Paul Alan Barker, Composer


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Hello, Mr Darwin!

Opera for soprano, baritone and children’s chorus (aged 8-12). Commissioned by Opera UK, premiered Burdett-Coutts Primary School on November 25th, 2010.

El Gallo

Reviews of El Gallo


Opera for 6 Actors and 2 string quartets without text. Commissioned by Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes, Premiere Festival de Mexico en el Centro Historico, March 27, 28 & 29, 2009. Has received over 100 performances at major festivals since then in US, Latin America and Europe.

click here to download libretto of El Gallo

See excerpts of El Gallo on YouTube here

Songs Between Words

aka Antes del Principio or Before the Beginning. Festival de Mexico 2004; Recorded on CD; for any number of singers and actors, a cappella; Review


Nye Tand, Eh? 

2005 - A cappella opera without text for 7 singers;

in development; samples available here  

*The Mechanical Operation Of The Spirit

2000: a proto-type on-line or digital opera, 

commissioned with funds from AHRB

TMOOTS excpt: Sarah Leonard, sop

* Stone Angels

1999: opera performed by children for adults, Bloomsbury Theatre, London;

Libretto by Chris Baldwin (also director), loosely drawing on William Golding's The Lord of the Flies, conducted by Odaline de la Martinez with Lontano

For girls choir and small instrumental ensemble

*Dirty Tricks

1997: Spitalfields Market Opera, London
Libretto by Stephen Chance drawing on data relating to British Airways vs. Virgin Atlantic, conducted by the composer with Modern Music Theatre Troupe;

For 6 men, soprano and bass guitar

"This was brilliant and very funny....well worth seeing." Helen Elsom, OPERA-L "It seems the pantomime season has begun early this year..." British Airways

Aria: She SIngs and Comforts Them

Sing once upon a time I had a dream,
A lullaby upon an airy stream:
The oceans glistened with a fairy gleam,
For all the clouds were made of dairy cream.

The Last Word


Everybody wants to come across.
Everybody wants their message heard.
No one wants their voice to be lost.
Everybody wants the last word.

Everyone wants their opinion noted.
Everyone wants their idea preferred.
No one wants their plan to be out-voted.
Everybody wants the last word.

Everybody wants to be the greatest.
Everybody wants to lead the herd.
Everybody wants to stay out latest.
Everybody wants  the last word.

Everybody wants to tell their story.
Everybody wants to share their lot.
Everybody wants to air their glory.
Everybody wants the parting shot.

(They all shoot each other)

This is not the last word to be spoken.
This is not the last word to be said.
This is not the last word to betoken:
The last word won't be spoken til we're dead.

(They all die)


The Sorceress' Tale

1995: original libretto by composer
commissioned with funds from the Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust;

For the same forces as Purcell's Dido & Aeneas, conceived as a companion work.

*Albergo Empedocles

Premiere 1990: The London International Opera Festival
Libretto by Nicholas Till (also Director) after short story
by EM Forster, composer conducting, with Modern Music Theatre Troupe. For soloists and string quartet

...the word-setting is easy, fluent and pointed, the humour as obvious as Till's but clearly conveyed....Opera

The result in Barker's hands was effective as theatre, with a swift-moving structure and fast-moving action...Musical Times

excerpt from Albergo Empedocle

Prologue To La Malinche

Premiere: 1992 Festival de Centro Historico, Mexico City
Libretto by the composer drawn from historical documents of the conquest of Mexico, composer conducting. Directed by Caroline Sharman with Modern Music Theatre Troupe;For 3 soloists, chorus of 10, 4 percussion, 2 brass. Televised in Mexico.


Maria Huesca as La Mujer in Prologue to La Malinche

The Modern Music Theatre Troupe, one of the most interesting fringe opera companies in the country today, staged a remarkable new work called La Malinche...its consistency of tone and capacity for sustaining tension over protracted scenes turn out to be the work's greatest strength, and what holds the attention from first to last. Times Educational Supplement

Without doubt Paul Barker's operatic work La Malinche, is a majesterial creation. tr. Diario de Mexico

*La Malinche

Premiere 1989: The London International Opera Festival
Libretto by the composer drawn from historical documents of the conquest of Mexico, composer conducting, directed by Akemi Horie and Modern Music Theatre Troupe.

For 3 soloists, chorus of 10, 2 brass and 1 percussion.
Recorded for BBC Radio 3 & televised in Mexico.

Hear opening of La Malinche

In an age when few composers can still succeed in writing truly original music, Mr Barker who directed this performance has achieved something truly remarkable. Within a score that is satisfying for both singers and listener, he has struck a distinctive new note, exploring many unusual timbres. OPERA Magazine

How refreshing to hear a new opera that is about music, based on elaborate, demanding and satisfying writing for a chorus of ten (excellently prepared and executed), and on genuine ability to write for the voice...nothing but praise for Barker's conducting OPERA Magazine

Barker’s latest piece, the 45-minute long La Malinche, was premiered at the Place on Wednesday. How refreshing to encounter a new opera that is about music, based on elaborate, demanding and satisfying writing for a chorus of ten (excellently prepared and executed), and on genuine ability to write rewardingly for the voice, both elements discreetly supported by a band of three…An evening of real musical substance, then; tonight’s repeat performance is warmly recommended. Financial Times 9.6.89

* The Pillow Song

Premiere 1988: The London International Opera Festival.
Libretto by the composer after autobiography of Sei Shonagan.
Composer conducting and playing solo percussion, directed by Akemi Horie and Modern Music Theatre Troupe. For soprano, chorus of 4 sopranos and 1 percussion. Recorded on CD and televised in Mexico


Purcell Room, South Bank Centre, 1994, Caroline Pope director, Susan Stockwell designer: Modern Music Theatre Troupe


Excerpt from The PIllow Song

Years pass. Age comes my way.

Come to me my lover. Drive my tears away:



(tr: although our forms may change,

      smoke continues without abate;

      and although the nights on which we meet

      become further apart, our hearts are bound together.)



Lourdes Ambriz & Ricardo Gallardo, Festival Música y Escena, México City, February 2003, photos by Lorena Alcaraz Minor


In a completely different vein is the theatrical music of the...composer Paul Barker whose Canciones entre Palabras (Songs Between Words) and La canción de Cabecera (The Pillow Song) receive their premiere recordings on an issue from Quindecim Recordings. I was unfamiliar with Barker’s music before this recording, but am much impressed with his music that is full of unexpected rhythmic complexities and astringent timbres. Canciones entre Palabras is a collection of 14 a cappella songs (solo, duet and trio) employing vocalized syllables. The songs range in character from Zen-like stasis to manic parlando and demand virtuosic technique on the part of the performers. This is amply supplied by soprano Lourdes Ambriz, mezzo Maria Huesca, and baritone Benito Navarro. The radiant voice of Ambriz is also featured in the role of Sei Shonagan, the heroine of La canción de Cabecera, Barker’s opera based on an 11th-century Japanese autobiography of the life of an imperial concubine. The composer uses an accompaniment of only traditional temple bells, cymbals and tam-tams in an effort to approximate the aesthetic of Noh drama. His text-settings, however, are at times very florid and definitely un-Noh-like in character. The libretto, crafted by Barker and sung in English, alternates between solo sections for Sei Shonagan and choruses for a group of court gossips. La canción de Cabecera is a truly spectacular work and one that should invite further exploration of the wide variety of contemporary music emanating from Central and South America.

reviewed by William Grim, Sequenza 21, Thursday, February 02, 2006

see online review

Paul Barker, in the Pillow Song, used a spare and haunting texture of solo soprano, chorus of four women's voices, and occasionally quiet gong-strokes, to off-set a gentle story of tenth-century Japan...this was enchanting. The Independent

The Pillow Song demonstrated once again the remarkably individual gifts of the composer Paul Barker (who also played oriental percussion as a one-person accompaniment).....Classical Music

A composer of true originality, he avoids easy solutions on the one hand and fashionable obscurantism on the other. The Pillow Song displays that skill in vocal writing and in keeping music and dramatic action moving forward which Rodney Milnes hailed three years ago...the whole work, of about thirty minutes. would seem a gift to television and meanwhile merits major festival performances. Opera

Paul Barker's The Pillow Song (1988) is an intriguing piece...the vocal writing is well-wrought and grateful to the ear. Mr Barker has found a fluent style for his protagonist, whose occasional high melismatic bursts generate tension and excitement. The Stage


Premiere 1986: Camden Opera Festival, London
Libretto by the composer after George MacDonald's novel,
Directed by Chris Newell with Modern Music Theatre Troupe. Soloists and various keyboards, harp, percussion. effective lyrical declamation against a small array of keyboards and percussion with both tonal and atonal implications. Additionally (for the first time in opera?) the Irish Union bagpipe imparts a wild menace when the hero is approached by the evil shadow. Music & Musicians

The Marriages Between Zones 3,4 & 5

Premiere 1985: Opera Viva, The Place Theatre, London. Libretto by the composer after Doris Lessing's novel, directed by Chris Newell. 3 solo singers, one dancer, children's chorus, small instrumental ensemble

Start: MarriagesBetweenZones3,4 & 5

Mr Barker commands that most elusive and important quality needed for the stage -forward movement - indeed, I wager that we shall be hearing more from Paul Barker. Financial Times

His musical language hovers in an attractive zone somewhere between tonality and atonality; his vocal lines are as testing as they are rewarding and his writing for chamber orchestra is consistently inventive. Opera

...served to show genuine stage-flair on the part of the composer, Paul Barker. British Music Yearbook, review of the year