Notes and Editorial Reviews
This set received the 1998 Gramophone magazine award for "Best Contemporary Recording."
'The Mask of Orpheus' is one of the major works of Harrison Birtwistle. The libretto explores several permutations of the Orpheus myth, often simultaneously, enacted by the characters as singer, puppet and mime. Like his earlier 'Punch and Judy,' 'Orpheus' is an exercise in dramatic ritual. In addition to the main action there is also a separate troupe of mimes who interrupt the action with another six episodes accompanied by electronic music. Although it is a work of formidable intellectual power, the opera is surprisingly visceral in actual performance. Musically it is well within Birtwistle's usual harmonic practice. As befits an opera about antiquity's finest singer, the opera is conceived entirely lyrically with often beautiful vocal writing within the stylistic parameters.
Andrew Davis leads a live performance that is beyond praise. The cast articulates their difficult music with great tonal beauty as well as nearly perfect diction. They make the frequent transitions between speech and song seamlessly. The stringless orchestra of winds, percussion and electronic instruments play wondrously and the audience is virtually silent. While not perhaps for the usual music lover, 'The Mask of Orpheus' demands and generously repays close attention.