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King Gesar

by peter lieberson

Libretto by Douglas Penick

"Its Magic." -Jim Ruggirello, Gazette

Get ready for a campfire opera under a blanket of stars! Our second Outer Limits production draws from the ancient tradition of storytelling and recounts the story of Tibetan King Gesar, who emerges as a warrior of the human heart and champion of enlightenment. Played out atop the galloping runs, prayerful melodies, and percussive battle cries of the score, this inspiring experience marries the oral rituals of the past with LBO’s look at opera of the future.


Lieberson on "King Gesar"

King Gesar is a monodrama/opera that tells the story of a legendary Tibetan warrior king, Gesar of Ling, who rose from obscurity to battle the demons that enslave humankind. The story begins with Gesar’s early years, his struggle as an indecisive youth, and a significant horse race during which Gesar, with the help of his magical horse, Kyang Go Karkar, emerges as a warrior of the human heart. His final victory ushers in the era of enlightened society and peace. 

King Gesar was conceived as a kind of campfire opera. I visualized a situation akin to Tibetan “performances”: the campfire in a pitch black night under the dome of an immense starry sky, or, a daytime community gathering in a very large tent or small town square—familiar situations in which people eat, drink, and tell stories. In these kinds of settings the many exploits of the great warrior Gesar are told.… These stories instruct in every way, as well as entertain. A single narrator would take on the roles of the many characters in the story. It was not unusual for him to get completely caught up in the telling, to go into a trance, and “receive” even more Gesar stories. There are hundreds of these stories, many of them variations on the basic themes in Gesar’s life.


Penick on "King Gesar"

Peter's invitation to work on the libretto for King Gesar opened many challenging lines of inquiry to me, some obvious and some less so.

I had long been familiar with King Gesar of Ling as a spiritual hero, but the need to find theatrical form led me to look more deeply into the purely 'epic' context in which Gesar's story emerges. Some of these might be enriching as background in listening to KING GESAR

First unlike the Iliad or Beowulf,, Gesar is still a living epic. It is still sung in new ways and presented in new forms. Further, new episodes or new versions of old episode are still being written or improvised orally. This version you are hearing now is, then, one among a vast stream of Gesar version and performances that go back over a thousand years.

Second, Gesar, as all epic heroes, is a social exemplar. He is constantly overcoming the many inner obstacles that manifest as obstructions and corruptions to a genuinely beneficial social order. In that sense, Gesar is not just the embodiment of inner spiritual renewal, but of how society might also find a path to benevolence. Part of the reason for the Gesar epic's continuous vitality is that Gesar arises out of the conflicts and problems in whatever time and place in which he is invoked.

A third aspect underlying my thinking about King Gesar came from the Navajo chant-way tradition. Here, it is maintained that illness comes from falling out of harmony with the primordial forces of the world. Balance can be restored by leading the sick person through one or another of the heroic journeys whereby humanity found its place in the world. Both Peter and I very much hoped we could write a piece that might have a similar function, and equally importantly, might encourage others to do likewise.

We both believed and believe that these aspects will all be present in the performances you will be hearing now.


Peter Lieberson (1946-2011)

Lieberson came to prominence in the mid-1980s with the Piano Concerto and Drala, two major commissions from the Boston Symphony, with whom he enjoyed a fruitful collaboration. Of profound influence on his music was his practice of Tibetan Buddhism. Many of his works were inspired by Buddhist themes such as King Gesar (1991) and the opera Ashoka’s Dream (1997), both from a series of works based on the lives of enlightened rulers. Lyricism and vocal writing dominated his works of the last decade, reflecting the rich collaborations with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, for whom he composed Neruda Songs (winner of the 2008 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition). In addition to his associations with major orchestras such as Boston, New York, Cleveland, Chicago and Los Angeles, Lieberson enjoyed long-standing artistic collaborations with Peter Serkin, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and Oliver Knussen. Recent commissions included Remembering JFK: An American Elegy for the National Symphony Orchestra, The World in Flower for the New York Philharmonic; Remembering Schumann for Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax, The Coming of Light; a song cycle for baritone, oboe, and string quartet; the orchestral Suite from Ashoka's Dream; and Songs of Love and Sorrow for Gerald Finley and the Boston Symphony Orchestra

King gesar

The ethnic Tibetan, Mongolian and Tu communities in western and northern China share the story of the ancient hero King Gesar, sent to heaven to vanquish monsters, depose the powerful, and aid the weak while unifying disparate tribes. The singers and storytellers who preserve the Gesar epic tradition perform episodes of the vast oral narrative (known as 'beads on a string') in alternating passages of prose and verse with numerous regional differences. Tibetan masters carry bronze mirrors and use facial expressions, sound effects and gestures to enhance their singing, while Mongolian performers are accompanied by fiddles and intersperse improvised, melodic singing with musical storytelling and oral narrative. Epic performances, often accompanied by rituals such as offerings and meditation, are embedded in the religious and daily lives of the community. For example, when a child is born, passages about King Gesar's descent into the world are sung. The hundreds of myths, folktales, ballads and proverbs handed down as part of the tradition not only serve as a form of major entertainment in rural communities but also educate listeners in history, religion, custom, morality and science. A continuing inspiration for thangka painting, Tibetan opera and other art forms, the Gesar epic imbues audiences both young and old with a sense of cultural identity and historical continuity.



Part 1

An invocation to Gesar himself and the power of goodness in the human heart. This invocation contains both a supplication to Gesar as well as a description of how much suffering sentient beings endure as the result of their own actions. 

Part 2

A recounting of the birth of Gesar.

Part 3

Sketches the years he spent in the desert with his mother growing into manhood.

Part 4

Portrays a horse race held in the Kingdom of Ling. Gesar disguises himself and wins the race, thereby tricking his uncle Todong, who covets power, into crowning Gesar as King of Ling.

Part 5

Manene’s song of counsel to Gesar. Manene is a feminine personification of warriorship who appears to Gesar, particularly when Gesar is in retreat, to remind him of his duty and to exhort him into action.

Part 6

A depiction of Gesar’s battle with the Tirthikas and his victory in battle.

Part 7

Gesar’s song of completion to his followers proclaiming the dignity of their human heritage which they had lost through mindlessness and lack of vision. Gesar then leaves the world. He reminds those that remain of their inherent wisdom and goodness and the power to live by it or not according to their choice.


Bob Christian

Sound Designer

Bob created sound design on LBO productions of Ricky Ian Gordon’s Orpheus & Euridice (2008, 2010), John Adams' Nixon in China, Luigi Cherubini’s Medea, Philip Glass’ Akhnaten, David Lang’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, Astor Piazolla & Horacio Ferrer’s Maria de Buenos Aires (2012), Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar, Michael Nyman’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Gavin Bryars' The Paper Nautilus, and Philip Glass’ Fall Of The House Of Usher. He is Sound Manager for the acclaimed Long Beach Municipal Band. Also a composer, Bob has written and produced music for numerous programs on TLC, Discovery Channel, and PBS.

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Javier Gonzalez


Javier Gonzalez has performed and choreographed in venues across Europe and North America including Finland, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic and Mexico; as well as tours to New York and across the United States. In his 22 years as a dancer Javier has worked with a diverse group of companies and choreographers, including Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre, Amanda Turner and Dancers, Metropolitan Ballet, Grandeza Mexican Folk Ballet Company, Royal Caribbean International Cruise line. This will be Javier's sixth opera with Long Beach Opera.

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Kelly Ray


Kelly has been dancing professionally for 15 years. She currently dances with Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre. Kelly is dance faculty at Golden West College and dance instructor for Renaissance High School for the Arts in Long Beach. Her students have gone on to study at Julliard, Tisch School of the Arts, NY and the Alvin Ailey School. Kelly has worked with members of the Limon Dance Company, Paul Taylor Dance Company, White Oak Dance Project and individuals such as Joe Goode, Bebe Miller, and Murray Louis. She has enjoyed touring nationally and internationally with NBDT and looks forward to more years of new dance experiences.