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Aldeburgh Festival announces 2009 plans

New artistic director Pierre-Laurent Aimard has announced his first season at the Aldeburgh Festival, which will include a number of stage works by Harrison Birtwistle.

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Since the infamous premiere of Punch and Judy at Aldeburgh in 1968, when Benjamin Britten reportedly walked out in disgust, Birtwistle has been no stranger to the international festival. Now, Aimard picks up from the outgoing chief Thomas Ades in paying homage to the grand old man of British opera with a brand new work, plus extracts from The Mask of Orpheus, The Last Supper and the more recent The Io Passion.

Birtwistle has collaborated again with the poet David Harsent, librettist of last year’s hugely successful The Minotaur and also the earlier opera Gawain. Together they have delved back into the Orpheus legend, something that the composer has all but obsessed about during his career.

The Corridor, a scena for soprano, tenor and six instruments will focus on Eurydice, in the composer’s words “a single moment from the Orpheus story magnified”. It will be presented with Semper Dowland, semper dolens, a so-called “theatre of melancholy” in which Birtwistle arranges songs by the Elizabethan composer.

There will be four performances of the programme between the 12th and 18th June. On 13th June soprano Claire Booth (recently seen at the Linbury Studio in Birtwistle’s Down By the Greenwood Side) will perform his delicious 3 Settings of Paul Celan, alongside extracts from the theatre piece The Io Passion, another exploration of Greek myth which premiered in 2004.

A late night programme on 13th June will feature the Three Latin Motets from the 2000 opera The Last Supper, so far only presented in this country by Glyndebourne Opera. There will also be a rare outing for the electronic interludes from The Mask of Orpheus, Birtwistle’s hugely impressive first large-scale opera presented by ENO in 1986.

Following the great success of The Minotaur at the Royal Opera House last year, Birtwistle must have picked up a few more fans. His stage works are always major events and a trip to Suffolk for this feast of his work should appeal to adventurous London operagoers.

- Simon Thomas

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