Elkhanah Pulitzer, director
Claron McFadden — the assistant
Davone Tines — the jailer
Alan Oke — the governor
Michael Wilmering — the prisoner
David Lang’s prisoner of the state—co-commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, De Doelen, Barbican Centre, L’Auditori, Bochumer Symphoniker, Concertgebouw Bruges and Malmö Opera – premiered in June 2019 with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Jaap van Zweden, and received its British premiere in January 2020 at the Barbican Centre in London with BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and conductor Ilan Volkov.
After a three-year pause due to the COVID pandemic, prisoner of the state at last receives its European premieres.
prisoner of the state is a dark retelling of a portion of the story of Beethoven’s only opera Fidelio. Scored for four singers, men’s chorus and orchestra, it highlights the struggle of a woman alone who must change her identity to survive within the state. The story follows the general outline of the original, using both newly written text and scraps of Beethoven’s original librettos. It does not use any of Beethoven’s music.
Beethoven’s original opera, the complete title of which is Fidelio, or Conjugal Love, has much beautiful music in it and, in many ways, it represents some of his loftiest ideas about freedom, love, and the human spirit. One thing that has always confused me about the piece, however, is that it approaches the place where it might actually encourage a deeper kind of political thinking, but ultimately backs away from it, in favor of a more conventional story about marriage and love. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which political imprisonment has become much more sophisticated than in Beethoven’s day – it is not clear that love alone can be enough to set a prisoner free.
I first saw Fidelio over 40 years ago and ever since then I have wondered if it would be possible to strip away the comic elements of the opera, and the domestic elements, in order to focus our attention on the prisoners and on the powers that imprison them. I wrote prisoner of the state to find out.
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