David Lang’s

the loser

an opera in one act for solo baritone voice,
solo piano, and ensemble

“boldly unconventional” – Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

“…what assures Lang’s hypnotic opera of being an inescapable winner is a mesmerizingly virtuosic performance by Rod Gilfry destined for the annals of opera.” LA Times

“… Lang, who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Little Match Girl Passion (2008), has indeed done something brilliant, rich with pleasures and surprises even for those who know the novel well…The first of these welcome surprises was that the entire orchestra level of the Howard Gilman Opera House had been closed off. All of the seating was in the mezzanine, so that the audience was on the same level as the narrator (Rod Gilfry), who sang his hour-long monologue from a small, narrow black platform, at the top of a long black staircase, some twenty feet above the floor of the main auditorium. The unusual staging puts us into an intimate sort of proximity to the narrator, even as he, paradoxically, seems more alone. Only he and his little platform are illuminated; totally surrounded by blackness above and below, he seems even more isolated than he would were he simply standing in the center of a dark stage…The beauty of the music makes us more intensely aware of the grief and disappointment that fuel the narrator’s anger…Lang’s restrained and gorgeous score are haunting reminders of what the narrator has given up. This is, after all, his whole life that he is talking about: his blighted dreams, his unrealized hopes.”    – Francine Prose, NY Review of Books

David Lang’s the loser — scene 2 from Red Poppy Music on Vimeo.

the loser

Libretto, Music and Stage Direction by David Lang
Based on the novel THE LOSER by Thomas Bernhard
Produced by Bang on a Can

Rod Gilfry – baritone
Conrad Tao – piano
Karina Canellakis – conductor
Bang on a Can Opera – ensemble
Jennifer Tipton – lighting designer
Jim Findlay – set designer

David Lang: ‘the loser’ — composer note from Red Poppy Music on Vimeo.

Press and links:

Read The NY Reivew of Books article about the loser
Read NY Times review about the loser
Read David Lang’s account of adapting the loser

Program notes and Libretto:

Program notes and libretto on David Lang’s webpage


Program Notes

“Suicide calculated well in advance, I thought, no spontaneous act of desperation.”

So begins Thomas Bernhard’s novel ‘The Loser’.  The narrator, who is never named in the book, retells the story of his friend Wertheimer, who has just committed suicide, and in the process he reveals everything about himself. They both had been promising concert pianists in their youth, among the best in the world, but they had the misfortune of meeting each other as students in a master class of Horowitz, in which the young Glenn Gould had also been a participant. The knowledge that they were never going to be as great as Gould wrecked their lives forever.

The story is not at all about Gould, Horowitz, or classical music.  On one level the novel is an intense tour-de-force of character development, as the narrator tells you more and more about himself and his world, with all the details revealed in no particular order.  In its own confrontational and strangely beautiful way, however, it is also about perfectionism, hard work, optimism or lack of, how we justify our lives to ourselves, and how we learn to appreciate beauty and become alienated from it at the same time.

Booking and Technical Information

More info


the loser text Used by Permission of SuhrkampVerlag AG, Berlin
Translated by Jack Dawson.
This translation used by permission of The Knopf Doubleday Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC

the loser was made possible by a generous grant from the MAP Fund, a program of Creative Capital, supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and by BAM for the 2016 Next Wave Festival.