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Birtwistle: The Minotaur / Tomlinson, Reuter, Pappano [Blu-ray]

Birtwistle / Pappano / Orch & Chorus Royal Opera
Release Date: 02/23/2010 
Label:  Opus Arte   Catalog #: 7052  
Composer:  Harrison Birtwistle
Performer:  Johan ReuterPhilip LangridgeChristine RiceAmanda Echalaz,   ... 
Conductor:  Antonio Pappano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  
Blu-ray Video:  $39.99
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Note: This Blu-ray Disc is only playable on Blu-ray Disc players, and not compatible with standard DVD players.


BIRTWISTLE The Minotaur & Antonio Pappano, cond; John Tomlinson ( Minotaur ); Christine Rice ( Ariadne ); Johan Reuter ( Theseus ); Read more Andrew Watts ( Snake Priestess ); Philip Langridge ( Hiereus ); Amanda Echalaz ( Ker ); et al.; Royal Op House Covent Garden O & Ch OPUS ARTE 7052 (Blu-ray: 140:17) Live: London 4/25, 4/30, 5/3/2008

& Illustrated synopsis; cast gallery; documentary: Myth is Universal

A year ago I enthusiastically recommended this recording on DVD, delighted with what I called “a brilliantly gripping piece of theater.” The release of a Blu-ray edition, and a recent upgrade to my video hardware, has provided an opportunity for another look. If anything, my admiration for the opera has grown, and the bigger screen–higher resolution–surround sound experience is all that much more intense. Content remains the same except for the higher resolution and the need for just one disc. The extras are minimal but informative. In any case, it is the presentation of Birtwistle and Harsent’s opera that counts. A modern retelling of the Greek myth, it has a duplicitous Ariadne anxious to escape from Crete, a proud Theseus who uses Ariadne to end a terrible bargain, and a conflicted Minotaur, a complex and vulnerable man trapped within the body of a lust-driven monster. It is the composer’s most accessible opera. The score is atonal, but severely beautiful and structured for a clear sense of development. The story is told linearly and without the ambiguities usually found in Birtwistle’s operas. The singing and acting are superb, with special accolades for John Tomlinson and Christine Rice. The staging can be uncomfortable to watch as the monster attacks the Athenian youths and the harpies come to tear out the hearts of the dying victims, but it is the trapped human soul of the lonely monster who captures the attention and sympathy of the viewer.

There is more on the work and its place in Birtwistle’s output in the earlier review in Fanfare 32:6. It is enough to comment here that Stephen Langridge’s production and Alison Chitty’s designs are even more impressive, the stark beauty of the seacoast evocation even more lovely, the impact of the stylized violence and horror that is central to the plot even more unsettling. It might not be missed when viewing a well-upsampled DVD, but in comparison, the extra resolution of the Blu-ray disc creates an image of almost three-dimensional depth, the added detail like viewing the production through a window, making gestures and expressions much easier to read. More importantly, the music itself is well served by the new technology. The textures of Birtwistle’s complex and multilayered score are noticeably clarified, even over the excellent sound of the DVD. There is a sense of air around the sound that the compression of DVD audio removes, and a feeling of fine detail—some audiophiles describe it as nap —that is hard to define but easy to hear in comparison. The voices of all the singers are more tangible, especially Christine Rice’s vibrant mezzo, and David Harsent’s text is just that much easier to follow.

Bottom line: This is a superb opera, beautifully sung and acted, in a moving production. Minotaur is urgently recommended to any lover of modern opera, and for those with the high-definition equipment to enjoy its clear advantages, Blu-ray is the medium of choice.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames

Harrison Birtwistle
(Blu-ray Disc Version)

The Minotaur – John Tomlinson
Theseus – Johan Reuter
Ariadne – Christine Rice
Snake Priestess – Andrew Watts
Hiereus – Philip Langridge
Ker – Amanda Echalaz

The Royal Opera Chorus
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Antonio Pappano, conductor

Stephen Langridge, stage director

Recorded live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden on 25, 30 April and 3 May 2008.

- Documentary: Myth is Universal
- Illustrated synopsis and cast gallery

Picture format: 1080i High Definition
Sound format: PCM Stereo 2.0 and 5.0
Region code: 0 (All Regions)
Menu languages: English
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian
Running time: 175 mins
No. of Discs: 1 (BD 50)
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Works on This Recording

The Minotaur by Harrison Birtwistle
Performer:  Johan Reuter (Baritone), Philip Langridge (Tenor), Christine Rice (Soprano),
Amanda Echalaz (Soprano), Andrew Watts (Bass), John Tomlinson (Bass)
Conductor:  Antonio Pappano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 

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