On Adapting Thomas Bernhard’s ‘The Loser’ for the Opera

1400077540.01.LZZZZZZZDavid Lang at The Millions:

In 1998, I wrote music for a production of Friedrich Schiller’s play Mary Stuart at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. The director was my friend Carey Perloff, the music was sung by the spectacular men’s vocal ensemble Chanticleer, and the translation of the text was by the writer and Village Voice theater critic Michael Feingold. There can be a lot of down time for a composer and a translator during theater rehearsals so Michael and I passed the time telling each other stories about books we should be reading, and Michael suggested I read Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser. So I did. As soon as I got back to New York I picked up a copy and I was immediately hooked by the power of the novel, especially the psycho energy of the narrator. Written in the first person as a continuous stream of jumbled information — one giant paragraph — and changing its focus and time and location and perspective and subject matter with almost every other sentence, it really felt like a rant to me — a condescending, angry, smart, rich, witty, not very nice man ranting about his life. I couldn’t read it silently. I ended up yelling the entire book to my reflection in the mirror in my bathroom, from start to finish, which was very exciting. And that day I started imagining what it would be like to add music to it.

I was drawn to the tightness of the language, the intensity of the character and to the self consciously indirect way the story is told, but most of all I was drawn by the subject matter. The novel tells the story of a man, never named in the book, who wanted to be a concert pianist when he was young.

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