Works > El Palacio Imaginado

El Palacio Imaginado

Imaginary Palace (Also translated as Phantom Palace)
Written in:
For 9 singers, flt (+picc. & alto flt), ob. (+cor anglais), Bb clt (+Eb cl.,A & bass cl.), fgt., cor, trpt in C, trbne, tuba, percussion (2 players), pno, 3 vlns, 2 vlas, vc, D b. and tape.
Commisioned by

Commissioned by Musik der Jahrhunderte, Festival of Arts and Ideas (New Haven) and English National Opera.(2001-2003). Project also sponsored by the J.S. Guggenheim Foundation.


US premier on 12th June 2003 at Festival of Arts & Ideas, New Haven. European premier on 26th June 2003 at the Theaterhaus Stuttgart both by the Neue Vocalsolisten and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra in the US and the Collegium Novum Zurich in Germany. Both productions were conducted by Peter Hirsch, directed by Carlos Wagner, with Mauricio Elorriaga as stage desigern. The tape was produced at the Experimental Studio of the SWR in Freiburg.

Programme Note

Libretto by Adriana Diaz Enciso, based on a story by Isabel Allende. The title refers to a Latin American country in which a new culture has been imposed by ignoring and oppressing the native one.

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The dictator of the nation who calls himself “The Benefactor,” holds a speech for the inauguration of his newly erected “Summer Palace.”  In his speech we recognize the ubiquitous elements of the South American dilemma.  On one hand, the suppression (or even extinction) of the native indigenous population, and on the other, the conflict between the search for a unique identity and the inability to shake off the colonial forces as a constant model and point of reference.

Mr. and Mrs. Liebermann, ambassadors from a first-world country, are received with pomp and circumstance.  Mr. Liebermann suffers from the tropical heat and the mosquitoes.  He complains to his beloved lapdogs how he regrets not having been sent to a more civilized country.  A reception follows.  From the dialogues we can conclude that here everyone betrays everyone.  On one hand “The Benefactor” is exploited in a oil-business deal with the ambassador Liebermann, while the self same “Benefactor” plans to abduct his beautiful wife Marcia, with whom (much against his nature) he has fallen in love.  The following day Marcia is taken prisoner with typical military brutality, and the “Benefactor” abducts her to his “Summer Palace.”

After an unsuccessful attempt to win his wife back, the intimidated Liebermann returns to his homeland, seeking comfort with his favourite lapdog.

Meanwhile, Marcia has to endure the Benefactor’s brutality.  Marcia becomes aware of the shadows around her.  At the climax of the opera, in a scene of true magic realism, Marcia slides from the violent embrace of the Benefactor and becomes a shadow herself.  With this masterstroke the piece connects the fate of the oppressed Indio population with that of women in a calculating, power-obsessed chauvinistic society.

Years pass.  The “Benefactor” has died.  The Summer Palace has been engulfed by the jungle.  Democracy has taken the place of dictatorship.  Money that has been allotted to the arts must be spent.  The minister for culture decides to create a cultural center.

Location: The Summer Palace.  A frantic search in the jungle ensues, but without success.  The Summer Palace can’t be found.  The search is abandoned, and at this moment, the Palace, like a fantastical mirage, rises above the jungle and disappears again.     

– Carlos Wagner