Lear, Opera by Aribert Reimann
William Shakespeare has been an inspiration to a range of composers. Giuseppe Verdi was famously infatuated with the Bard’s plays and regarded them as the highest points of the dramatic arts. While the Maestro never fulfilled his dream to make King Lear into an opera, Berlin-born heavyweight Aribert Reimann took to the task. The modern-sounding, evocative opera Lear now comes to Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence.
Lear presents a turning point in Reimann’s career. It is among his most significant literary operas that have made him an internationally acclaimed modern classical composer. Reimann first got the idea to adapt Shakespeare’s famous tragedy in 1968, when German baritone Dieter Fischer-Dieskau approached him. In 1975, Reimann received a commission from the Bavarian State Opera and immediately started working on Lear, with the title role written specifically for Fischer-Dieskau.
To transport the multi-layered Shakespearean tragedy to the operatic stage, Reimann enlisted the help of librettist Claus H. Henneberg, who walked the narrow line between translating and condensing the Bard’s famously ornate language and maintaining the dramatic charge of the piece. Lear was premiered on 9 July 1978 at Munich’s National Theatre, to great critical and public acclaim.
In terms of plot, Lear remains true to Shakespeare’s original tragedy and follows the ageing British King Lear who attempts to divide his kingdom equally among his three daughters, but his short temper and waning authority gradually lead him to lose his throne, his family and his mind. In Reimann’s Lear, the drama of epic proportions meets its musical match.
To capture the inner conflicts and the gradual degradation of all good and holy into unbelievable suffering and misery, the German composer employs the chromatic idiom, often emphasised by resounding percussion. The result is a haunting, atmospheric score that will keep you on the edge of your seat and will pull you right into the anger and madness that pulsate inside King Lear’s head.
Reimann shows himself a master of dramatic orchestration in a distinct coloristic style, swiftly alternating between raucous wall-of-sound explosions and dialled down, slow-burn melodic lines that take their time to grow, tugging at the heartstrings all the while. His visceral score, a musical embodiment of primal human emotions, is sure to impress you.