Harrison Birtwistle’s brilliant bloody Minotaur returns

Jan 22, 2013

John Tomlinson gives another towering performance as half-man, half-bull Minotaur at Covent Garden


What you need to know
A new production of Harrison Birtwistle's opera The Minotaur has opened at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Birtwistle’s opera, with libretto by poet David Harsent, first premiered at the Royal Opera House in 2008.

The opera retells the Greek myth of the Minotaur, a creature half-man and half-bull, imprisoned in a labyrinth on the island of Crete and offered human sacrifices. Theseus, Prince of Athens, embarks on a quest to kill the Minotaur with the help of Ariadne.

The production, directed by Stephen Langridge, stars original cast members John Tomlinson as the Minotaur, Christine Rice as Ariadne and Johan Reuter as Theseus. Runs until 28 January.

What the critics like
"Birtwistle’s visceral opera has lost none of its immediacy," says Neil Fisher in The Times. Stephen Langridge’s skillful production has real shock value and John Tomlinson, who returns to the role of
Minotaur, "finds incredible resonance in the character’s extremes", grunting for blood or pondering its sorrow.

"The opera looks good and sounds overwhelming," says Richard Fairman in the Financial Times. The cast, largely reassembled from the 2008 production, is strong, but John Tomlinson’s "superhuman presence" as the Minotaur towers over all.

Langridge's exemplary production has great clarity and force, says Fiona Maddocks in The Guardian. Harsent’s libretto is "masterly" and soloists Rice, Reuter and Tomlinson are back to give “phenomenal performances”.

What they don’t like
It’s an excellent revival but it’s hard to love the world Birtwistle creates, says Rupert Christiansen in the Daily Telegraph. "The body count is higher than Django Unchained", and the brutal, primitive score, full of grunts and stabs, "revels in the gore".

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