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Birtwistle: The Minotaur reviews and telecast
As the Sunday Times noted at the Covent Garden premiere on 15 April, “Harrison Birtwistle’s latest opera is a piece he might have been expected to write. The Minotaur, to words by David Harsent, was commissioned by the Royal Opera House and premiered there under Antonio Pappano, and is like a summary of Birtwistle’s preoccupations. Greek mythology has rarely been far from his thoughts. Monstrous beings such as the Minotaur have regularly featured in his operas… and labyrinths such as the one Daedalus made for King Minos, to cage the Minotaur, have provided Birtwistle with a principle of form.”
“The most powerful and original opera yet to have emerged this century.”
The Minotaur will be telecast on BBC2 TV at 7.35pm on 7 June.
Further information from the BBC Press Office
“Blood-drenched and sorrowful, majestic and raw, The Minotaur plunders the extremes of human nature in music of coruscating, storming beauty… Low woodwind, sensuous strings and the spangly clatter of the cimbalom colour the orchestra in sombre, glistening tones. The rewards are at once unsettling and exhilarating… the applause, though deserved by all, was primarily for yet further proof of Birtwistle’s epic creative clarity.”
“…in the Minotaur himself, a role specially conceived for the bass John Tomlinson, Birtwistle has created one of his most complex and fascinating protagonists… It is a dramatic tour de force for Tomlinson, who handles it superbly and gives eloquence to a creature who can articulate his thoughts only in his dreams, and acquires the power of speech only after the fatal blow has landed.”
“The moment when the beast stands revealed is a brilliant coup de théâtre. The drama is now both wonderful and dreadful; as more victims are raped and gored, blood upon blood, the crowd intones a drugged and ecstatic chorale brutally shattered by a screeching chorus of winged furies. Here the music’s crazy momentum displays Birtwistle’s talents at magnificently full stretch… the evening is a glittering success.”
“He is such a master of orchestration – he constantly takes the ear to new places, producing brilliant colours. And no one knows better how to build a tension, hold it, resolve it. There is hugely impressive writing for the slaughter of the innocents, shriek upon shriek cutting a swathe through the orchestra. Elsewhere, keening high brass over strings and low brass produces a mesmerizing effect. The work is broken by three orchestral toccatas, again with hauntingly beautiful material.”
“The music begins like flowing magma, muffled and dark, forming itself frequently à la Alban Berg into a lengthy adagio... A few times there is opportunity for excessive, indeed explosive visions of sound using the powerful range of percussion, particularly in depicting the murderous acts of the beast… Even the end of the Minotaur is dazzlingly reaffirmed in this manner… Compared with somewhat fussy myth adaptations such as Ulisse by Dallapiccola or some of Henze’s late works, Birtwistle demonstrates absolutely the hand of a heady, heavyweight storyteller-in-sound.”
“It is that rare beast – a successful new opera.”
With the premiere of The Minotaur and two productions of Punch and Judy, London was the epicentre of Birtwistle attention this spring. The operatic focus shifts abroad later in the year with the Italian premiere of The Last Supper as part of a Birtwistle feature at Settembre Musica in Turin and Milan (4-11 September), and the German premiere of The Io Passion at the Berlin Kammeroper (7-16 November).
> Further information on The Minotaur
Photo: Copyright Bill Cooper