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Birtwistle's The Minotaur

John Tomlinson as The Minotaur Photo: ©Bill Cooper

John Tomlinson as The Minotaur Photo: ©Bill Cooper

Complete Performance

Saturday 31 May 2008 18:30-21:15 (Radio 3)

In a performance given at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in April, Antonio Pappano conducts John Tomlinson in the title role, with Christine Rice as Ariadne in the world premiere of Harrison Birtwistle's latest opera, based on the classic Greek myth.

Hidden away deep in the labyrinth in Crete is a man with a bull's head  - The Minotaur. He feeds on young men and women sent as tribute from Athens. One day the hero Theseus arrives among these innocents and with the help of Ariadne and her thread, he ventures into the labyrinth intending to kill the beast.

Presented by Ivan Hewett.

Duration:

2 hours 45 minutes

CAST & SYNOPSIS

Ariadne: Christine Rice (Mezzo-soprano)
The Minotaur: John Tomlinson (Bass)
Theseus: Johan Reuter (Baritone)
First Innocent: Rebecca Bottone (Soprano)
Second Innocent: Pumeza Matshikiza (Soprano)
Third Innocent: Wendy Dawn Thompson (Mezzo-soprano)
Fourth Innocent Christopher Ainslie (Counter-tenor)
Fifth Innocent: Tim Mead (Counter-tenor)
Ker: Amanda Echalaz (Soprano)
Snake Princess: Andrew Watts (Counter-tenor)
Hiereus: Philip Langridge (Tenor)
Antonio Pappano ( Conductor )
The Royal Opera Chorus
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House


The Minotaur was the mythical beast imprisoned in the Labyrinth on the island of Crete. Half-man and half-bull, he was the offspring of Pasiphae, wife to King Minos, and the result of her unnatural lust for the bull from the sea, sent by the god Poseidon at the request of Minos. As an act of revenge for the death of Minos' son at the hands of the Athenians, Minos has ruled that, once a year, Athens must send a group of young men and women for sacrifice to the Minotaur. Theseus - putative son of Aegeus, king of Athens, although he may in fact be the son of Poseidon - determines to go to Crete with the sacrificial youths in order to slay the Minotaur and end the blood sacrifice.

Scene 1. Arrival
A ship with black sails appears on the horizon sailing towards Crete, carrying the Innocents who will undergo the blood sacrifice. Ariadne, daughter of Minos and Pasiphae, watches its arrival as the dawn rises. She greets the Innocents. Theseus, who is among them, immediately attracts her attention. He describes his mission to confront the Minotaur: 'My death, or the Minotaur's, or both.'

Toccata 1

Scene 2. The Choice
Ariadne is desperate to escape from the island - the prison of her legacy - and sees in Theseus the possibility of escape. He tells her of his choice to come with Innocents and of their heart-rending departure from Greece and their mourning mothers. Ariadne attempts
to turn Theseus' fate into a game of chance: will he choose the hand that conceals a stone and go into the labyrinth to face the Minotaur, or choose the empty one and become a helpless bystander as the Innocents descend to face death? Ariadne cheats so that Theseus chooses the empty hand. Through all this they remain suspicious of each other's motives. The Innocents prepare to enter the labyrinth.

Scene 3. The Labyrinth
The young men and women journey deep into the labyrinth.

Scene 4. Ariadne
Ariadne recounts the story of her mother's union with a white bull from the sea (either sent by Poseidon or the shape-shifted sea-god himself) and of the birth of her half-brother, Asterios, part-man and part-bull. The Innocents have now reached the centre of the labyrinth.

Scene 5. The Labyrinth
The crowd taunt the Minotaur for his
monstrous appearance and inability to speak. His first victim, a young woman, appears.
The Minotaur turns on the young woman,
goring and raping her. Keres, female death-spirits in the form of harpies, tear the heart from the Minotaur's victim and feed on the dead body.

Toccata 2



Scene 6. The Minotaur Dreams
In sleep the Minotaur is endowed with language. At night and in a dialogue with his own reflection, he ponders his imprisonment in the labyrinth, a world he seems to remember beyond it, and his bloody and violent purpose. An image of Ariadne begins to recount the story of the Minotaur's birth, but is interrupted by the disturbing intrusion of a shadowy and threatening figure: it is Theseus, although the Minotaur does not yet realize it.

Scene 7. The Labyrinth
The Innocents are trapped in the centre of the labyrinth. The crowd urges the Minotaur to awaken. The Minotaur advances on the Innocents urged on by the crowd's taunts, and attacks. A massacre ensues, at the end of which the Minotaur has killed or mortally maimed all of the Innocents. The Keres descend to rip apart the bodies - some still alive - and feast on them.

Scene 8. A Proposition
Theseus is determined to face the Minotaur. When Ariadne tries to dissuade him he reveals that that he might be the son of Poseidon (as might be the Minotaur). Theseus explains that, if his ship is rigged with a black sail when he returns to Greece, this will tell Aegeus that his mission has failed; a white sail will confirm success. Ariadne attempts to persuade Theseus to take her with him back to Athens as his wife but he refuses and repels her seductive advances.

Toccata 3

Scene 9. The Minotaur Dreams
Faced again with his own reflection, the Minotaur expresses his despair - neither beast nor man, confined by a world of walls and shadows. Once more Ariadne appears in his dream and he wonders if she might be his key to the outside world; then the shadowy image of Theseus again intrudes.

Scene 10. The Oracle at Psychro
Ariadne consults the Oracle in the hope of finding a way to ensure that, if Theseus
is successful in his fight with the Minotaur, he will be able to find his way back out of the Labyrinth. She believes that, by acquiring this knowledge, she will possess the bargaining power she needs to force him to take her to Athens. The Snake Priestess speaking through the medium of a priest, or Hiereus, tells Ariadne to give Theseus a ball of twine that he can unwind as he goes through the Labyrinth then follow back to safety. In answer to her insistent questioning, the Oracle also confirms to Ariadne that she and Theseus will set sail for Athens together. This prophecy, while accurate, hints at Ariadne's downfall.

Scene 11. A Blind Bargain
Armed with what seems an oracular prophecy, Ariadne asserts that she will return to Athens with Theseus. She uses the advantage gained from the Oracle to make him seem to agree, though his words, like those of the Oracle, are ambiguous. Theseus goes to confront
the Minotaur

Scene 12. The Labyrinth
Theseus journeys to the centre of the labyrinth where he finds the Minotaur. The pair fight savagely. Theseus manages to wound the Minotaur severely and is about to deliver a fatal blow, but hesitates as the Minotaur acquires the power of human language. This hesitation is fleeting though. Theseus runs the man-beast through with his sword and leaves him for dead. Theseus then starts back through the labyrinth, intending to find Ariadne and set sail for Athens.

Scene 13. Death of the Minotaur
As his life ebbs away the Minotaur finds the voice to express the emptiness of his existence and the painful curse of his parentage. In a final effort he pulls out the bloodied sword and proclaims he is the son of the god Poseidon. The Chorus leave the labyrinth as the Minotaur dies. A Ker enters to feast on his body.

© The Royal Opera House

CAST

Ariadne: Christine Rice (Mezzo-soprano)
The Minotaur: John Tomlinson (Bass)
Theseus: Johan Reuter (Baritone)
First Innocent: Rebecca Bottone (Soprano)
Second Innocent: Pumeza Matshikiza (Soprano)
Third Innocent: Wendy Dawn Thompson (Mezzo-soprano)
Fourth Innocent Christopher Ainslie (Counter-tenor)
Fifth Innocent: Tim Mead (Counter-tenor)
Ker: Amanda Echalaz (Soprano)
Snake Princess: Andrew Watts (Counter-tenor)
Hiereus: Philip Langridge (Tenor)
Antonio Pappano ( Conductor )
The Royal Opera Chorus
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House




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