Baritone, Bass, Contralto, Soprano, 3 Tenors
The post of Player to the King is vacant. The young Musil is called forward, confident of selection, only to be rejected by the Judges. A mysterious old man appears – the beggar Guttil, almost blind, but with strange authority and respect. As he begins to play, a string breaks, but he plays on and an extraordinary note begins to sound. A second string breaks and then a third: the old man plays on, with less and less. Magical creatures begin to appear, delighting in this miraculous music. Musil is impressed, but unmoved: he breaks his strings but now no music comes from them at all. The unusual story, originally an ancient Buddhist legend, is here framed operatically as a ‘play within a play’, performed by actors for their King.
The post of Player to the King is vacant. Musicians throughout the Kingdom have been summoned and heard; and all found wanting. But at last the young Musil is called forward, and it would seem the search must be over. Brilliant, versatile, Musil is secure in one simple conviction: he has heard, in all the contest, no talent to equal his; he will surely be chosen. To his surprise the Judges reject him; and a mysterious old man appears - Guttil, almost blind; stammering, out of practice, fumbling on his instrument: a beggar, he seems, but with a strange authority, and compelling respect. Barely waiting for the command, he begins to play.
Yet hardly has the old man begun, when one of his strings breaks. Distressed, and faltering at first, he yet plays on; and from his instrument an extraordinary new note begins to sound. Then a second string breaks; then a third. More and more intensely, the old man plays on, with less and less. His music becomes even more extraordinary, and magical creatures begin to appear, delighting in this miraculous music. Even the three Judges will begin to see and wonder. Only the young Musil is unaffected. Impressed but unmoved, he can only interpret the old man's magic as some external trick effect, that can be taught and imitated. To achieve the same magic, he breaks his own strings; but now no music comes from them at all. He has destroyed his own instrument.
This strange story, originally an ancient Buddhist legend, is here adapted and framed operatically as a "play within a play", performed by court actors for their own King. It is a play that he has never seen before: and as one by one the old musician's strings break, the Spectator King becomes increasingly disturbed, and interrupts the actors; tries to stop the play.
(Synopsis by David Rudkin)