The return of Harrison Birtwistle's ‘The Mask of Orpheus’ in London

Reading time: 3 min.

Over a decade of involvement with the Orpheus myth has inspired
Harrison Birtwistle to create a series of works, in which
The Mask of Orpheus - a lyrical tragedy or opera - is the greatest in dimension.
It is considered a key work in the development of musical theatre, with an imaginative blend of song, drama, myth, pantomime and electronics.

The opera premiered at the English National Opera in May 1986 and returned to its first venue on 18 October 2019, after a 33-year slumber. As at its premiere, the ENO's music director, Martyn Brabbins, together with the second conductor James Henshaw, is once again fabulously in charge of the orchestra pit.

The production by Daniel Kramer, artistic director of The Mask of Orpheus and celebrating his departure from the ENO, creates an extraordinary stage experience with opulent costumes in collaboration with fashion designer Daniel Lismore and crystal giant Swarovski.

Although the mythological story of Orpheus is regarded as the basis for the opera's plot, with its 126 individual events it is not a simple and straightforward work. The three main roles Orpheus, Euridice and Aristaeus are each divided into a singer, a mime and a puppet to embody their human existence, their heroic self and their myth. Electronic music from the early 1980s, recorded by Berry Anderson at IRCAM in Paris in collaboration with Birtwistle, forms an important part of this gigantic work. Orpheus' Lyra, for example, is electronically set to music with only four notes and four harp chords.


Upcoming performances:

25, 29 October
07, 13 November


Read the full score:

The Mask of Orpheus



 Photo: © English National Opera