Friday, 25 January 2013

The Minotaur

Went to see Harrison Birtwistle's "The Minotaur" last night at the Royal Opera House. No word of a lie, this was the single most difficult thing I have ever sat through. Incredibly dense, completely atonal, fiercely intellectual, emotionally draining, and almost unbearably dark and bleak throughout, this is a singular vision from a truly singular talent and nothing less than an utter triumph of the will for all concerned – orchestra, performers and, most of all, the composer himself; I cannot begin to imagine a man who not only hears this stuff in his head, but is actually able to write down and orchestrate two and a half hours' worth of it. I can safely say it was truly unique; I have never heard or seen anything like it. The set and costume design, and the staging, are absolutely superb. The grotesque, protracted danse macabre where Asterios, the Minotaur, gores the sacrificial virgins to death is one of the most shattering things I have ever seen on stage. But the way the bestial Minotaur is humanized is profoundly moving. Some parts were, in their own way, very beautiful; in places I was reminded of some free improvisation I have listened to. The completely atonal singing was the only bit I found truly jarring – how the singers actually learned their parts is absolutely beyond me. To say I actually enjoyed it would probably be an overstatement; safer, probably, to say that I admired it immensely.

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