Karim Al-Zand: Music: The Leader

The Leader

chamber opera in one act

The Leader is a chamber opera based on Eugène Ionesco’s Le Maître, a one-act political satire from 1953. Its characters all worship a buffoonish “great man,” a charlatan they adore despite his ridiculous behavior. The work is at once a comedy and a sobering parable about despotism and free-thinking—one as relevant today as ever. Scored for 5 voices and large ensemble, this absurdist romp is a trenchant commentary on the casual rise of tyranny.

(L to R) Lindsay Russell Bowden, Jason Zacher, Mark Diamond, Megan Berti, Zach Averyt

The Announcer and two Admirers are chasing the Leader. Apparently he is nearby but the trio always seems to arrive a moment too late. Though he eludes them, they yearn to be in his presence. They fervently worship him from afar, following his every action with rapt attention. Meanwhile, two Lovers court each other and profess their mutual affection. Finally, the Leader approaches, the anticipation builds and the Lovers are swept up in the frenzy. The Leader is coming: his imminent arrival is hailed with increasing zeal.

The original production of The Leader featured unique reversible sets designed by Jesús Vassallo (above & below). The opera was premiered in a double bill with Anthony Brandt’s Kassandra

Modern day. The backdrop is a city scene, but somewhat abstracted: a street “corner” with two walls angled inwards and a gap upstage center. There are several large objects on stage (suitable for characters to hide behind), which might represent a car, telephone pole, trash bin, etc. The two walls are papered with posters, advertisements, playbills, etc. The opera takes place within this single stage setting, and is performed without discrete scene breaks.

Announcer (lyric baritone)
An on-camera, reporter-in-the-field type

Male Admirer (baritone)
Female Admirer (mezzo-soprano)
Followers of the Leader

Male Lover (tenor)
Female Lover (soprano)
Young Lovers

The Leader (non-speaking)

On its surface, Eugene Ionesco’s The Leader is a comedy: its situations are farcical, its action is madcap, and its cast is full of caricatures worthy of opera buffa. The Announcer and Admirers, in their adulation, repeat the same words over and over, platitudes echoed by mindless followers. Their behavior is preposterous, yet their fervor seems all too familiar…

As is common in the so-called “theater of the absurd,” The Leader achieves its effect not through plot or character, but through exaggeration, and a kind of parody that forces us to reckon with our own sense of the world and its predicaments. It was published in 1953, six years before the playwright’s best known work, Rhinoceros, but shares with the later work its satirical tone, allegorical character

Eugène Ionesco

and underlying political critique. Together the plays are often read as a commentary on the rise of fascism in the lead-up to World War II, and a mockery of its dangerous and charismatic leaders.

But the cautionary message of Ionesco’s play is as relevant today as ever. The Leader lays bare the cult of personality which accompanies despotism. It inveighs against mob mentality and mass conformity. The cloud of uncertainty with which the play ends shows us the result of such tendencies, and serves as a rallying cry for reason and individual thinking.

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35 minutes

Announcer (lyric baritone)
Male Admirer (baritone)
Female Admirer (mezzo-soprano)
Male Lover (tenor)
Female Lover (soprano)
The Leader (non-speaking)

Flute (doubles Piccolo)
B-flat Clarinet (doubles A, E-flat Clarinet)
B-flat Cornet
Percussion (1 player)
vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, snare drum,
hi-hat. cymbals, pedal bass drum, triangle,
suspended cymbal, sizzle cymbal

2 Violins

Opera in the Heights and Musiqa
with assistance from the Houston Arts Alliance

February 23 & February 29, 2020

conducted by Eiki Isomura
directed by Cara Consilvio
set design by Jesús Vassallo

Mark Diamond: Announcer
Lindsay Russell Bowden: Female Lover
Zachary Averyt: Male Lover
Megan Berti: Female Admirer
Jason Zacher: Male Admirer

stage manager: Madison Hottman
lighting: Edgar Guajardo
costumes:Kristie C. Shakelford

Wendy Isaac Bergin: flute/piccolo
Ran Kampel: clarinet
George Chase: cornet
Matt Dickson: trombone
Andrew Keller: percussion
Dominika Dancewicz: violin
Kris Kelly: violin
Dawson White: viola
Scott Card: cello
Stephen Martin: contrabass


Full Score (PDF)
Piano-Vocal (PDF)