Desire, deception, and death: Birtwistle’s The Corridor and The Cure

The most interesting thing about The Corridor, in classical terms, is the moment, and mood, that David Harsent (librettist) and Harrison Birtwistle (composer) have chosen to dramatise. So many treatments of this myth in later art focus either on Orpheus’ descent to hell, or the moment when he turns (too soon) and Eurydice is snatched away from his sight: the focus, in short, tends to be always on Orpheus’ grief for Eurydice. But in The Corridor, we spend far more time with Eurydice than we do with Orpheus: and her feelings, in Harsent’s view, are not straightforward. Look at this exchange (my bold):

WOMAN —you looked back because—

MAN —because you seemed to be already there—

WOMAN —because the moment seemed more yours than mine

MAN —because I felt you step into the light—

WOMAN —because you felt I’d be there as I should

MAN —because love brought me round—

WOMAN —because you thought love owed you everything-

The Cure, also a scena but a slightly fuller work with more narrative drive, is a brand new work for 2015, focusing on a rather less familiar aspect of Medea’s mythical life story: her rejuvenation (by magic) of Jason’s elderly father Aeson on Jason’s triumphant return from Colchis. For both pieces, subtly-crafted libretti by David Harsent, thoughtfully researched and poetically satisfying, are set in Birtwistle’s characteristic musical language of dissonance, sharp edges and smooth yearning lines.

Click here to read my full review on Bachtrack.

Reviewed at the Aldeburgh Festival.

Southwark Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Southwark Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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