The Minotaur


Sir Harrison Birtwistle The Minotaur opera to libretto by David Harsent. Directed 2008 by Stephen Langridge at the Royal Opera House. Stars John Tomlinson (Minotaur), Johan Reuter (Theseus), Christine Rice (Ariadne), Andrew Watts (Snake Priestess), Philip Langridge (Hiereus), Amanda Echalaz (Ker), Rebecca Bottone (First Innocent), Pumeza Matshikiza (Second Innocent), Wendy Dawn Thompson (Third Innocent), Christopher Ainslie (Fourth Innocent), Tim Mead (Fifth Innocent), Katy Batho, Tamsin Dalley, Amanda Dean, Siobháin Gibson, Kyrsia Mansfield, Lucy Tregear, Helen Withers (Keres), Simon Archer, and Patrick King (Onstage tympani). Antonio Pappano conducts the Royal Opera Orchestra (Concert Master Peter Manning) and Chorus (Chorus Director Renato Balsadonna). Set  and costume design by Alison Chitty; lighting design by Paul Pyant; choreography by Philippe Giraundeau; video design by Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer; directed for TV by Jonathan Haswell.  Released 2010, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: D+

The story of Theseus and the Minotaur takes about two minutes to tell, with embellishments. Anyone who tries to expand this to make a two-hour show may be dooming himself to failure. Librettist David Harsent tries earnestly and comes up with some neat alliterations and images. But his ship lists and then sinks due to much ballast of pretentious intellectual conceits and piles of platitudes taken on board.  Birtwistle writes to the libretto. His cacophonous style is interesting for a few minutes. But since the libretto is monotonous, so goes the score. The set and costumes are ugly and even amateurish. The Keres (vultures who banquet on the corpses of victims slaughtered by the Minotaur) maybe looked OK from the rear of the Royal Opera House; but to the high-definition camera, they look like drunk guests at a camp Halloween party.

We would like to write a condolence card to Christine Rice and Johan Reuter for having to devote so much time and heart to this boring opera. The Minotaur is, nevertheless, one interesting character in this production. His body is human. But his head is 50/50, and so is his heart. He is ashamed of raping and eviscerating all those boys and girls, and he would like to retire. The Minotaur mask created by Alison Chitty is unique and impressive. John Tomlinson got a big ovation for his acting and singing from within the mask. At first I graded this title "D." But out of respect for the Minotaur character, I increased the grade to "D+." Don't bother with this disc unless you are crazy about Birtwistle or you are in the costume business.

Here's a high-definition YT clip from the Royal Opera. We are not sure if this material comes directly from the recording, but it does show you what the opera looks like on the dlsc: