There are currently no scheduled performances of Gawain.
A stranger arrives at the Court of King Arthur and invites one of the knights to strike him with an axe, on condition that the knight accepts a blow in return a year and a day later. Gawain gamely takes up the challenge…
Harrison Birtwistle’s third opera, based on the anonymous Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, was commissioned by the Royal Opera House and first performed in 1991. Poet David Harsent created the libretto; the pair would later collaborate on The Minotaur, which had its premiere at Covent Garden in 2008.
Di Trevis’s production brings this ancient tale to the stage in an inventive production that draws on Christian and pagan symbolism. As Gawain prepares himself for his daunting trial, the changing seasons are represented as a medieval book of hours, while the evil powers of Morgan le Fay are depicted by dramatic laser-light effects. Birtwistle’s score is characterized by rich harmonies and intricate orchestration. Tender scenes between the seductive Lady de Hautdesert and Gawain, and the sensual coloratura of Morgan le Fay, are contrasted with the ferocious energy of the scenes involving the fearsome Green Knight – a role created by acclaimed British bass John Tomlinson.
News and features
25 May 2017
The ROH has been home to major opera premieres dating all the way back to our first resident composer Handel – as material from ROH Collections shows.
Gawain is an opera with music by Harrison Birtwistle to a libretto by David Harsent. The story is based on the Middle English romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The opera was a commission from the Royal Opera House, London, where it was first performed on 30 May 1991. Rhian Samuel has published a detailed analysis of the opera. Birtwistle revised it in 1994, and the premiere of the revised version was given at the Royal Opera House on 20 April 1994.