John Casken

Sir John Tomlinson, one of the UK’s foremost opera singers, stars in The Shackled King, a new dramatic work by the British composer John Casken based on Shakespeare’s King Lear. It receives its London première at Wigmore Hall on 26 January 2023. The Shackled King, a 50-minute drama for bass, mezzo-soprano and ensemble, also stars Rozanna Madylus as Lear’s daughter Cordelia, her sisters, Goneril and Regan, and the Fool.

The drama begins in the last act of Shakespeare’s play with Lear and Cordelia in prison, then continues with flashbacks to the beginning (the dividing of the kingdom) and to the famous scene with the Fool and the storm before returning to the last act and the deaths of Lear and Cordelia who tragically dies in his arms.

Sir John Tomlinson collaborated closely with John Casken on the adaptation of Shakespeare’s text and Lear’s vocal part, which was written for him. Having acted Lear in Shakespeare’s play in 2021, The Shackled King allows Tomlinson to employ the full range of vocal delivery in his portrayal of the aging, delusional king, from speech to Sprechstimme to full operatic singing. The music is performed by the ensemble Counterpoise, which commissioned the work. The Shackled King was awarded the inaugural Tippett Medal of the Royal Musical Association in 2022 and nominated for a 2022 Ivors Composer Award.

Casken’s new work is presented in a double bill with Brünnhilde’s Dream, a sequence of words and music, which takes its inspiration from Wagner’s opera Die Walküre.

Brünnhilde’s Dream evokes the heroine’s state of mind as she lies asleep on the rock, surrounded by fire, after the end of the opera Die Walküre, from Wagner’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen.

In a monologue, Brünnhilde goes beyond the confines of the opera to contemplate injustices against women throughout the ages. In this interpretation by mezzo-soprano Rozanna Madylus and director Cecilia Stinton, Brünnhilde speaks for Everywoman while remaining a mythic figure.

The music is a carefully chosen sequence of mostly post-Wagnerian repertoire, including little-known songs by Zemlinsky’s pupil Johanna Müller-Hermann and Schoenberg’s pupil Vilma von Webenau, as well as miniature masterpieces by Berg, Szymanowski, Zemlinsky, Schubert, Schumann and others. The text is written by Barry Millington.

A short video about The Shackled King can be found here: