On the 18th October 2019, Harrison Birtwistle’s opera The Mask of Orpheus is staged completely by English National Opera for the first time since its premiere there in 1986.
The landmark opera, regarded by some as one of the most important theatrical pieces of the 20th century, will be performed at the Coliseum in a new production directed by ENO Artistic Consultant Daniel Kramer, and conducted by major Birtwistle collaborator and ENO Music Director Martyn Brabbins.
The Mask of Orpheus is a commentary on the Orpheus myth from different perspectives, using conventional operatic resources alongside Peter Zinovieff’s multi-layered libretto, electronic music, massive orchestral forces and complex stage design to explore the human themes of love, loss and grief.
The premiere was reviewed by the New York Times in 1986 as a “grandly scaled, world-defining modernist opera…its earnest search for the underlying truth behind our culture’s notions of music, poetry, sex, love and death take on an undeniable power.” A Gramophone award-winning concert recording by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Sir Andrew Davis and Martyn Brabbins was released in 1997 on NMC Recordings to outstanding reviews: “music of utterly compelling beauty and sheer elemental force” (The Independent), “one of the most important recording events of the decade” (The Sunday Times), “a landmark recording of a contemporary operatic masterpiece” (Classic CD). Excerpts of the piece have also been heard in concert form at the BBC Proms in 2009.
Listen to Harrison Birtwistle's recent interview with Tom Service on the subject of The Mask of Orpheus on Music Matters on BBC Radio 3 here.
More information on this new production of The Mask of Orpheus can be found here. Further performances will take place on 25, 29 October, 7 and 13 November.