the great love of my life and I care about this genre before anything else and want to do everything that I can to help it survive and thrive. 

If Mad King Suibhne's  Genesis was compared to an Olympic sport it would be the decathlon where we are about to embark on the main body of competition after a year’s incubation (or training) period where ideas have been tried, tested, discarded, improved and built on. 

We have the ingredients to make this very special 10th Anniversary opera at Bury Court an actuality. We are now fully cast, our libretto is complete, Noah is tweaking his composition and I have had my first design meeting with Holly Pigott (who I am incredibly excited to be working with again after working together in 2014 on Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’s Eight Songs For A Mad King – Yes Mad King’s seems to be somewhat a trope for us!)

I was drawn to the story of King Suibhne for one reason above all. The same pressures that the Medieval King is subjected to are astonishingly contemporary and similar to those that we experience during day to day life. He is - to me - an Everyman figure and our biggest challenge will be simultaneously maintaining the mythological and magical quality of the original tale whilst highlighting its relevance and proximity to a modern audience.

I was also drawn to this work simply because it is a challenge. It's not very often that a director has to work out how to create tree swinging, decapitation, and people turning from animals to humans before our very eyes. 

For me the real adventure starts now - so keep an eye out for the next blog and we will update you of how it’s going along the way.