“Thanks to a superb cast and impeccable playing under Antonio Pappano, the evening is a glittering success. … What Birtwistle has done is give us one opera inside another. The outer one is strident and earthbound; the inner one-ending with the Minotaur’s Caliban-like dying aria-burns with visionary fire.” – The Independent
On November 18, Opus Arte releases the world-premiere DVD of Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s latest opera, The Minotaur, recorded live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on April 25 and 30 and May 30, 2008. Also included is a bonus documentary film, Myth is Universal.
This gripping new work by Birtwistle and librettist David Harsent brings the monstrous creature from Greek mythology to the operatic stage. The Minotaur, part man, part beast, trapped in his labyrinth and constrained by his bloodthirsty existence, longs to discover his true identity and his own voice. Athens must pay a blood sacrifice to Crete, and among the innocents is Theseus, who has come to challenge the violent Minotaur. He attracts the attention of Ariadne, half-sister and keeper of the monster, and it is with her help that he succeeds.
Winner of the Grawemeyer Award for his opera The Mask of Orpheus, Birtwistle’s inspiration for The Minotaur goes back over two decades; he felt that “the mythic beast was lurking” in his orchestral work Earth Dances (1985). David Harsent, who had provided the libretto for Birtwistle’s 1990-91 opera Gawain, was charged with the task of “[finding] a language for the characters.” The Minotaur received its premiere at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in April 2008.
Born in 1934, British composer Harrison Birtwistle studied clarinet and composition at the Royal Manchester College of Music. His 1968 opera Punch and Judy, together with his Verses for Ensembles and The Triumph of Time, firmly established him as a leading voice in British music. Among Birtwistle’s many works are Exody, premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Barenboim, Panic, and The Shadow of Night, commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra and Christoph von Dohnányi. His work The Last Supper received its first performances at the Deutsche Staatsoper in Berlin and at Glyndebourne in 2000. Pulse Shadows, a meditation for soprano, string quartet, and chamber ensemble on poetry by Paul Celan, was released on disc by Teldec and won the 2002 Gramophone Award for best contemporary recording. Birtwistle has received many awards and honors, including the Grawemeyer Award (1986), the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (1986), a British knighthood (1988), the Siemens Prize (1995), and a British Companion of Honour (2001). He is currently Director of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London.