European Premiere of David Lang's New Opera this January

‘prisoner of the state’ in New York in June of this year.

European Premiere of David Lang's New Opera this January

'prisoner of the state' to be performed at the Barbican in London.

Following its US premiere with the New York Philharmonic in June of this year, prisoner of the state, David Lang’s new opera, is set to be given its European premiere at London’s Barbican Centre on 11 January 2020. The work, which focuses on the story of a woman trying to rescue her partner from unjust imprisonment, is a re-imagining of Beethoven’s Fidelio. Circling around themes of political oppression and coercion, incarceration and gender roles, Lang’s new work maintains the overarching elements of Beethoven’s piece but is set in contemporary society. Lang worked with Beethoven’s original libretto and introduced new stories and ideas from other texts, including Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince.  

The production was co-commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Rotterdam’s de Doelen Concert Hall, London’s Barbican Centre, Barcelona’s l’Auditori, Bochum Symphony Orchestra, and Bruges’ Concertgebouw. The London performance will feature soprano Claron McFadden and will be directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer. prisoner of the state will be performed with the orchestra on stage as the acting and stories take place around it. 

Speaking about the opera, Lang said:

I saw a production of Fidelio, I must have been twenty years old… and there were a lot of unanswered questions in the piece. Questions about who wins, why they win, what the story is about and I’ve been thinking about those questions ever since. And so I thought I would think about politics, think about that experience I had with the opera… and try and go into this piece and figure out how it can work and relate to what I’m thinking now…and the questions I want to ask now about the world I live in. 

Reviewing the work for Opera News, Fred Cohn said:

Despite the overt didacticism, prisoner of the state never becomes tendentious, due to Lang’s powerful music. His score intersects with Beethoven’s only at a few key points: the sunlit orchestration of the prisoners’ ‘O what desire’ casts the chorus as a postmodern version of ‘O Welche Lust’; The Prisoner’s lament ‘Uhhh. So dark’ draws on the vein of lyricism that runs through Florestan’s aria; The Assistant’s ‘I am his wife!’ echoes Leonore’s outcry at the same dramatic moment. Elsewhere, Lang offers few of the melodic blandishments of the Beethoven original. His score often proceeds largely in hammer-stroke ostinatos, supremely lucid but harsh, the transparent orchestral textures saving the music from bombast. The whole is remarkably economical, its brief length and stripped-down dramaturgy letting it deliver its polemical charge with stunning impact. 

For more information and ticketing, visit


Published on 11 December 2019

comments powered by Disqus