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Lady Gertrude, the Countess of Gormenghast, gives birth to Titus. At last an heir ! The same day, the kitchen apprentice Steerpike, who has been constantly humiliated and harassed by the cook Swelter, manages to flee from the kitchen located deep in the cellar vaults of the castle.

Steerpike's escape route involves a daring ascent up the castle's facade, until he finally reaches its expansive roof. With Gormenghast at his feet, Steerpike experiences a new and euphoric freedom.

Exhausted he falls into a deep sleep, but is eventually woken by Fuchsia, daughter of the Lord. Steerpike cunningly gains Fuchsia's sympathy and loyalty, thus making sure she will not betray him. Fuchsia introduces him to Lady Cora and Lady Clarice, the twin sisters of Lord Sepulchrave, Earl of Groan. Their childlike dreams of power make them the perfect pawns for Steerpike's monstrous schemes of ambition. He becomes their servant and counsellor.


Steerpike is now able to observe life at the court of Gormenghast in great detail: the mysterious Lady Gertrude who only loves her pets and constantly talks to them, and the gloomy Lord of the castle, who is devoted only to his books and to their son Titus who it mute. Gradually Steerpike succeeds in winning Fuchsia's love.

Seven years pass. One day, during a family ritual, the gigantic library goes up in flames. Steerpike, who had secretly set fire to it, manages to appear as the saviour. Steerpike, now enjoying the esteem of the court, becomes the assistent of the fanatical, malicious Master of Rituals, Barquentine, a crippled old dwarf.

Steerpike seals the lips of the twin sisters, whom he had used for his awful crime, spins them into a cocoon in which they slowly die. Meanwhile, Lord Sepulchrave, despairing over the loss of his beloved books, falls into depression and madness. He transforms into an owl. Only Titus has grasped Steerpike's real ambitions, but he is a child, and he is mute.


Finally, Steerpike gets rid of Barquentine and becomes Master of Rituals himself. He now gains total control of the castle. But Fuchsia has lost all belief in him. In her despair she throws herself out of a window.

Titus runs away from life at court, for he knows that he is the only one standing in the way of the megalomaniac Steerpike. He manages to survive underground in the castle kitchen, which has been abandoned since Steerpike's seizure of power.

Here, where Steerpike's hateful career had its beginning, Titus has a significant encounter which changes his life completely and gives him the strength to combat Steerpike.

In Lady Gormenghast's chamber we encounter Steerpike in obscene rapture. He slaughters all her pets and humiliates the Countess.

Titus puts an end to the nightmare. He kills Steerpike and leaves Gormenghast.

INTRODUCTION by   Irmin Schmidt

Gormenghast is a gigantic castle, ancient and labyrinthine. A world unto itself - and like all fantasy worlds, which deal with myths and history, it's an image of ours.

The story is a Gothic tale of wild beauty, concerning the rise and fall of the kitchenboy Steerpike, a parable of power and seduction, of the eternal return of tyranny, whereby youth's rebellious dreams of a better world are corrupted by the lust for power and twisted into murder and destruction.

And so images of our history appear in all the poetic, comic, and fantastic guises of the characters, eg. Steerpike as the incarnation of utter rationalism, of self-obsessed urges which inevitably lead to destruction of traditional culture, ancient wisdom and ultimatly nature.

But fantasy is also a play on myths and Steerpike also a mythical hero, who, akin to the trickster, provokes chaos in order to bring about the transformation of an exhausted system.

The scenario, which I developed from the epic scope of the novel, condenses Steerpike's tale into a series of scenes (based on Peake's tableaux) that follow a strict and almost ritual pattern.

Three acts, each separated by a period of seven years.

The sequence and location of the scenes in the first act are inversely mirrored in the third act, but there they have become scenes of decay, devastation or magical transformation. The second act is symmetrically mirrored in itself.

1. Lady Gertrude's chamber
2. The Great Kitchen
3. Facade
4. Fuchsia's bedroom
5. The Tree of the Twins
1. Library
2. Facade
3. Library (burned)
1. The Tree of Twins
2. Fuchsia's bedroom
3. Facade
4. The Great Kitchen
5. Lady Gertrude's chamber

The final form of the scenario was completed in co-operation with Klaus Emmerich and Claus Henneberg.

Duncan Fallowell has taken this formal rigidity and breathed into it vitality and rhythmic flow laced with grotesque comedy, dark poetry, crazy frolics and sombre drama. A libretto that is a composer's delight. A wealth of inspiring images with a diverse blend of formal, contextual and symbolic associations and relationships. Above all, itıs a singers text, almost completely rhymed, bursting with melodic intonation and furious rhythms: his words dance.

My music is basically rhythm-orientated; the groove holds together a diversity of styles. The soundscape is unusual. The orchestra was recorded and reprocessed in order to reach a sound continuum in which electronic and natural sounds blend or transform into each other. The percussion is also a complex mix of traditional (also ethnic) instruments, objects such as stones , logs, china, metal etc. and synthetic sounds, such as samples, breakbeats. All in all this produces a rich and original soundworld.

In performance this prerecorded mix is enhanced by the addition of a string quartet (obligatory) and a percussionist (ad lib). The pre-production has been in collaboration with soundengineer und programmer Jono Podmore, whose own solowork under the name KUMO belongs to the drum'n bass avantgarde. He has intertwined and enriched my music with fresh and current ideas, especially in the developement of the rhythms and grooves.

All parts are sung, there is never any spoken dialogue, melisma are rare except for the bizarre strains of the Twins and Prunesquallor.

Steerpike sings rock songs; the Earl-turned-owl intones a romantic impressionistic kunstlied that floats on clouds of electronic sound; Fuchsia sings dreamy and tragic ballads; Barquentine roars out a wild rocker about chaos; the Twins twitter madly through musical history. Musical styles - or the remnants of them - are juxtaposed in abrupt succession. Nevertheless, there are also melodies that serve as leitmotifs and give shape to the characters, and there are other motifs, harmonic associations and single chords, all of which weave a net of relationships and meanings.

In Gormenghast there is no such thing as "normal" behaviour: every gesture and movement is carried out in a more or less stylised or ritualised manner, creating forms of dance. Steerpike prances in frenzied rapture at being liberated from his kitchen confines, performs acrobatic tricks to impress Fuchsia, or assumes the form of the Grim Reaper to subdue the Twins. In the final duet with Gertrude, his evil rooster dance culminates in rage and madness. Fuchsia dances back into her secret world of dreams, yearning for a brighter life. The Twins skip, trip and fidget around like a couple of crazed marionettes, Barquentine stamps out a frenetic ritual dance on the tabletop, Swelter fences a whirling war dance at his rival Flay. At the end of the first act the Twins, Fuchsia, Prunesquallor and Steerpike perform a romping dance number on the tree overhanging the abyss. And of course, all rituals are grotesque group dance numbers.

Gormenghast is, both in spirit and form, Grand Opera. But elements and characteristics of Musical, the rock concert, and modern dance theatre play equally important roles within it. A new genre? In order to preserve the wondrous form of opera we have to explore ever new possibilities to transform it. This is what I've tried to do. Therefore I call Gormenghast, simply, a Fantasy Opera.


LORD SEPULCHRAVE    the Earl of Groan lyric baritone

76th Lord in direct succession and ruler of Gormenghast. A melancholic intellectual. He performs his complicated rituals in a mechanical and absent-minded manner. He hardly ever notices his family and surroundings, for he is completely devoted to his only love - his books. When alone in his huge library, he seems to awake from his torpor and lack of presence. After his books are destroyed in the fire, he becomes increasingly despondent and finally goes mad. His song is soft and lyrical, with melodies of a liturgical pattern. The more gloomy he becomes, the more the variety of his musical motifs decrease; in the end his song is completely stereotyped and formal. Yet his final aria, sung as an owl perched on the mantelpiece, is wonderfully melodic.

LADY GERTRUDE       the Countess, dramatic soprano or mezzo

Lord Sepulchrave's wife. An enormous and mysterious woman. She exudes a disquieting combination of callousness and animal warmth. Lethargic and languid, she is at peace with herself. In contrast to her indifference to people, she cultivates a warm and tender relationship with her pets: birds alight on her gigantic body and nest in her auburn hair; a wave of white cats surges across her bed. She is Mother Earth, upon whose gargantuan body innocent life crawls and swarms.

TITUS       the son, dancer, mime

Only son of Lord Sepulchrave and Lady Gertrude. Heir of Gormenghast.In the first act he is born. In the second act he is a seven-year-old child and in the third he is 15. Titus is mute - and the question remains as to whether this is a congenital defect or a refusal to speak. But even as a child he takes notice of Steerpike's every sordid deed and tries to indicate this to the others by pointing his finger. But the adults fail to understand. Only Steerpike is in the know. Thus Titus' growing up becomes a constant and ever-intensifying battle with Steerpike's rise to power.

FUCHSIA   the daughter,     soprano

Titus' sister, 14 years old, in the beginning. Sensitive, sulky, temperamental, tender, spontaneous, dreamy, both distrustful and gullible. And very much alone.

THE TWINS       two coloratura sopranos

Lady Cora and Lady Clarice, the Lord's sisters. They exhibit an absurd clumsiness and their gaunt, listless bodies are permanently intertwined in the most grotesque manner. Yet they still give off a whiff of former grandeur, of a glorious culture now rotten and inane. Their confused thoughts are expressed by a very elaborate coloratura song, sung mostly in parallel: a combination of Peking opera and Queen of the Night. Steerpike seals their lips, after which they can only hum. Even when spun into a cocoon, they continue to hum as they slowly perish.

BARQUENTINE       tenor, rock-singer / actor

Master of the Rituals and Keeper of the Law of the Groans. A crippled and belligerent dwarf, ragged and filthy. He conducts the rituals with relentless fanaticism and a barking voice.

STEERPIKE       tenor, rock-singer

The kitchen boy, whose rise and fall is the central drama of the opera Rat-like and swift, tough and daring, a hungry look, sharp intelligence, cynical and totally lacking in conscience, yet not without a certain charm and cheeky humour. His role is also one of an athletic dancer . Steerpike is a veritable ball of energy whose bizarre kinetics give full vent to his urges which in a sense are beyond his control. He sings pop, yet he has a wide range of expression.

DR. PRUNESQUALLOR       countertenor

Court physician and family confidant.Effeminate, elegant in an eccentric but cultivated manner, clever and charitable. His virtuously rapid and melodic song is punctuated with impulsive coloraturas of laughter, as if his voice has suddenly gone out of control and veered right up into the upper registers. These peals of laughter have nothing to do with the subject of his conversation, they're just part of his language.

FLAY       actor

Lord Sepulchrave's manservant, who performs his duties with the utmost of devotion. He is a steadfast part of Gormenghast, like an old castle wall - and just as unperturbed. Haggard and gnarled like a Giacometti figure.

SWELTER       lyric tenor

The kitchen master, a white and pasty hulk of colossal proportions. Slimy arrogance, malicious and sharp-tongued. His voice, however, melts like butter, tender and melodious. Despite his great size, he moves with agility and elegance.

NANNY SLAGG       actress

Known as "Nanny", the tiny old children's nurse. She loves and cares for Fuchsia and Titus with great devotion, complains incessantly, and has both a nervous and obstinate personality.

THE THING       dancer, acrobat

Voice: tape

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