This project was postponed because of the pandemic, but three years later than planned, David Lang's new work still casts light on Beethoven’s timeless themes: love, the abuse of power, the suppression of individual rights through political intrigue. Can the most heartfelt love secure a man’s freedom? David Lang, one of the world’s leading composers, re-interprets the opera Fidelio and casts it in a more contemporary and political light. Ludwig van Beethoven took years to write the definitive version of his only work for the stage, not only changing the title (initially it was called Leonora) but also producing several versions of the libretto. Lang has written his own libretto for this version of the narrative without using a single note of Beethoven’s music.
In the original opera Leonora’s love is enough to free her loved one, unjustly imprisoned for political reasons. In Prisoner of the State Lang questions the romantic idealism of this in the face of 21st century political mores. Elkhanah Pulitzer’s economic but compelling staging places evil and incarceration centre-stage: the large chorus of prisoners – present throughout the performance – is the dominant visual and musical focus. The Governor (Lang’s Pizarro) suggests in an aria it is “better to be feared, than loved”. Lang’s prisoner, just like Beethoven’s, discovered in a claustrophobic underground cell, experiences joy at being reunited with his “Leonora”. But in Pulitzer’s staging, we are in no doubt that Lang’s Fidelio takes place in a less forgiving, more familiar world than Beethoven’s.
The Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya (OBC), with the prisoners chorus and the four soloists, plays the leading role in a production already celebrated as a compelling and timely reframing of the original.
The concert hall opera Prisoner of the State was premiered in 2019 at New York’s Lincoln Center by the New York Philharmonic. The Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya (OBC) co-commissioned the work along with the Barbican (London) De Doelen Concert Hall (Rotterdam), Bochum Symphony Orchestra, Concertgebouw Bruges, and Malmo Opera, affirming Barcelona’s reputation as a major centre for international co-creation. In this way, L'Auditori and the OBC are maintaining their commitment to contemporary music and strengthening their position as an essential pillar of Catalan culture in the world. The co-production with the Barcelona Grec Festival will mark the OBC’s return to the Montjuïc stage.
Commissioned and coproduced by L'Auditori, The New York Philharmonic, De Doelen Concert Hall (Rotterdam), The Barbican (London), Bochum Symphony Orchestra, Concertgebouw (Bruges), Malmö Opera.
Libretto and composition: David Lang. Conductor: Ludovic Morlot. Performing: Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya (OBC), Men's Choir of the Cor Jove de l'Orfeó Català and Cor de Cambra del Palau (Chorus of Prisoners and Guards), Claron McFadden (The Assistant), Jarrett Ott (The Prisoner), Davóne Tines (The Jailer), Alan Oke (The Governor). Director: Elkhanah Pulitzer. Associate director: Diana Wyenn. Assistant director, movement, and choreography: Miguel Alejandro Castillo. Set design: Matt Saunders. Projections: Adam Larsen. Light design, Technical director: Thom Weaver. Associate light design: Yannick Godts. Costume design: Maline Casta. Assistant costume design: Noelle Quanci. Executive Production: Unusual Suspects (NL)
Aknowledgements: We wish to thank Simon Mordant AO and Catriona Mordant AM and an anonymous donor for their generous support in making this production possible.