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Nabokoff, Nicholas

Love's Labours Lost (1973)

(Verlorene Liebesmüh)
Duration: 130 minutes
Musical comedy

Libretto by WH Auden and Chester Kallman after Shakespeare. German version by Claus H Henneberg (G,E)

colS,dramS,lyrS,lyrS/A,M,T,HighBar,2Bar,B; 3(III=picc).3(III=corA).3(III=bcl).2(II=dbn)-; On-stage: tape
Abbreviations (PDF)

This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.

World Premiere
Company: unknown


ROSALINEDramatic Soprano
KATHERINELyric Soprano
JAQUENETTAColoratura Soprano
MOTHLyric Soprano / Alto
PRINCESSMezzo Soprano
BEROWNEHigh Baritone

Time and Place
The court of the King of Navarre


The King of Navarre and his followers Berowne, Dumaine and Don Armado abjure love and all associations with women in order to devote themselves entirely to the study of the sciences. Hardly have they sworn their oath of abstinence, however, when the arrival of the Princess of France and her female court is announced. As she has come to negotiate the transference of Aquitaine to the realm, the men's oath must of necessity be broken in part. But for safety, the Princess with her attendant ladies-in-waiting Katharine and Rosaline, and the chambermaid Jacquenetta, are lodged in tents outside the castle. They show themselves to be offended by the 'oath' and face the men with bitingly witty irony. Inevitably, in short time all eight fall in love with each other but are, of course, reluctant to admit their inconstancy. So a play of exchanged letters, secret presents, disguises, and many misunderstandings begins...

Composer Notes
I used a number of traditional operatic forms and devices but I did not compose, properly speaking, either a comic opera or an "opera buffa" . What I did is to "set" a comedy to music (in German one could call it a "durchkomponierte Komödie"). I used extensively one particular device for which there is no term in English except the transferable French term of "persiflage". Persiflage implies making fun of a style or a stylistic "prototype". For example, I used the Tristan Chord in a jazzed-up way for Berowne´s love aria at the end of Scene II of Act I ending it "foolishly" with Beethoven´s (or is it the BBC´s) beginning of the Fifth Symphony. II satirized Renaissance forms of polyphonic music dear to English hearts as the "catch" and the "madrigal". In the "Discourse about Love" in Act II, I thought it appropriate to pinprick Messrs Weill, Eisler and Brecht, and in two of the songs of Moth I persiflayed American "croonery" of the 1930s. I thought it appropriate to use tidbits of orientalia for the Aragonese court throughout the play. I believe it justified by the fact that most of Shakespeare´s comedies are set in what was then to Englishmen "exotic lands"...

My music is tonal, non-experimental and consistently melodic. And when I say melodic I mean it not in the sense of a long drawn out melodic line, but in the sense of trying to be "tuneful". I like to invent patterns of tuneful sound that enter readily the secret folds of the listener´s memory... In writing Love´s Labour´s Lost my aim was twofold: firstly, I wanted to serve with all my forces and capabilities the admirable libretto of my poet friends and through them Shakespeare, and second, as Ariel would say, "I wanted to please".

Nicolas Nabokoff

Comic, Poetic

Relationships, Literary

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