HARRISON BIRTWISTLE (b.1934): The Minotaur.
Catalogue Number: 12K104
Label: Opus Arte
Reference: OA 1000 D
Description: Birtwistle's 2005-07 opera is a literal telling of the Minotaur episode of the Theseus/Ariadne myth. There are two distinct, almost separate, strands to the drama; much of the human drama, represented in the opera's most soaring, lyrical music, is centered on a conflicted Ariadne, trapped by her circumstances and scheming to escape, who for much of the opera is its central, and most complex, character. Underlying the entire work is a more violent, elemental subtext, almost as though the human drama is a fragile veneer superimposed on the surface of a darker, more permanent world in which the labyrinth, the minotaur and the heartless gods go on for ever. The Minotaur, in fact, bridges these two worlds; a brutal, almost mechanical instrument of sacrifice, he longs to discover his identity and to express himself through language which is only granted to him in dreams and in death. Librettist David Harsent (Birtwistle's collaborator on his previous epic opera, 'Gawain' from the early '90s) seems to echo Borges' vastly more articulate minotaur, equally unaware of his purpose and identity; an ambiguous character, fittingly remaining unresolved and unexplained to the end. The orchestral writing is of Birtwistle's finest, emphasizing the monumental, elemental aspects of the score, which like many of Birtwistle's works based in myth, legend and obscure, occult antiquity abounds in churning, violent, dark-hued, harsh and almost (but not quite) unrelentingly dissonant soundscapes. The Minotaur's dreams, Ariadne's soliloquies and dialogues with Theseus have a soaring expressiveness of vocal line less markedly present in Birtwistle's earlier works, which were often notable for their fractured voice parts.The spare, minimalist staging and costumes - most of the effects are achieved through lighting, back-projection (it actually looks like a huge high-resolution monitor screen) and a few props - emphasizes the fact that it is Birtwistle's music that carries most of the weight of the drama, while remaining visually arresting on their own terms. Unlike some recent DVD productions, this is presented as a film of a staged performance, with close-ups and tracking shots effectively emulating an audience-member's changes of emphasis of attention around a stage, rather than presenting the action in cinematic terms. A half-hour documentary consisting of interviews with librettist, director, composer and principals explains the way in which aspects of the myth and its imagery are used in the opera. 2 DVDs. John Tomlinson (bass), Johan Reuter (bass-baritone), Christine Rice (mezzo), Andrew Watts (countertenor), Philip Langridge (tenor), Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Antonio Pappano. 16:9 widescreen. 2.0 LPCM Stereo or 5.1 DTS Surround. NTSC. Region 0. 175 min.