RODERIC DUNNETT was at Glyndebourne
for Harrison Birtwistle's 'The Last Supper'
Punch and Judy, Down by The Greenwood Side, The
Mask of Orpheus, Yan Tan Tethera, Gawain,
The Second Mrs Kong, and now The Last Supper :
Harrison Birtwistle's contributions to the vocal and operatic field now
put him on a par with Tippett : a substantial oeuvre, much of it
betraying a lyrical vein which it is oddly fashionable nowadays not to acknowledge
in serial-influenced composers, but which since Berg they have very much
made their own.
Much, if not all, of Birtwistle's writing places him firmly in this category
-- just as Boulez, alongside Dutilleux -- a very different kind of composer
-- might be viewed as the most sensitive and refined French impressionist
in the 80 years since Debussy. Large numbers of opera goers, who would normally
have run a mile at the very mention of Birtwistle's name, ventured, out
of curiosity or vogue, to Gawain, and were entranced.
The Last Supper, likewise, contains some of the most beautifully
judged and competent of vocal writing : no easy task, given an opera
with more male leads than Billy Budd, and a libretto (by the Canadian-born
poet Robin Blaser) requiring numerous quick-fire exchanges between the highly
vociferous 12 apostles.
Copyright © 21 November 2000
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK
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