“Minotaur” by Harrison Birtwhistle

Managed to see this revival – £13 ticket up high on the side – but enjoyed it much more than the first time: I was spellbound more or less from start to finish, by both the music and the spectacle – I think I now understand more what opera is really about. But that’s mainly I think because it’s Birtwhistle, because the music is a constant undercloth, or rather a rough mat over water, over the sea: the swelling and splashing pushing up through the surface texture; it’s NOT a series of songs like a 19th-century musical. The interscene projection of slow-motion waves is probably the reason why I saw the music this way, but let’s let the visuals suggest interpretations of the audio. And the story is about sea-travel. And the opera constantly plays on ideas welling up from the deep, from the Greeks, and from, vitally, inside Ariadne. For this is her story, not Theseus’, and not in fact that of her taurine half-brother. But it is about these two males, in that the bestial violence of the Minotaur in some ways conveys Ariadne’s awakening sexuality, stirred by the disruption of her literally insular life by this hunky foreign hero. The Minotaur rapes his victims before goring them to death, and himself is the twisted product of Ariadne’s mother’s unnatural lust for a bull. But, as Theseus’ foe, something he has to slay in the Labyrinth, he more significantly represents Ariadne’s resistance to him (or, indeed, therefore, Theseus‘ sexuality: this explains why the opera ends with the beast’s death – at this moment she is finally conquered). In the best tradition of who-really-makes-the-moves, it is Ariadne who wins Theseus, by using him to conquer her beast within: she encourages him, and gives him the ball of thread (in this production virginally-symbolically red) which he can use to come back after his descent to his girl’s unconscious. Ariadne uses Theseus to “do a Ged”: chase and slay the externalised part of herself which threatens her.

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