New twist on Shakespeare’s King Lear takes opera form in UCSD premiere

From UCSD Reports

“Lear on the Second Floor,” a chamber opera by Anthony Davis (with libretto by Allan Havis) will premiere 7 p.m. March 6, 8, 9 at UC San Diego’s Conrad Prebys Music Center.

Inspired by Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” Davis’s opera tells the story of Nora Lear, a neuroscientist plagued by early-onset Alzheimer’s. As she loses her bearings and autonomy, she is increasingly at the mercy of her three quarreling daughters.

Nora’s late husband, Mortimer, is Shakespeare’s fool in this version, and is her constant companion as she moves through a world where the past and present blend and reality bends.

The production combines live performance with video, computer processed sound, lighting, and scenic design to express Nora’s increasing disorientation. Davis’s arrangement and instrumentation reflect diverse influences ranging from classical opera to jazz to reggae.

A UCSD music faculty member, Davis is an internationally acclaimed composer and pianist, whose previous operas include “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X,” “Wakonda’s Dream,” “Amistad,” and “Tanya.”

Havis, provost of UCSD’s Marshall College, playwright, and theater faculty member, also collaborated with Davis on the 2009 chamber opera “Lilith.”

With musical direction by Steven Schick, and stage direction by Mark DeChiazza, the cast features soprano Susan Narucki as Nora Lear, bass-baritone Philip Larson as Mortimer, Jorell Williams as the Nurse and the Lawyer, Ruff Yeager as the Doctor, UCSD graduate students Bonnie Lander, Alice Teyssier, Tiffany Du Mouchelle and Sara Perez are the musicians of palimpsest.

“Lear on the Second Floor,” is presented by kallisti, the contemporary vocal ensemble of the UC Department of Music.

Tickets, $15.50, and $10.50 for UCSD faculty, staff, students, retirement association members, are available at the door, online at and through the box office at

(858) 534-3448