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Birtwistle: The Minotaur
Birtwistle The Minotaur
Actors: John Tomlinson, Johan Reuter, Christine Rice, Philip Langridge, Antonio Pappano
Director: Stephan Langridge
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2008     2hr 55min

The world premiere of a new work commissioned by The Royal Opera brings to the stage a famous character of Greek myth. Part man, part beast, the Minotaur is trapped in a labyrinth and constrained by his violent role there...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: John Tomlinson, Johan Reuter, Christine Rice, Philip Langridge, Antonio Pappano
Director: Stephan Langridge
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: DTS, Musicals & Performing Arts
Studio: Opus Arte
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen
DVD Release Date: 11/18/2008
Original Release Date: 01/01/2008
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2008
Release Year: 2008
Run Time: 2hr 55min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
Edition: Classical
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian

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Movie Reviews

Pretty good...
Clem Snide | 03/31/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This disc gets five stars because I love the fact that Birtwistle's new opera is available to watch, and I think that anyone at all interested in contemporary opera should see this. The opera itself gets...maybe three or four stars. I loved it, but it has problems: The libretto is apt enough for the most part, except that 1) the characters are drawn in kind of a crude and too explicit way, using too many repetitions of phrases and ideas that don't serve to flesh them out or make them sympathetic, 2)it is halfway between conventional and more stylized storytelling, and sometimes it feels awkward and ridiculous, and 3) the treatment of the man/beast duality in the character of the minotaur was...kind of trite, and I wished he would stop pitying himself and say something interesting. The first hour or so was totally engaging, frightening and beautiful, but the staging became a problem during the arena scene, simply because it was laughable and partially ruined the opera's credibility. And I don't know about those Harpies. Anyway, those were my biggest problems...otherwise, the performances were all pretty good, especially Christine Rice's Ariadne. The music was more enjoyable than I thought it would be, having read so many extreme reactions to it. In fact, the music is quite exciting, and contains a lot of interesting textures and harmonies. The vocal lines are interesting, if sometimes not varied enough. I have no doubt that Birtwistle is the greatest living British composer, or even one of the greatest of the last 50 years. But I guess I'm supposed to be reviewing the product, so...overall, a pretty awesome experience to watch this dvd. You should buy it."
Brilliant operatic imagining of the dark, powerful myth
R. Hutchinson | a world ruled by fossil fuels and fossil minds | 01/12/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Harrison Birtwistle's latest opera, THE MINOTAUR, is powerful and effective. The libretto is by David Harsent, who wrote the libretto for "Gawain," Birtwistle's opera first staged in 1991. THE MINOTAUR opened at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London on April 15, 2008, and was filmed for DVD at performances during that first run in late April and early May. Birtwistle was commissioned by the ROH to write an opera, and he wrote it for the great bass John Tomlinson, one of the all-time great Wotans. Tomlinson played the Green Knight in "Gawain." He is the Minotaur, his half-sister Ariadne is sung by soprano Christine Rice, and the third major character, Theseus, is sung by tenor Johan Reuter. Antonio Pappano directs, and the superb set and costume designer is Alison Chitty, who also worked on "Gawain."

Birtwistle's music is immediately recognizable -- his uncompromising modernist idiom and dark ambience suit the journey into mythic time and space perfectly. The first image is a huge screen showing dark blue and black ocean waves heaving and undulating slowly and menacingly. This imagery and instrumental passages return as three Tocattas between acts throughout, and serve to underscore the location of the drama not only on the island of Crete, but in the unconscious realm of myth.

Christine Rice is voluptuous and compelling as Ariadne, and she has more time on stage than either Theseus or Asterios, the Minotaur. The staging is minimalist and powerful. A crucial innovation is to allow the Minotaur to speak in dreams, which occurs three times and allows Tomlinson to play a significant role. The head of the Minotaur is partially transparent, allowing Tomlinson's head to be visible, lit from within, at some points, and the bull's head to be more prominent at others. Thank goodness for the availability of English subtitles, because I could not follow most of the lyrics despite their being sung in English, due to the shape of the syllables!

The old idea of the beast within the man is one theme that this production explores. Without drawing any explicit parallels to the modern world, the connection is inescapable and obviously intended by Birtwistle and Harsent. But the other side of this is the man within the beast, which according to Birtwistle (from an April 11th article in The Guardian called "The beast within") is a theme partially inspired by Picasso's painting of the death of the Minotaur, which invites the viewer to share his pain, to see him as human and not just monster -- "[w]e're used to only seeing the beast side of the Minotaur. We don't usually look at it and think: half of this is human." According to Birwistle, "He's in all of us."

The words of the oracle "Theseus and Ariadne will set sail from Crete" is famously misintepreted by Ariadne, who we know is not actually taken to Athens by Theseus. But this drama ends with the death of the Minotaur, and leaves the conflict between Ariadne and Theseus unresolved. [We are supposed to pick up on this subtlety of the wording and catch the foreshadowing of future events. However, we are apparently *not* supposed to notice an obvious implication of the gallery of masked spectators in the Minotaur's lair -- why does Theseus need Ariadne's thread (or industrial-strength red twine/rope in this production) to find his way out of the Maze after killing Asterios when he could just follow the spectators out?]

The filming and production of the DVD booklet by Opus Arte are excellent. THE MINOTAUR is a triumph in the difficult genre of modern/contemporary opera!"
The man within the beast
Richard | Minneapolis, Mongolia | 12/08/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"As a piece of theater Minotaur is quite gripping. It easily casts itself as a modern version of a Greek tragedy. The music is hard but not as difficult as some serial works. John Tomlinson is outstanding as the Minotaur even though most of his role is voiceless keening and bellowing. He does create sympathy for the poor beast. As the notes say this is really Ariadne's opera since she is on stage in almost every scene and Rice is magnificent. Given nothing else to judge by I would say this is an excellent performance from all. However, although the play had my attention throughout I'm not sure if I would want to watch it again."
All that difficult music
Charles D. novak | minneapolis, minnesota USA | 01/16/2009
(1 out of 5 stars)

"I had a hard time getting through MINOTAUR in one sitting even after educating myself with everything I could read on the Internet about the subject matter, music and composer. I would go to see any performance of LULU or WOZZECK any day of the week but MINOTAUR would be a hard sell. I simply could not get into the music. If it wasn't for the glorious singing of Christine Rice in the roll of ARIADNE I probably would have given up. I could not fault the production values especially the lighting. A feast for the eyes on this DVD. The surround sound was fantastic but I just needed more drama and a hint of a melody in the score. I'm going to put this work on the shelf for now but in a few months will try it again."