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Yerma 2

Like Britten's Peter Grimes, Lorca's play deals with themes of madness and obsession, here in the form of a psychological study of the deterioration of its central character, Yerma (meaning barren) as a result of her infertility. Yerma's obsession becomes increasingly acute during the course of the play to the extent that in the final act, she strangles her husband Juan in a moment of temporary insanity.

Slater's libretto is based closely on the structure of the original Lorca text: the order of events is maintained, as is the essence of almost all the original dialogue. Slater's main contribution was to submit much of the prose of the play to a process of poeticization, transforming it into a verse of rhyming and half-rhyming couplets suitable for musical treatment.

In musical terms, Yerma's shfting psychological state is mirrored in a complex network of leitmotivs (essentially musical signs), which provide unity both within individual scenes and between larger sections of the opera. The particular choices of instrumentation in the opera - for example, the strings - and the types of texture for which they are employed also have an important role in conveying Yerma's condition.

The opera's musical language is essentially expressionistic, meaning that it hovers between traditional tonal schemes and atonal/serial writing, which in the main is ideally suited to suggest Yerma's precarious mental balance. Unfortunately, when it was finally submitted, Yerma was rejected by Sadler's Wells for reasons which are still not entirely clear. However it did receive a radio broadcast performance in 1961 conducted by Eugene Goossens with Joan Hammond in the lead role.