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Work of the Week – Aribert Reimann: Lear

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear, which is enjoying being our fifth new production in 2017, is about the corruptive force of power, about loneliness, about losing human connections – even to one’s own children”, theatre manager Markus Hinterhäuser remarks.

On 20 August, Reimann’s masterpiece will be given a new production at the Salzburger Festspiele with theatre and film director Simon Stone and Franz Welser‑Möst conducting the Vienna Philharmonic.

Reimann undertook to write an operatic version of Shakespeare’s tragedy at the repeated suggestion (since 1968) of baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Although fascinated by the story, it would take Reimann four years to begin work on the opera. He approached Claus H. Henneberg to write the libretto, having successfully worked with him in the past, most notably on the opera Melusine.
Reimann recognises three musical inspirations for Lear: Anton von Webern, who taught him precision, Alban Berg, whose expressivity he took as an example, and the rhythmic music of India. In order to create these complex sounds, the composer requested an 83 piece orchestra, 48 of which were to be strings.

Aribert Reimann’s Lear: A parable mirroring our time

In this piece I discovered more and more what seemed to me as a parable of our time. All those things that happened then could happen any time.– Aribert Reimann

King Lear wishes to divide his kingdom amongst his three daughters by giving the one who loves him most the biggest share. The youngest daughter, Cordelia, who doesn’t express her love for her father in words, is banished from the kingdom and leaves to marry the king of France. The loyal Earl of Kent, who disapproves of Lear’s decision, is also exiled. The two older daughters share the inheritance with their husbands but it is soon revealed that their proclamations of love were an exercise in greed. A series of tragic events gradually reveals their true character to Lear, who in the final scene, insane and abandoned, crouches over Cordelia’s body and follows her into the afterworld.

„The audience is magnetized by the orchestra for two hours: with clusters of varying intensities and quarter note dissonances, whirling soundscapes punctuated by explosions of brass, constantly changing rhythms, and lyrical solo voices. All of these techniques are employed in the development of protagonists, expressions, situations – never as just an exercise in composition.“ (Wolfgang Schreiber)

Performances of Lear continue at Salzburger Festspiele until 29 August.