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Work of the Week – Aribert Reimann: Lear

On 10 February 2024, the Staatstheater Hannover will present Aribert Reimann's Lear, one of the most significant operas of the 20th century. The production will be directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins, and the music will be conducted by Stephan Zilias.

In 1968, the renowned lieder singer Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau suggested to the composer that he use William Shakespeare's tragedy as the foundation for an opera. Although the story captivated the composer from the outset, he did not feel capable of tackling the material until four years later. Reimann collaborated with Claus H. Henneberg, with whom he had previously worked successfully, including on the opera Melusine, for the libretto. Reimann cites three musical sources of inspiration for Lear: Anton von Webern's music taught him precision, Alban Berg's expressivity served as a model, and the music of India influenced him rhythmically. The composer needs a large orchestra consisting of 83 musicians, including 48 string players, to provide enough space for his intricate soundscapes.

Lear by Aribert Reimann: Metamorphosis as a reflection of our time

King Lear decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters based on their love for him.   However, Cordelia, who cannot express her love for her father, is banished and leaves the country with the King of France. Kent, who disagrees with Lear's decision, is also ostracised. The two older daughters and their husbands receive the inheritance, but in the end, Lear mourns over Cordelia's dead body and eventually passes away. 

For two and a half hours, the listener is captivated by the orchestra pit. The music features clusters of notes with varying degrees of intensity, quarter-note rubs, sound surfaces that remain still and rotate for minutes, brass clusters of monstrous hardness, and confusing rhythmic shifts. These sound elements are used to sharply characterise figures, expressive attitudes, and situations, rather than being a mere demonstration of material. (Wolfgang Schreiber)

The opera will be performed in Hanover for six performances between 10 February and 21 March 2024. Currently, Calixto Bieito's renowned production of Lear is also being staged at the Teatro Real in Madrid

Further Reading:

Aribert Reimann: Composer Profile https://www.schott-music.com/en/person/aribert-reimann 

Lear: Work Details and Online Score https://www.schott-music.com/en/lear-no155114.html  

Website Staatstheater Hannover https://staatstheater-hannover.de/en_EN/programm/lear.1343147 

Website Teatro Real Madrid https://www.teatroreal.es/en/show/lear-0 

photo: Salzburger Festspiele / Thomas Aurin


Head of Promotion | Concert Opera Media Division

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