Un re in ascolto

Un re in ascolto (A King Listens) is an opera by Luciano Berio, who also wrote the Italian libretto. It is based on a short story, Under the Jaguar Sun by Italo Calvino, but incorporates excerpts from Friedrich Einsiedel's 1778 libretto (as reworked by Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter between 1790 and 1791) for an opera based on Shakespeare's The Tempest. This became Die Geisterinsel in 1798, set to music written by Friedrich Fleischmann.[1] In addition, W. H. Auden's The Sea and the Mirror: A Commentary on Shakespeare's The Tempest was a source.

Un re in ascolto
Opera by Luciano Berio
The composer in the 1970s
TranslationA King Listens
Based onUnder the Jaguar Sun
by Italo Calvino
7 August 1984 (1984-08-07)

Berio himself described the work as an azione musicale (musical action) rather than an opera. It falls into 19 sections grouped into two parts. The work was written from 1981 to 1983 and it received its premiere at the Kleines Festspielhaus in Salzburg on 7 August 1984, conducted by Lorin Maazel, directed by Götz Friedrich, with set designs by Günther Schneider-Siemssen.[2] The London premiere took place on 9 February 1989 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.[3][4][5]


Role Voice type Premiere cast, 7 August 1984
(conductor: Lorin Maazel)
Prospero, an impresario and the title character bass-baritone Theo Adam
Regista (stage director) tenor Heinz Zednik
Protagonista coloratura-soprano Patricia Wise
soprano I Karan Armstrong
soprano II Sylvia Greenberg
Venerdì, a stand-in for Caliban speaking role Helmut Lohner
Ariel mime Samy Molcho
nurse mezzo-soprano Gabriela Sima
wife mezzo Anna Gonda


The opera does not have a conventional linear narrative.[2]

A king of a mythical kingdom lives detached from his realm where his only contact with his kingdom is through overhearing conversations. A traveling theatrical troupe arrives to stage a performance of The Tempest. As the king overhears the auditions and the rehearsals, he begins to imagine himself as Prospero from the play and he begins to equate these with the happenings in his kingdom, blurring the two worlds. Eventually, he undergoes a psychological collapse, the rehearsed production of The Tempest never occurs, and the theatrical troupe departs. The king has a vision of the future as he moves towards his own death.


  • Luciano Berio: Un re in ascolto (Theo Adam, Heinz Zednik, Sylvia Greenberg, Gabriele Sima, Helmut Wildhaber, Patricia Wise, Karan Armstrong, Rohangiz Yachmi, Anna Gonda, Helmuth Lohner; Vienna Philharmonic; Conductor: Lorin Maazel) CD 1999. Label: Col Legno 20005



  1. Wilson 1998, p. 340: He notes that the libretto had been offered to and accepted by Mozart just before his death.
  2. Loveland, Kenneth (October 1984), "Reports: Salzburg", The Musical Times, 125 (1700): p. 588.
  3. Vogt, Matthias Theodor (translated by Stewart Spencer), "Listening as a Letter of Uriah: A Note on Berio's Un re in ascolto(1984) on the Occasion of the Opera's First Performance in London (9 February 1989)", (July 1990) Cambridge Opera Journal, 2 (2): pp. 173–185.
  4. Belinfante, David, "Luciano Berio's Un re in ascolto (February 1989), The Musical Times, 130 (1752): pp. 70–71.
  5. Northcott, Bayan, "Notes on Auden: 2. Life after Britten?" (February 1993). The Musical Times, 134 (1800): pp. 68–72.


  • David Osmond-Smith. "Re in ascolto, Un". In Deane L. Root (ed.). Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
  • Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. ISBN 0-140-29312-4
  • The publisher's description — Universal Edition
  • Wilson, Robert J. (1998), "Shakespeare, William" in Stanley Sadie, (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. Four. London: Macmillan Publishers, Inc. 1998 ISBN 0-333-73432-7 ISBN 1-56159-228-5
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