The Minotaur: A thrilling sonic labyrinth
Harrison Birtwistle's operatic take on the Ancient Greek myth returns to The Royal Opera.
21 August 2012 at 4.41pm | Comment on this article
The Minotaur returns to the Royal Opera House in January 2013 offering audiences another chance to explore Harrison Birtwistle’s operatic labyrinth after its 2008 world premiere.
John Tomlinson reprises the title role, written especially for him and modelled in terms of vocal range on one of Tomlinson’s great Wagnerian roles – Hagen in Götterdämmerung. Birtwistle’s monstrous fusion of man and beast requires great range: the Minotaur’s violent roars of frustration alternate with softer vocal technique in the character’s dream sequences. The cast also features Danish baritone Johan Reuter as Theseus and British mezzo-soprano Christine Rice as Ariadne.
The score for The Minotaur is noticeably less angular than Birtwistle’s earlier works. In a 2008 interview, the composer commented, ”I’ve moved towards a more consonant style of writing for the voice to make the lines sound more natural and to help the text come over. There are still dramatic highs and lows for each line but generally the voice occupies a narrower, more comfortable, space within the spectrum”. The work also features a heavy chorus presence, described by the composer as “like fickle football fans”, who both goad the Minotaur to acts of violence and softly lament the dead.
The production is another collaboration between Birtwistle and librettist David Harsent – the duo previously worked on Gawain, which premiered at Covent Garden in 1991. The Minotaur also features Alison Chitty’s bold set, which imagines the labyrinth as an amphitheatre or bull ring where the Minotaur brutally gores his victims, watched by the masked chorus.
Watch an extract from the production:
The production will be the focus of an ROH Insights event on 4 January on 2013, featuring members of the cast and production team including conductor and Royal Opera House Music Director Antonio Pappano.
The Minotaur is at the Royal Opera House from 17 – 28 January. Tickets are on sale now