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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.

Harrison Birtwistle: The Last Supper. Andrew Rupp as John, William Dazeley as Jesus, Michael Hart-Davis as Thomas and Paul Reeves as Matthew. Deutsche Staatsoper, Berlin, April 2000. Photo: Mike Hoban

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.

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Copyright © 21 November 2000 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK






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