Lear on the 2nd Floor

An Opera Inspired by King Lear

Lear on the Second Floor, an Opera by Composer Anthony Davis and Playwright Allan Havis, is  a contemporary inversion of Shakespeare's King Lear in which a prominent neuroscience researcher (Dr. Nora Lear) is suddenly beset by dementia.


The Opera


Prologue 1

Set within Nora’s mind, no concrete location. Nora Lear strikes a tone of an articulated melancholy and grieves her failing memory.

Prologue 2

Scene shifts to a lecture hall at the start of a keynote address by Dr. Nora Lear. She slips off her prepared speech and becomes disoriented when she spies her sex industry daughter Jenna on the auditorium screen.

Act 1 Scene 1 

Set inside a doctor’s office. Following the embarrassment of the flawed keynote address, The doctor examines Nora and reveals to her the seriousness of her condition. Nora believes she is consulting as a fellow physician not as a patient. Nora’s doctor recommends that she should be hospitalized. 

Act 1 Scene 2 

Lyla discovers Nora at Mortimer’s grave site. She has wandered off during an excursion with other patients at the managed care facility. Lyla is worried that her mother will be locked away in an institution and suspects the motives of her two older sisters. Lyla offers Nora the hope that she can return to live at home.

Act 1 Scene 3

At Nora’s new institutional apartment within the assisted living residency. Nora converses with Mortimer even though he is dead.  He mentions unresolved issues from the past yet he is kind to her playing the loving fool. Nora imagines her three daughters expressing their undying love and devotion.

Act 1 Scene 4

At Nora’s institutional apartment. Nora’s day nurse arrives. Nora senses a strange intimacy with the Nurse as she imagines an escape.

Act 1 Scene 5

Inside Nora’s bedroom. Nora’s middle daughter Tara pays a visit with documents in hand. Tara and her attorney husband try to persuade Nora to allow Tara to assume guardianship of her mother. Tara is sidetracked when Nora pokes into her sibling rivalry with her two sisters.

Act 1 Scene 6

On Jenna’s doorstep. Jenna, the adult film actress, brings Nora in from the cold surprised by her unexpected visit. Fueled by her perceived rejection of her mother, Jenna tells Nora that she cannot stay. In order to push her away, Jenna relays the story of how she entered the unseemly world of pornography.   Nora is not shocked by this casual confession and only looks for comfort in the storm.

Act 1 Scene 7

A storm. Nora is stranded somewhere at night and cannot hail a cab.  She imagines Mortimer coming to her rescue and this gives her some comfort.  Lyla discovers Nora at Mortimer’s gravesite before Nora falls into danger.

Act 2 

Instrumental Introduction

Act 2 Scene 1

At the Doctor’s office with Nora, Tara and her husband attorney. The doctor mediates, but it is the attorney who leads the scene as he tries to compel Nora to grant power of Attorney to Tara. After much resistance, Nora is drugged into submission.

Act 2 Scene 2

In Family Courthouse. The scene brings all the family members together and exposes the positions of each daughter to Nora.  Jenna wants forgiveness and to be welcomed back into the family. Tara appears the most aggressive and materialistic.  Lyla appeals to the court from a place of emotion and naïve optimism. The Doctor argues on Tara’s behalf. The Court adjourns for lunch.

Act 2 Interlude

The Judge preens in front of a mirror as he prepares his judgment.

Act 2 Scene 3

The Judgment. The Court appoints Tara as the Guardian and declares that she must post a bond to ensure a safe estate,

Act 2 Scene 4

On the 2nd Floor. Nora spends her time with her Nurse as she counts the days.

Act 2 Scene 5

On 2nd Floor. Mortimer returns dressed as a jet pilot. He prepares to take her away. He is the fool with empty pockets, “the idiot who pretends gladness, the antidote to sadness.” For Nora and Mortimer, “it is time to fly” returning to the heart of memory.