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The Minotaur review at Royal Opera House London

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First seen in 2008, Harrison Birtwistle’s inescapably dark opera about the mythical half-man, half-beast that inhabits the legendary labyrinth on the Minoan island of Crete, and there dispatches the multiple victims of an annual blood-sacrifice, returns to Covent Garden in Stephen Langridge’s lean, mean production, evocatively designed by Alison Chitty.

The conductor is new – Ryan Wigglesworth replaces Antonio Pappano, currently recovering from an injury sustained in the course of his duties – but the central casting is as before. Leading the onstage team is John Tomlinson, returning to the title role and humanising the extraordinary creation at its heart. The complex physical apparatus Tomlinson wears to present his bullish exterior does not diminish the potency of his tone, through which he makes surprisingly sympathetic the destructive force of the Minotaur – condemned to a perpetual cycle of misery and violence. It remains a performance of tremendous authority. This revival, in fact, marks the 35th anniversary of the great British bass-baritone’s debut in the house, and the first night was crowned by a celebration of his ongoing career.

Also returning are Christine Rice’s sophisticated Ariadne, desperate to escape the island with Theseus, sung with riveting power by Johan Reuter. Andrew Watts’ eerie Snake Priestess, Alan Oke’s menacing Hiereus and Elisabeth Meister’s vulture-like Ker all add to the tremendous impact of the piece.

Birtwistle’s score is characteristically abrasive, at times hitting home to devastating effect; yet elsewhere its hyper-tense lyricism is equally impressive. Wigglesworth conducts a performance that plumbs its sinister depths as well as rising to terrifying heights. It’s an outstanding achievement from all concerned.

Production Information

Royal Opera House, London, January 17-28

Sir Harrison Birtwistle
Stephen Langridge
Royal Opera
Sir John Tomlinson, Christine Rice, Johan Reuter, Elisabeth Meister, Andrew Watts, Alan Oke
Running time

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