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Birtwistle: The Minotaur [Blu-ray] [Import]

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Product Details

  • Directors: Stephen Langridge
  • Format: Classical, Color, DTS Surround Sound, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC, Import
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Dutch, English, French, Italian, Spanish
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • MPAA Rating: NR
  • Studio: BBC / Opus Arte
  • Release Date: Feb. 23 2010
  • Run Time: 180 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • ASIN: B0030BK8YE
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa14545c4) out of 5 stars 8 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa14851c8) out of 5 stars Brilliant operatic imagining of the dark, powerful myth Jan. 11 2009
By Autonomeus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
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!

(verified gift)
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa148521c) out of 5 stars Pretty good... March 30 2009
By Clem Snide - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
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.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1485654) out of 5 stars The man within the beast Dec 8 2008
By Richard - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1485a20) out of 5 stars Opera Goes Home to Ancient Greece Feb. 5 2011
By Gio - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Blu-ray Verified Purchase
The 16th Century Florentine humanists who first conceived the genre of music-theater we call opera had a 'model' for what they wanted to create. They aspired to combine drama-in-words, music to affectively enhance those words, dance/pantomime and staging, with the goal of public 'catharsis' such as they supposed was the function of the Athenian tragedies of Euripedes and Sophocles. Many of their speculations about the staging of Greek theater have been contradicted by latter scholarship, but their bold concept of music-theater took on its own evolution in the operas of the 17th and 18th Centuries - from Monteverdi to Cherubini - the vast majority of which feature librettos based on Greek mythology or Roman history. Composer Harrison Birtwistle and librettist David Harsent return to Greek mythology for the story of the Minotaur, the half-man half-bull monster imprisoned in the Labyrinth; they also return, to my mind, to the foundational concept of the Renaissance humanists, of opera as a cathartic ritual achieved through the synthesis of the arts.

In other words, this is an opera that aims high, that wants to affect its audience intellectually and emotionally rather than merely to entertain. And it's a fearsome spectacle on stage, with the vulture-women Keres ripping hearts from the Minotaur's victims and smearing themselves with blood. Their shrieks are a far cry from the bourgeois comforts of Puccini, as are the howls and groans of the Minotaur and the agonized wails of the Athenian children sent as tribute victims to be slain by the Minotaur. Combined with an orchestral score of strident saxophones and thunderous percussion, the vocal violence of the non-humans ratchet the sensory impact of this opera far higher than anything polite opera audiences ordinarily expect. "The Minotaur" is a hair-raising spectacle, in other words, and the premiere audience at the Royal Opera House in London roared with appreciation at the curtain calls.

Birtwistle's music is more intuitive than theoretical; he's neither a serialist nor a minimalist. He acknowledges the influence of Messaien, and his vocal lines will remind listeners of Benjamin Britten. He's been known to compose a piece of music, then cut the score in pieces - literally, with a scissors - and realign them arbitrarily, but his music is clearly not aleatoric. Instead it's symmetrical and 'considered' in its progressions. Above all, it's EXCITING, but don't expect to hear it 'architecturally', as harmonic development.

Modern English opera has struggled mightily with language, striving for a level of elevated diction to mark the intensity of its musical idiom. Benjamin Britten and his librettist achieved that goal in his greatest opera, Peter Grimes, but missed it painfully (to my ears at least) in Billy Budd. Birtwistle and Harsent achieve it in The Minotaur, though it will surely strike traditionalists more as 'canto brutto' than as 'bel canto.'

The Minotaur is the focal character of this opera, though Ariadne and Theseus both sing more music. It's the half-man beast that suffers humanly, that grows in self-awareness, that eventually engages the audience's sympathy despite its rage and brutality. Ariadne and Theseus are odiously self-involved opportunists, Theseus enshrining himself in his own role as a hero, Ariadne sprawling on the stage with thighs spread in anticipation of rapturous effacement, exactly as her mother had spread her thighs to receive Poseidon in the form of a bull.

[Unfortunately, modern audiences cannot be presumed to 'know' their Greek mythology as Monteverdi's or Cherubini's audience would have. If you don't know the rest of the story, what happened to Ariadne and Theseus after the slaying of the Minotaur, you will be puzzled by the narrative of this opera and disturbed by its 'unfinished' conclusion. Do yourself a favor before watching it; search wikipedia for the three principals. That 'conclusion' is exactly what it should be, since it's the Minotaur who has the last 'words.']

John Tomlinson sings and howls the role of the Minotaur, in a costume of theatrical genius. Christine Rice and Johan Reuter sing the roles of Ariadne and Theseus. These are astoundingly demanding roles, of the sort that will make you wonder how anyone could possibly memorize such strange musical phrases, and the three principals all sing superbly. Rice and Reuter are slightly less impressive as actors -- a little podgy and hesitant in movement - but their voices and the visual drama of the sets and lighting are enough to keep the excitement churning.

Simple recommendation: see and hear it! on stage if possible -- and I think this is an opera that will hold the stage, will become standard repertoire -- but don't hesitate to order this Blu-Ray DVD. It's as powerful an on-screen experience as any I've seen/heard in my cosy living room in years.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa14859cc) out of 5 stars Modern, unpleasant opera, well done Feb. 22 2014
By gt surber - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The Minotaur by Birtwhistle is modern opera done well. The singing is done well. The staging is effective. The lighting and costumes are well done. The orchestra does well. The music is not very melodic or memorable, but fits the story. The libretto is no more repetitive than most opera. The set is effective and simple.

Johan Reuter as Theseus is arrogant, standoffish, and sings well. John Tomlinson as the Minotaur is truly a pathetic, disaffected beast/man who repeats his story as often as possible, a part well played. Christine Rice as Ariadne is perfect as a manipulative, trapped women, lost in the midst of the curses of the Gods and her parents. The 14 Innocents are as supposed to be, a sad bunch. Andrew Watts as the Snake Priestess is scarily convincing. Phillip Langridge as the priest is a smug and arrogant as the role demands. The vampire bats are frightening and would give children nightmares. The chorus, chanting "kill, kill" to the Minotaur, who rather reluctantly does just that, is disturbing in their egging on the Minotaur and well portray his sad fate.

The performance should be "R" rated for bloody violence in the deaths of the Innocents, strong sexual suggestions from Ariadne, and gory body mutilation by the vampire bats. This is not a pleasant show to watch

The opera ends suddenly with the death of the Minotaur after a long well performed aria. Several plot questions are left unresolved, but resolving them would have been melodramatic and distracting.

In response to a previous reviewer, I have tried to watch Lulu and Wozniack and Billy Budd and failed at all three. This one, while hard to watch, was not as unpleasant as those. I would put it more on the level of Salome. Here characters do not descend and self destruct as in the first three. But here, as in Salome, from the start, are no likeable characters.