The Minotaur at Covent Garden: “The opera looks good, sounds overwhelming…”

23 January 2013

The first revival of Harrison Birtwistle’s The Minotaur opened to a packed house and outstanding reviews on January 17. Birtwistle’s sensuous and masterful score is described as a work of “extraordinary power” in Stephen Langridge’s striking production, designed by Alison Chitty.

In the words of the press:

For Harrison Birtwistle:

Five years on, a revival allows us to reconsider those first impressions. And as the overture’s great surges of sound body forth the projection of sea-swell on the front-drop – with the percussion spilling into boxes on either side of the pit – one realises anew what an orchestral master Birtwistle is.
Michael Church, The Independent

Harrison Birtwistle’s opera The Minotaur, like the myth it is based on, reveals deeper truths on each re-hearing. When it was new in 2008 David Harsent’s richly poetic libretto and Birtwistle’s score already seemed a potent mix, but as this revival makes clear, closer acquaintances with its complexities rewards the listener.
Barry Millington, The Evening Standard

Birtwistle’s score is characteristically abrasive, at times hitting home to devastating effect; yet elsewhere its hyper-tense lyricism is equally impressive.
George Hall, The Stage

The Minotaur’s first revival, with all three main singers returning, confirms it as a work of extraordinary power.
Erica Jeal, The Guardian *****

The inexorable pace of this monolithic score, in fact consisting of constant, bright threads of melody rising up from low woodwind to sinewy high strings, and splashed with every kind of sensuous percussion from temple blocks and bongos to harp and cimbalom, will crush you if you don’t listen and overwhelm you in the best sense if you do.
Fiona Maddocks, The Observer

The opera looks good and sounds overwhelming. Birtwistle’s music moves at a slow, inexorable pace, piling up sounds that hang in the air, such as dark clouds of strings or the long, wailing cries of the woodwind, interrupted when drama calls by explosive percussion and drums played by musicians outside the pit… Birtwistle’s voice is so compelling, and the production so arresting, that the slowly unfolding drama never lets go.
Richard Fairman, Financial Times

When The Minotaur was first performed in 2008, it was the work’s sheer dramatic power and faultless pacing that above all seemed so overwhelmingly impressive. This time around, in the Royal Opera’s first revival of Stephen Langridge’s spare, elegant production and without the outstanding trio of principals who created their roles five years ago, it was the sheer beauty of Birtwistle’s music and the way it defines the visceral drama so precisely that regularly took the breath away. Ryan Wigglesworth, who had taken over when Antonio Pappano withdrew from the revival with tendonitis, teased out the score’s long skeins of string lines, its fusillades of percussion and the extra tang provided by cimbalom and saxophone with the practiced assurance of a conductor who understands Birtwistle’s sound world completely. As a piece of music theatre, too, the opera seemed as impressive an achievement as it did at the premiere.”
Andrew Clements, Opera Magazine

For Stephen Langridge and Alison Chitty:

Designer Alison Chitty’s sets had a rugged simplicity which sat perfectly with Birtwistle’s vision, creating a part-virtual bull-ring in which this subversively appealing creature could kill, dream, lament and finally be killed.
Michael Church, The Independent

Stephen Langridge’s production is stylish, playing out in the wan sunlight and oppressive darkness of Alison Chitty’s set.
Erica Jeal, The Guardian

Stephen Langridge’s simple but striking production skillfully blends ancient and modern, placing the Minotaur in a circular lair, like the orchestra of a Greek theatre (or a bull-ring) and overseen by a masked Chorus.
Richard Fairman, Financial Times

For William Towers and Nadine Livingston:

The whole cast is compelling.
Erica Jeal, The Guardian

Watch clips of the Minotaur Sitzprobe here.

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