Commissioned by Whitgift School.
Fragments from a Heart of Darkness, Chamber Ensemble (2012)
Fragments from a Heart of Darkness is a suite extrapolated from the chamber opera Heart of Darkness, which in turn is based on the novella of the same name by Joseph Conrad. The suite, in seven sections, follows the same order of events as the opera:
Marlow, an old sea-captain, is among a small group of passengers aboard a ship moored
in the Thames one evening, waiting for the tide to come in (The Thames). He relates
the tale of his travels as a young man, when he sailed upriver in the equatorial forest of an
unnamed country in Central Africa. He has been sent there to find Kurtz, the enigmatic
and once idealistic ivory trader rumoured to have turned his remote Inner Station into a
During his voyage he encounters friends (Dance), enemies (Attack), and a peculiar acolyte of Kurtz (The Harlequin). Marlow is horrified by the violent manner in which Kurtz controls his territory. When Kurtz is found, he is gaunt and ill. On the verge of death, his final mysterious words are “The horror! The horror!” (Kurtz). Marlow returns home and meets with Kurtz’s fiancée. Despite all that he has seen and understood, he is unable to tell her Kurtz’s final words (The Sepulchral City). We in turn see that Marlow himself has played his part in maintaining the secrecies of horror he finds so abhorrent.
Back on the Thames Estuary, the tide has risen. Marlow’s tale is at an end. His isolation
from the truth of his actions and the atrocities witnessed - that “vast grave of unspeakable
secrets” in which he speaks of being “buried” - is borne out in his epilogue: “we live, as
we dream, alone” (The River).
Occasionally what was vocal material in the stage work has been redistributed among the
instruments; however, the orchestral scoring of the original remains largely intact in this version.
The opera, with music by Tarik O’Regan and a libretto by Tom Phillips, received its premiere at the Royal Opera House Linbury Studio Theatre, London on 1 November 2011.