The Cure, Harrison Birtwistle's new chamber opera, joined The Corridor in a mythic double-bill at the Aldeburgh Festival in June.
<DIR=LTR align="left">Harrison Birtwistle’s new chamber opera The Cure, retelling an episode from the myth of Jason and Medea, was premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival in June travelling on to the Royal Opera’s Linbury Studio Theatre in London. With libretto by the composer’s frequent collaborator David Harsent, singers Mark Padmore and Elizabeth Atherton, the London Sinfonietta conducted by Geoffrey Paterson, and production by Martin Duncan, the hour-long stagework revealed the composer at the height of his powers – as The Times noted, "at 80 he clearly has no need of Medea’s rejuvenating potions". The review went on to describe the new opera as "a coruscating, twisty score of intense and at times almost ecstatic sounds".
"Medea is persuaded by Jason to use her magic skills to give his elderly father, Aeson, back his youth. Again, time is stopped in its progress. Again, a character seems to cheat death, only for the promise of renewed life to be questioned. These are issues to which Birtwistle keeps coming back in a time-honoured ritual of his own."
"Both witch and woman, Medea is shown in thrall to her own magical power, the music’s heaving, twisting embrace overpowering her sense of movement. Here one is again acutely aware of Birtwistle’s extraordinary gift, and the way the music in his operas is often fully present to the characters: it doesn’t accompany them so much as animate them. The range of musical gesture is also astonishing… with string writing of a delicacy and fragility one wouldn’t have associated with Birtwistle until very recently."
Times Literary Supplement
"Birtwistle’s score, melancholy, vivid, exquisitely lyrical, marks yet another advance in his distinctive compositional process. His fingerprints are all over it of course, but somehow he has discovered yet new ways to make music theatre on this intimate scale."
The Cure was staged together with The Corridor, Birtwistle’s earlier work focusing on the moment when Orpheus leads Euridice from the Underworld, turns and loses her forever. The Times described The Corridor as a "brilliantly expressionist score... one of Birtwistle’s most gripping vocal works." Both chamber operas forensically examine love and loss, rebirth and death, with the New York Times praising the coupling as "a double bill rich in dramatic power and intellectual depth… Mr. Birtwistle and Mr. Harsent have built an alchemically potent pairing."
Birtwistle’s new string quartet The Silk House Sequences receives its world premiere by the Arditti Quartet at the Wigmore Hall in London on 6 November, followed by performances later in the month at Milano Musica and the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and at Cité de la Musique in Paris in January. With the completion of the quartet the composer is embarking on a new orchestral score.
Photo: Mark Padmore and Elizabeth Atherton in The Cure at the Aldeburgh Festival (Clive Barda/ArenaPAL)
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