Eight Songs for a Mad King, the musical monologue about King George III by composer, the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, is a thirty-five-minute blow to the solar plexus. It is also an assault on the ears, eye gouging, gut wrenching, a whack on the head, in short, opera delivering GBH with intent. It is an unforgettable experience.
I watched Bayerische Staatsoper’s production – currently available on their website via the Vimeo platform for £4.42. It was the eve of President Biden’s inauguration. I hope I can be forgiven for tastelessly regretting Sir Peter’s talents were no longer available to pen Eight Songs for a Mad President. That would be the one tramping the waking corridors of a White House he was about to leave for the last time the following morning.
The work opens with the monarch, head bandage bound in self-protection, emerging onstage, chalking on a wall: “Let us talk”. King George then proceeds, through the medium of eight songs, to deliver a combination of sometimes incomprehensible ramblings melded with shrewd insights, outbursts of rage, witty aperçus, tears of self-pity, blistering attacks on his oppressors, and a mawkish concern for “his people”. Remind you of anyone?