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Royal Conservatoire of Scotland composer to premiere Robert The Bruce opera in 750th anniversary year

A new opera written for the 750th anniversary of the birth of Robert the Bruce will be premiered in four landmark Scottish churches this year, penned by a Royal Conservatoire of Scotland doctoral researcher.

PhD composer and pianist Rakhat-Bi Tolegenuly Abdyssagin, from Kazakhstan, will stage his one-hour opera, The Bruce, at Glasgow Cathedral on 17 February, St Giles’ Cathedral Edinburgh on 21 February, The University of St Andrews, St Salvator’s Chapel on 24 February and Dunfermline Abbey on 3 March.

Describing The Bruce, Rakhat-Bi said it is about ‘freedom and virtue, identity and power, struggle and stamina, irrepressible determination and indomitable will, triumph and destiny.’

Rakhat-Bi Tolegenuly Abdyssagin, composer of The Bruce, plays the organ at a rehearsal at Glasgow Cathedral. The view is looking down on to him, with the keys illuminated.

© Robbie McFadzean


“It tells the story of how one man is capable of making history, how one decision can dramatically change the life of the whole nation,” said Rakhat-Bi.

“The piece is a Cathedral Opera, a new genre, designed to be performed in a cathedral acoustic. The cast comprises of Robert Bruce (tenor), a reciter, an ensemble of singers and a pipe organ. The music is carefully calibrated and uses the majesty of the organ to produce a magnificent sonic universe within the cathedral space.”

The opera will bring together opera singers and conductors from RCS, with Rakhat-Bi playing the organ in each venue. The role of Robert the Bruce will be performed by Masters student Alfred Mitchell.

The opera will open with a ten-minute organ overture with live recitation by poet Alan Riach, Professor of Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow, who will set the introductory scene. It will be conducted by Lucy Callen and Hiew Tzejia.

The chorus of The Bruce in rehearsal at Glasgow Cathedral. The opera is written by Rakhat-Bi Abdyssagin to mark the 750th anniversary of the birth of Robert the Bruce.

© Robbie McFadzean


The Bruce has been composed as part of Rakhat-Bi’s doctoral research at RCS and the University of St Andrews, with libretto based on excerpts from the medieval narrative poem The Bruce, written c.1375 by John Barbour in Early Scots.

“I’ve worked with leading linguists and historians to establish and investigate the historical context as well as a pronunciation of Early Scots and we’ve done a substantial amount of work on decoding the text in both a metaphorical and direct way.

“The opera, paying tribute as it does to the tradition of complex, many-voiced (polyphonic) music, integrates the timelessness of definitive historical events with multi-dimensional aspects of contemporary compositional techniques, creating a musical bridge between the past and future.”

View of the pulpit area at Glasgow Cathedral and the rehearsal of The Bruce, the opera written by Rakhat-Bi Abdyssagin to mark the 750th anniversary of the birth of Robert the Bruce.

© Robbie McFadzean


For the libretto and historical context, Rakhat-Bi consulted with academics Dauvit Broun, Michael Brown, Theo van Heijnsbergen, Martin MacGregor, Rhiannon Purdie, Jamie Reid-Baxter and Alan Riach.

For the organ part and registration, Rakhat-Bi consulted with organists Matthew Beetschen, Andrew Forbes, Michael Harris, Ludger Lohmann and Gabit Nessipbayev.

The opera performances are free to attend but tickets must be booked in advance:

  • Glasgow Cathedral, 17 February, 7-8pm, register on Eventbrite
  • St Giles’ Cathedral Edinburgh, 21 February, 7.30-8.30pm, register on Eventbrite
  • The University of St Andrews, St Salvator’s Chapel on 24 February, 5.30-6.30pm, register on Eventbrite
  • Dunfermline Abbey, 3 March, 5-6pm, register on TryBooking

Visit Rakhat-Bi’s YouTube channel