Reimann’s Lear

Nov 12, 2005
One of the few great masterpieces of post-WWII opera is Aribert Reimann’s Lear. It is currently available on CD, after being unavailable for many years. There are a couple of reviews from that describe it very well:

“If you tend to avoid contemporary music on the argument that much of it seems dark, pessimistic, and discordant, then on the face of it there might seem plenty of reason to steer clear of this work by German composer Aribert Reimann. But think again. The darkness and pessimism that seize Reimann’s legendary masterpiece from the very outset so compellingly match the mood of Shakespeare’s haunting drama that it’s almost impossible not to find yourself drawn into the tale afresh. Yes, the tortured strings, battering brass, cascading percussion, and anguished vocal lines make it a tough listen, but as with any new operatic adventure, paying close attention to the libretto focuses the mind and schools the ear.

And there could be no better introduction to Lear than this—vividly recorded, culled from live performances at the National Theatre in Munich in the year of the opera’s premiere there, 1978. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (who prompted Reimann to take on the project) is predictably magnificent in the title role, master of every nuance, but his is just one of a string of outstanding vocal contributions, from Rolf Boysen’s remarkable Fool to Julia Varady’s passionate Cordelia. Try this—but maybe not alone and late at night.”
—Andrew Green

“I saw the premiere of this opera in San Francisco, and, to put it mildly, I was almost blown out of my chair. It’s spellbinding. Definitely not for lovers of easy-listening music or for those addicted to melody. And I’m happy to report that this recording captures everything in the live performance except for the visuals. Nothing in theater approaches the madness and raw heart-rending intensity of Reimann’s Lear. Although I find most contemporary music irritatingly ambiguous or abstract, I had to embrace this opera. It surpasses categorization. The music will grab your attention like acid thrown in your face. Ugly and beautiful at the same time, it’s so faithful to Shakespeare’s play in mood and affect that you would swear the bard himself had written the score. Lear is not just another contemporary opera: time will prove that it is one of the greatest operas of all time. Don’t put it on until you have a couple of hours alone with your stereo, and be sure to take your phone off the hook. What Verdi struggled for years to do, then abandoned, defeated, Aribert Reimann has done.”
—Raleigh W. Elliott (Anchorage, AK USA)


~ by severalfourmany on November 12, 2005.

2 Responses to “Reimann’s Lear”

  1. Nov 13, 2005 2:38 pm
    Would you believe I have this and forgot I did? I almost bought it again! I think you mentioned it several months ago and I ordered it then but it ended up in my rather large “to listen to” pile.

  2. A not unfamiliar problem. This happens to me with Donizetti and Rossini. They wrote so many operas that I cannot keep track of which ones I have heard–let alone sort out all their plots, they are so similar sometimes. I received my second copy of Gianni di Parigi a few weeks ago because I have not gotten around to listening to my first copy.

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