Blood-drenched monster myth brought to opera stage

Thu Apr 17, 2008 6:05pm EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - The grim Greek myth of the Minotaur, half-beast and half-human, has been brought to life in a new, blood-drenched opera by leading British composer Harrison Birtwistle.

The 73-year-old, dubbed the "high priest of contemporary British music" by the Daily Telegraph, has worked on the piece for three years, and composed it specifically for the Royal Opera House where it had its world premiere this week.

A group of Innocents is sacrificed to the beast in his lair as a crowd around the bull ring bays for blood. One is raped, and vulture-like, screaming Keres tear the hearts from the victims.

"I think it's a very dark piece," Birtwistle told Reuters before the curtains went up on the eagerly anticipated work.

Critics agreed, describing the piece as "barbaric" and "strange." Several reminded readers that, as expected with Birtwistle, the powerful and primitive score offered few hum-along arias to take away after the show.

"The Sound of Music it ain't," wrote The Times's Richard Morrison.

Birtwistle had renowned British bass John Tomlinson in mind for the part of the Minotaur, and his performance from behind a semi-transparent bull's mask evokes the audience's sympathy rather than revulsion in the new interpretation of the myth.

Librettist and poet David Harsent came up with the idea of giving the Minotaur the power of language through dreams, allowing it to express the loneliness and depravity of an existence trapped in the labyrinth and an animal's body.   Continued...

<p>Composer Harrison Birtwistle poses for photographers in front of a sculpture of a minotaur at Covent Garden in London April 8, 2008. REUTERS/Toby Melville</p>