Most recent performance
There are currently no scheduled performances of The Minotaur. It was last on stage 17–28 January 2013 as part of the Autumn 2012/13 season.
The Minotaur – half-bull, half-man – has been imprisoned in a labyrinth on the island of Crete. Young men and women are sacrificed to him each year to repay an old debt. Can Theseus end this bloodshed?
Harrison Birtwistle's reading of this ancient Greek myth focuses on the troubled inner world of the Minotaur, and his longing to discover his true identity and voice. Poet David Harsent provides a libretto of lyrical intensity, continuing a rich, creative partnership with Birtwistle – the pair have worked on a number of operas together, including Gawain, which was also commissioned by The Royal Opera and first performed here in 1991.
The Minotaur brings a raw and visceral dramatic world to the stage. The Overture is played against a backdrop of menacing waves, which herald the darkness to come. Alison Chitty's elegant designs reimagine the centre of the labyrinth as an amphitheatre-like space, where the Minotaur gores his victims. But the Minotaur also has a human side – during his dreams he acquires language and gives voice to his dark existence in monologues of poignant power. The central role, written for the acclaimed bass John Tomlinson, wears a bull's head mask, reminiscent of those used in ancient Greek rituals.
News and features
24 January 2017
Under-appreciated for centuries, the countertenor now storms the operatic stage.
19 December 2016
Carmen isn’t the only sensual starring mezzo role – we round up some of our favourites, from Donizetti to Birtwistle.
13 June 2016
With distinctive warm tones and a wide vocal range, Verdi realized the mezzo's potential - with exciting consequences.
22 June 2015
Fantastical stories thousands of years old continue to influence today’s most prominent artists.
16 June 2015
Greek myths and dramas have inspired the acclaimed British composer Harrison Birtwistle throughout his career.
23 September 2013
As The Royal Opera revives Elektra, we explore other examples of legends on the lyric stage.
The Minotaur is an opera in two acts, with 13 scenes by English composer Harrison Birtwistle to a libretto by poet David Harsent, commissioned by the Royal Opera House in London. The work, a retelling of the Greek myth of the Minotaur, premiered at the Royal Opera House on 15 April 2008 and was shown on BBC2 television on 7 June 2008. The score is modernistic, and the scenes fall into three types: bullfights; scenes between Ariadne and Theseus; and dream sequences for the Minotaur, in which the creature has the gift of speech. The opera lasts about 140 minutes, not counting the interval. The opera was revived at the Royal Opera House for five performances in early 2013, featuring most of the original cast, most notably Christine Rice, John Tomlinson, Andrew Watts and Johan Reuter.