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  • Writer's pictureladiesvoices

*Prisoner of the State,* 6/8/19

Richard and I saw a new opera by David Lang, *Prisoner of the State,* performed by the New York Philharmonic on 6/8/19. Lang wrote both the music and the libretto, which is based very closely on Beethoven’s opera *Fidelio.* He referred to this opera as his “own version of *Fidelio.*” It’s the story of a young woman who disguises herself as a man in order to infiltrate a prison to rescue her husband, a political dissident who’s been wrongly imprisoned and placed in solitary confinement. The Assistant, aka the wife, was sung by Julie Mathevet, who has a ripe, colorful voice and gave a powerful performance. Here she is singing her opening aria (with piano):

The Jailer was played by the great Eric Owens. I’ve heard him many times, he’s one of the greatest singers on the scene today and has made a specialty of new music, which he sings with great skill and conviction. Alan Oke played the Governor, the villain of the piece. He has a classic English tenor, somewhat reedy but well produced and with incisive projection of the text. Jarrett Ott played the Prisoner - - his part was rather small compared to the others, but he has a handsome voice and beautifully embodied the spiritual devastation of the character. Jaap van Zweden (music director of the NY Phil) conducted the orchestra, which played the score with guts and a deep sense of drama. The word I would use to describe Lang’s music for this opera is STRONG. It was wonderfully overt but still full of harmonic and orchestral detail. The dramatic arc was expertly built, and the text was written and set in a way that made it easy to follow (the supertitles helped a lot, of course). It was fascinating to see how he adapted and updated the story of *Fidelio.* The most interesting change was at the very end. *Fidelio* ends on an exuberant note, a celebration of freedom. *Prisoner of the State* ends on a downer - - the husband has been liberated but the ending impression leaves one thinking about everyone left in the prison, and on the greater issue of freedom. It had a powerful impact and stayed with me for a few days.

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