A King Listens by Luciano Berio

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A King Listens by Luciano Berio

Luciano Berio was born on the 24th October 1925 in Oneglia, modern day Imperia in Liguria. Under his father’s guidance, Berio began his musical studies at a very young age. At Milan Conservatory he continued his studies under Ghedini and later with Dallapiccola when he visited Tanglewood in 1951.

In 1954, he opened an electro-acoustic studio in Milan called the Studio di Fonologia Musicale di RAI with Bruno Maderna, He was married to the American Amish Cathy Berberian from 1950 to 1966, and it was from this period that be produced some spectacular works designed for her stunningly beautiful voice.

Berio can be considered one of the most important composers of the last century, as his works are incredibly versatile. His music can touch the soul but it also reveals joyful intellect and the concept of a tranquil and introspective parting.

Un re in ascolto, or A King Listens, is an opera not terribly well known to the general audience. Composed by the great Luciano Berio, the first production Gotz Friedrich staged the opera as a reflection of art. However, A King Listens is much more than that – it is a farewell piece of work, the ‘musical contemplation’ regarding the end.

A ‘azione musicale’ in two parts, the libretto was produced by Italo Calvino. It first premiered on the 7th August 1984 in Salzburg at the Kleines Festspielhaus.


Prospero (Bass-Baritone)

Producer (Tenor)

Friday (Spoken role)

Female Protagonist (Soprano)

Soprano I, Soprano II, Mezzo-Soprano; Three Singers (Tenor, Baritone, Bass)

Nurse (Soprano)

Wife (Mezzo-Soprano)

Doctor (Tenor)

Lawyer (Bass)

Singing Pianist, Accordionist, Mime, Messenger, Stage Designer and Assistants, Dressmaker, A Woman to be Sawn in Half, Acrobats, Clown (Silent)



Part I: A modern day Prospero is trying to find salvation on a lonely island – he is taking on the role of a theatrical impresario who has chosen the refuge of art as the storm of life rages around. He accidentally overhears that a director wishes to link together several equally aggressive personalities into an artistic whole. Harmony seems to prevail but only for a while before it is shattered – it is something that cannot be forced.

Part II: Prospero is dying and the artists who are dependant on him try to keep themselves busy by playing false games. However, every so often, true feelings start to rise to the surface. As Prospero dies, he takes his dream of completion with him.


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