If, first time around, in 2008, The Minotaur offered the obvious excitement of the premiere, it was now noteworthy how quickly it had settled into repertory status. Not that it has yet been performed elsewhere than Covent Garden, though it should be as a matter of urgency, but that its 2013 outing proceeded with the apparent ease one might expect of, say, The Magic Flute or Carmen. That is surely testament both to the excellence of the performances we heard as well as to the stature of Birtwistle’s opera itself.
What drives Harrison Birtwistle to Greek myth? Orpheus is a primal archetype. When he played his lyre he tamed wild beasts and made mountains move. But he suffered. He journeyed into Hades but could not bring Eurydice, his beloved, back to life. In some versions of the myth, his talent enraged the jealous who tore him apart. Yet even then, his head remained intact, still singing. He symbolizes the power of music, and the fate of an artist.