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Name of Work

Dresher, Paul (1951-)
The Tyrant (2008)

I. Overture
II. What's the Point of Opening the Window
III. Aria of the Body
IV. Bored With It All
V. All Your Heart's Desires
VI. Heavenly Clockwork
VII. Treason
VIII. Maestro - Is That You?
IX. Lullaby
X. Awakening
XI. The Singing Contest
XII. Rebellion


Jan 25, 2008

Jessica Warren, Flute
Daniel Won, Clarinet
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Eran Meir, Cello
Michael Kozakis, Percussion
Kuang-Hao Huang, Piano
Robert Chumbley, Conductor

DRESHER - The Tyrant


The Tyrant begins on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the king's bloody ascent to power, as he struggles to compose the speech he will give at the celebrations commemorating this momentous event. He reflects on the world he has created since his revolution and the order he has brought, in the course of which he tentatively voices the notion that perhaps there is a price to pay for absolute power.

Rejecting such thoughts, he details his royal responsibilities ("Aria of the Body" and "Bored With It All") and then the numerous pleasures afforded him ("All Your Heart's Desires").

After an extended aria ("Heavenly Clockwork") expounding on the joys he experiences listening to the sonic manifestations of day-to-day life in his palace, he is seized with fear as he attempts to ascertain the source of a mysterious sound that comes unbidden to him in his throne room ("Treason"), wondering if it represents friend or foe, perhaps even the murmurings of an incipient rebellion.

While he quickly reassures himself of his absolute control and scoffs at the idea ofthe end of his reign, a sequence of unidentifiable sounds soon deepen his insecurity, leading to an extended aria ("Maestro, Is That You?") sung to his predecessor, whom he imagines imprisoned in the palace dungeon below.

Exhausted and desperate for sleep, he returns to his still unfinished speech, attempting a number of opening lines, but rejecting them all in disgust. Through the open window and interrupting his efforts, he hears a vocalise striking in its beauty and simplicity ("Lullaby"). Indulging in a sentimental and nostalgic vision of the world outside the palace, he imagines it to be the sound of a mother singing to a child cradled in her arms, and to this lullaby, he finally falls asleep.

After a brief but fitful sleep, he is awakened by silence. Nearly desperate to hear the woman's voice again, he sings of escaping from the palace ("Awakening") and returning to the world outside to find her. But he soon realizes that he can never leave the palace and that he must find the woman by other means.

He concocts a series of quickly rejected plans for finding her, eventually landing on the idea of a sing¬ing contest that he hopes will bring her before his royal court ("The Singing Contest"). Once she is identified as the long-sought voice, he imagines that they will sing a grand yet intimate duet and, in the process, unleash his long-hidden and true voice.

But this rhapsody is rudely interrupted by a series of unexpected and very aggressive sounds leading to the realization that, having dropped his perpetual vigilance, he now faces real rebellion and destruction ("Rebellion"), As he prepares for the end, he remem-bers that his palace contains many secret passages, built for a quick escape.

Discarding the uniform and emblems of his office, he passes through a secret portal and descends through a maze of pathways ("Escape"), leaving the fires of rebellion above for the damp, dark world of the palace dungeon.

Sealing himself off from the world above, he encounters another voice, perhaps that of his imprisoned predecessor, but one that also sounds strikingly like his own. They speak ("A Conversation") of their roles, the woman's voice, and the palace. But when the other voice goes silent and the tyrant finally relinquishes all vestiges of his former self, he realizes that the other voices—the woman and his imprisoned predecessor—emanated from inside himself.

In the "Coda" the Tyrant reflects on silence and chaos and the unstoppable wave that is about to break over and engulf him.


The Tyrant was initiated by John Duykers and the Seattle Chamber Players and commissioned by a consortium of new music ensembles, including the Seattle Chamber Players, Present Music (Milwaukee), the California EAR Unit (Los Angeles), and the Paul Dresher Ensemble (San Francisco).

The work was first realized in May 2005 with performances in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia as well as at Sonoma State in fall 2005. After these very well received performances, John, Jim, Melissa, and I all felt the need to expand certain sections of the narrative and the music. With the generous support ofthe Opera Fund of Opera America, these revisions were composed in January and February 2006. After a concert performance of the work by Present Music in late April 2006, the ensemble premiered this revised and fully staged version of The Tyrant in May 2006 with five performances presented by the Cleveland Opera.

This work realizes my long-held desire to compose a solo work for John Duykers, who was one of the first, and probably one of the most enduring, supporters of my work (besides my mother). The debts I owe him are too numerous to detail here. It was through John that I received my first commission in 1979. Moreover, when the resulting composition Night Songs was premiered and recorded in 1981 at the Cornish Institute (where I was teaching at the time), I had my first opportunity to work with Rinde Eckert, who became another primary collaborator for many years and projects. It was also through John's active support that I discovered my love for composing for voice and began my involvement in new opera/music theater. It has been a deep pleasure to share the intensity of collaboration again with John.

This project obviously owes a great debt to librettist Jim Lewis, who has proven to be both an inspiring and flexible collaborator—a rare combination. While I have worked with Melissa Weaver in many capacities since 1981, this is the first of my works that she has directed. During the project's evolution, she has proven to be a fabulous dramaturg as well as a tireless solver of problems well beyond the job description of a director. Set designer Alex Nichols has been a close collaborator in many of my projects for the past 15 years, and I'm very grateful for his wonderful contributions to the visual realm of this work. The newest relationship here is with lighting designer Tom Ontiveros, whose skillful work as lighting director on my ensemble's touring productions of Ravenshead and Sound Stage made me recognize that here was a remarkably talented artist at an early stage of what will undoubtedly be an illustrious and varied career.

The artists all wish to thank Cal Performances and its director Robert Cole for their support both for these performances and for their support for the work of many contemporary artists for the past two decades.

The collaborators wish to thank the following individuals for their contributions: Philippa Kelly, Natasha Beery and Sandy McCoy, Elena Dubinets, Martha Dresher, Mark Palmer, Donald Osborne, Ken Berry, Peter Taub, and Robert Chumbley as well as Virko Baley and his UNLV ensemble NEXTET, which produced the first workshop ofthe project.

—Paul Dresher

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