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This opera, Lear, draws its libretto directly from William Shakespeare's King
Lear. Some supporting characters and subplots have been removed, and some
characters have been fused to reduce the time and forces needed to produce this piece.
Parent/child relationships, eyesight, and deception/disguises are important
themes in this adapted libretto. The last point, deception and disguises, receives
special attention in the opera. Each time a character dons a disguise a
"transformation" motive is heard. Simultaneously, at least one of the woodwind
players will switch to a traditional doubling instrument to add a timbral change to the
visual change on the stage.
Two characters in the opera never sing, but only speak: Lear and Gloucester.
This separates them from the rest of the cast to highlight their paternal nature. The
music for spoken sections includes liberal use of fermatas, vamps, and other forms of
repetition to underscore the speech.
Most characters have musical motives and/or signature styles to aid in their
characterization. Goneril and Edmund are intelligent, eloquent, and manipulative.
heir music can be triadic and diatonic when they need it to be, and their lines are
often winding and chromatic. Regan and Oswald, on the other hand, are more
characters of action than thought. Their music is more blunt and to the point.
The harmony of the opera moves among diatonic, quartal, whole-tone,
octatonic, hexatonic, and more complicated harmonies, depending on the character
singing or speaking and what his motives are at that moment. At several points in the
opera, a rhythmic pattern will continue over a bar that obscures the meter. Sometimes
multiple patterns will be present at once. The harmony is at its most complicated
when these patterns overlap, or when two characters' personal motives are presented
The opera's duration is approximately two hours. The cast calls for two
sopranos, two mezzo-sopranos, two baritones, a bass-baritone, and two male actors.
The opera is scored for Flute (doubling Piccolo and Alto Flute), Oboe (doubling
English Horn), Bb Clarinet (doubling Bass Clarinet), Bassoon, Horn in F, Percussion
(one player), Piano, String Quartet, and Double Bass.