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D. Blinova, T. Tukova

Playing Orpheus (on H. Birtwistle’s opera “The Mask of Orpheus”)

The article is considered the opera by the contemporary English composer Harrison Birtwistle, which is a vivid example of an innovative approach to the embodiment of the widely known, repeatedly interpreted in the art of various epochs and national cultures of the ancient myth of Orpheus. The relevance of the chosen theme is conditioned by the researching the opera in the context of the problem of a play. On the basis of the undertaken generalization of the fundamental theoretical positions concerning the essential features of the phenomenon of play, the conclusion is made about their implementation in the opera of H. Birtwistle through the implementation of the compositional and dramaturgical method of situational variance. The definition is given and the ways of the implementation of this method in various works of art are outlined.

The accomplished research made it possible to establish that in the opera “The Mask of Orpheus” the composer widely relies on the principles of “conditional theatre” and brings the features of play to the fore with the help of a multifaceted interpretation of the reception of situational variance at various large-scale levels. This leads to a complex interweaving of plot collisions which taken from different versions of the myth, the repetition of the same situations in several variants at different stages of the dramaturgical action – the beginning, the development of the main conflict, the denouement. The result is the free operation of time and space. The original author’s finding, emphasizing the playful nature of the performance, is the representation of one actor in three hypostases – a real character, a doll and a mime, which contributes to the emergence of complex semantic subtexts, ambivalence of audience’s perception. As a result of skilful operation of a whole complex of various play methods, the composer managed to create a complex, multitiered compositional and dramaturgical organization of the opera.

Key words

myth of Orpheus, phenomenon of play, opera of the 20th century, H. Birtwistle, opera “The Mask of Orpheus”, method of situational variance, main dramaturgical conflict.

For citation

Blinova D., Tukova T. Playing Orpheus (on H. Birtwistle’s opera “The Mask of Orpheus”) // South-Russian Musical Anthology. 2021. No. 4. Pp. 83–90.


10.52469/20764766_2021_04 _89