Contemporary composer Aribert Reimann's reworking of the tale of King Lear, perhaps Shakespeare's darkest tragedy, is an opera of extraordinary tension, provocative to the end and with a unique musical style. Reimann has always been attracted to serious and challenging philosophical literary works that struggle with existential problems: his other highly successful opera, The Castle, is based on the novel by Franz Kafka. In 2011, in recognition for his life's work, he received the Ernst von Siemens prize, which has often been dubbed the Nobel Prize for Music.
The story of the father who divides his realm, and then suffers the cruelty of his daughters and the persecutions of fate – which speaks simultaneously about the disintegration of the world around us, the sharp and destructive clash between generations, and a moral crisis that expands into a state of existence – is being brought to the stage by Ferenc Anger, based on the legendary production by director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle.
This production has been created with the kind collaboration of SCHOTT MUSIC GmbH, Mainz and projections by Hartai Zenei Ügynökség.The Hungarian surtitles were created partly from Ádám Nádasdy's translation of King Lear.
Lear summons his three daughters into his presence, along with the court and the Fool. Intending to transfer his dominion to younger hands, the old king divides his realm among his three daughters. Whichever daughter speaks the most convincingly of her love for her father will receive the largest part of the country. His two elder daughters, Goneril (betrothed to the Duke of Albany) and Regan (promised to the Duke of Cornwall) ambitiously and convincingly speak of their love for their father, and both receive their third. They also immediately decide to betray their father and put him in his grave.
Cordelia, Lear's youngest and favourite daughter, believes that what she feels is no more and no less than what is the simple and natural love of a child, and therefore decides to remain silent.
Consumed by rage and deaf to all objections, Lear suddenly gives Cordelia's hand in marriage to the king of France, whom Cordelia eventually accepts out of love, and not because of his high birth. Edmund, the bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester, double-crosses his brother, Edgar, whom he envies for being a legitimate child. He hands over to their father a faked letter indicating that Edgar is secretly plotting against the earl's life. Gloucester disinherits his innocent offspring, who is forced to flee.
Previously a close supporter of Lear's but banished by the king after coming to Cordelia's defence, the Earl of Kent decides to don a disguise and join Lear as a simple servant in order to assist him. The kings wicked daughters, Goneril and Regan, denounce him as a spy and torment him.
The daughters also demand that their father part with his entourage. Astonished by their request, Lear starts to protest, but Goneril and Regan eventually chase him out into the approaching storm without his retinue: only Kent and the Fool remain with him.
Left alone in the raging wilderness, Lear feels himself starting to go mad. Kent and the Fool lead the king to the protective depths of a cave. Here they encounter Edgar who, hiding from his persecutors, has disguised himself as the mad Tom o'Bedlam. As Lear finds himself starting to trust the young "madman", they are all found by Gloucester and his retinue, who are there to take Lear to Dover and safety.
Learning that Gloucester has taken Lear to safety, Goneril and Regan swear terrible vengeance against the earl, who, now branded a traitor, is seized with Edmund's help and brought before Cornwall and Goneril to have his eyes gouged out in punishment. After Regan also tells Gloucester how Edmund used the faked letter to deceive him and dispossess Edgar, they leave the defenceless Gloucester to his fate.
The blind old man departs, and on his way meets Tom o'Bedlam, whom he fails to recognise as his own son, Edgar. The despairing earl attempts to cast himself into the sea from atop a cliff, but his son trickily prevents him from doing so. Meanwhile, they encounter the now deranged king, who recognises Gloucester by his voice.
Goneril is dissatisfied with her husband, as he has not proven adequately bloodthirsty, and chooses Edmund as her companion.
Cordelia, who has accompanied her husband, the King of France, and his troops to Dover, finds her father and promises him safety and protection.
Gloucester's power-hungry son, the bastard Edmund, who has joined with Lear's elder daughters in the battle, seizes Lear and Cordelia and gives orders to secretly murder the girl in prison.
But Edmund and Lear's elder daughters fail to achieve their ultimate aim: their dreams of power are not to be. Regan dies from the poison that Goneril gives her, while Edmund falls in a duel with his brother, who has abandoned the role of Tom o'Bedlam and returned to being himself. Goneril, realising that she is now all alone, kills herself.
Lear emerges bearing in his arms his murdered child Cordelia: the only one he truly loved. The old king collapses dead over the corpse of his beloved child.