Six Characters in Search of a Stage

Opera da camera adapted by the composer from the play by Luigi Pirandello (1921)

for 5 singers and 5 instrumentalists (SATBaB, 2 Cl., Vla., Vc., Piano)     55’       2013

Six characters enter an empty theatre with a story to tell: it is one of high drama, incest and death, but also farce and philosophy. They try to convince The Director that it's true…

First performances in May 2014 - 

✩✩✩✩ "Bite sized opera strikes gold... An impressive debut with all the ingredients of a full length opera... all played out in just 55 minutes, This rich mix of interlocking characters bring their theatrical performances to an intense climax of pain and despair. There is much to commend this lively production..." (

"Lambert's music always strongly directional and full of emotion... This was a fabulous piece of theatre..." (Newbury Weekly News)

✩✩✩✩✩ "This short opera succeeds in holding the attention of the audience due to its fast pace, stylish production...and Lambert's strikingly lively score". (Jill Barlow on Planet Hugill) 

See full reviews on The Music Troupe website



Characters from an opera:

THE FATHER - a gentleman of wealth and learning - bass

THE MOTHER - his (ex-)wife, a simple-hearted lady - mezzo-soprano

THE SON - a taciturn young man -  tenor

THE DAUGHTER - an attractive young woman - soprano

MADAME PACE - a fashion designer & pimp - tenor

THE BOY - teenage child of the mother by another partner - (silent role)

THE GIRL - the daughter’s young child - (silent role)

[The two tenor roles to be played by the same singer]


Clarinet 1: Bb clarinet, Eb clarinet

Clarinet 2: Bb clarinet, bass clarinet in Bb




Scene: an empty theatre or rehearsal space

After its initial failure in 1921, Pirandello's masterpiece Six Characters In Search Of An Author soon became a cult work. Its originality lay in its inherent 'theatricalism', (as the movement became known), in which the stage was once more exploited for its illusionary qualities rather than its resemblance to real life, a reaction to the realist style of theatre prevalent at the time. Six Characters was adopted also by the surrealists. Logic is indeed suspended since the plot is largely a narration of things that have happened: yet these things are re-enacted before our eyes, with results that are absurd.

The torments that afflict the Characters are lived through as they re-enact them. They know of no other existence, since this is their only life and they are trapped in their story. This is a play about a play, a self-referential examination of the processes of the stage. In the final act of the play the Characters describe their attempts to make their creator complete the drama and put them on the stage: they feel without it they are denied the life they deserve, that is, to live as characters in a masterpiece that will give them immortality. There is something of the commedia dell’arte in them and they are being manipulated like puppets. At the same time, their story is one of high drama - incest, murder & suicide - with a passionate, Italian hue and it would not be out of place in an opera seria, for one of which, it is supposed, the opera’s cast is searching: the Characters need, above all, to sing.


A Director is waiting in an empty theatre for the cast of modern work he evidently does not really understand. Six Characters from an opera suddenly appear in their period costumes and insist on telling the Director their story which they re-enact for his benefit as they go along. The Father, clearly a gentleman of some wealth and learning, had a wife, the Mother, with whom he had a Son, now a taciturn young man. The Mother, however, ran off with a lover a long time ago and abandoned them both.

There is with the group an attractive young woman; this is the Daughter of the Mother and Father who was born after the Mother had moved away. There are two children also, a Boy of about fourteen, the son of the Mother and her lover and a young Girl, not much more than a toddler, who is the Daughter’s child by an unknown partner. 

The mother's lover has recently died and, now in mourning and destitute, the Mother has sought work from Madame Pace, the manager of a business which fronts as a fashion-house but which is also a brothel. Madame Pace is not one of the Six Characters and her appearance defies logic. But she is central to the plot and so she is there, the only character who clearly enjoys her role. She is played by the singer doubling the role of the Son - (tenor, a retake on the traditional role of the castrato).

The Mother is unaware that Madame Pace has begun to arrange clients for her Daughter and it is the Daughter's earnings which are keeping them alive. One day, the Father approaches Madame for sex and is introduced to the Daughter; neither knows the other since they have lived apart. The Mother bursts in and interrupts them and the situation horrifies them all: the Daughter has been abused and exploited, the Father shamed, and the Mother is tormented with guilt.

The Characters go on to explain that the family came back to live with the Father and the strains of the various relationships came to a head when... in the garden... by this time the Characters are traumatised by re-living the events as they recall them. The distinction between the narration of their story and their attempts to stage it for the Director has broken down: their experiences are real to them in the present moment.

Everything depends on the Son: unwilling to play his part in the drama, it takes much persuasion to get him to relate his discovery of the little Girl drowning. As he does so, the Girl is indeed found dead in the fountain which the Director has provided for them. The others turn, horrified, to the Boy - who has been watching from his hiding place - shoot himself with a revolver he has found. Carrying the two dead children, the Mother and Father are left together with the Son they started out with all those years ago, while the Daughter makes her escape into the world alone.

The Director was beginning to feel involved in the drama but suddenly finds the cast has evaporated and he is left to clear up the mess.

Vocal Score

Full Score

Version for Clarinet & Piano