It was librettist Jim Lewis who, in the course of a long correspondence on the subject of possible subjects for this collaboration, suggested looking at various stories by Italo Calvino as potential sources for our collaboration. One of them, A King Listens, provided the intriguing premise that inspired the starting point of our work.
On its surface, The Tyrant presents the internal world of a ruler who, unable to physically leave his throne out of fear of being overthrown, is forced to experience his kingdom entirely through the medium of sound. This simple premise yields many promising outgrowths, and we hope we have made a work that can be read simultaneously on a multiplicity of contrasting levels: as a direct political allegory reflecting on the corrosive psychological effects of absolute power; as an examination of the multiplicity of voices that we all carry within us, and of how we attend to this dialogue; and as a fable about "listening" in which we develop the themes of self-discovery and spiritual exploration. We have declined to offer any single definitive or "true" interpretation, and we hope that all of these readings can coexist like different voices in contrapuntal music, moving variously into the foreground and background, going silent at one moment or singing out together all at once.
The project was initiated by John Duykers and the Seattle Chamber Players after a very successful performance of Peter Maxwell Daviesí classic work, Eight Songs For A Mad King. Desiring to record the Davies work, the performers realized that a second work would be needed to make a entire CD, and John suggested commissioning a new work to complete the CD. Because of my own past work with members of the Seattle Chamber Players (Paul Taub was the flutist on my Night Songs many years ago) and Johnís and my mutual desire to do something together, they proposed the project to me and I enthusiastically accepted. In order support the production of this new work, which was
designed to be able to work either as concert theater or in a fully staged version, we assembled a consortium of similarly-inclined new music ensembles, including Present Music from Milwaukee, the California EAR Unit from Los Angeles, and my own Paul Dresher Ensemble, each of which will be producing its own version of the work in the coming year.
This work realizes a very long-held desire to write a solo work for tenor 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 to John are too numerous to detail here, but it was through John that I received my first commission in 1979, and when the resulting composition, Night Songs, was premiered and recorded in 1981 at the Cornish Institute (where I was teaching at the time) I worked for the first time with Rinde Eckert (who became my primary collaborator for many years and projects). It was also through Johnís 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 Ė 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 projectís 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. The newest relationship here is with Lighting Designer Tom Ontiveros, whose skillful work as Lighting Director on my Ensembleís 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. And of course, my deepest thanks to Paul Taub and the Seattle Chamber Players, without whose support over the lengthy evolution of the piece, none of this would be coming to fruition.