Matthew Dancona

A chilling masterpiece

A chilling masterpiece
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Sometimes music speaks not only to your mind and heart, but grabs at your very viscera in the most primal way imaginable. Such was the experience of last night's world premiere of Harrison Birtwistle's The Minotaur at the Royal Opera.

Demanding and disturbing, the overture, played against the backdrop of dark and menacing waves, warned us of darkness to come. This was no idle threat, either. Rape, massacre and the consumption of the Minotaur's half-dead sacrificial victims, the Innocents, by the greedy Keres, vulture-like harpies: all were to follow.

The mission of Theseus to enter the Cretan labyrinth, slay the beast and whisk Ariadne back to Athens provides the opera with its narrative framework. Christine Rice's Ariadne was especially compelling: a study in both manipulation and terror.

But the night belonged to John Tomlinson, wearing a costume that closely resembled a cage and therefore deftly symbolised the pathos of the beast's captivity as well as his savagery. By his very posture, as much as his animal wailing, Tomlinson conveyed both implacable ferocity and weary victimhood: the freak-show of terrestrial life staged for the amusement of the gods. And this was emphatically his story: ending with his death, rather than the escape of Theseus from the labyrinth using Ariadne's thread.

As the cast enjoyed their rapturous ovation, I noticed that Antonio Pappano's conductor's hands had been besmirched with stage-blood from clasping Tomlinson's hands for the bow. It was an apt metaphor for the seepage of mythic horror, red in tooth and claw, into the auditorium itself. Do not miss this chilling masterpiece.