Mostly Mozart Festival 2015: George Benjamin's 'Written on Skin' (U.S. Stage Premiere)

By Ian Holubiak on Aug 13, 2015 03:44 AM EDT

Well, it has certainly been quite the summer for Mozart in New York City. And here in the final throes of Gotham's grand celebration of most things Mozart--namely, the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center--we're finally getting the U.S. stage premiere of lauded British composer George Benjamin's equally highly-praised opera, Written on Skin, at the David H. Koch Theater.

The first joint endeavor by the Lincoln Center-New York Philharmonic Opera Initiative, Written on Skin is Benjamin's (b. 1960) lovelorn three-parter to Martin Crimp's libretto (itself based on the legendary Catalan troubadour Guillaume de Cabestanh, as repeated in Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron).

Here's but a brief synopsis: It's the 12th century in the south of France. Provence, to be exact. A wealthy Protector (baritone Christopher Purve, reprising his original role) pays a Boy (countertenor Tim Mead) to write and illuminate a book about his patron's good deeds. Instead, the Boy falls madly in love with the Protector's wife, Agnès (soprano Barbara Hannigan, also in the original). Flash-forward, the Protector--“cutting one long, clean incision through the bone”--murders the Boy and, get this, feeds his heart to Agnès.

Naturally, Agnès then commits suicide.

Outgoing New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert leads the Claudio Abbado-founded Mahler Chamber Orchestra in this potent score.

From its 2012 debut at the Aix-en-Provence Festival to its British premiere at London's Royal Opera House in March 2013, Benjamin's tour-de-force uptown has the New York Times praising its "psychologically gripping, emotionally heart-pounding and viscerally satisfying drama."

Meanwhile, the New Yorker has proclaimed Written on Skin, quote, "the work of a genius unleashed."

Classicalite, too, has reveled in the erotic dissonance of this favored student of Messiaen's second stage collaboration with Mr. Crimp. Their's is a period-piece of modern phantasm the likes of which we haven't seen, much less heard, on an American operatic stage for quite some time.

Apropos, tickets are still available for the Thursday, August 13 performance at 7:30. Afterwards, do stick around for a lively, informed post-performance discussion at Koch with Benjamin, Purves, Hannigan, Mead and Mostly Mozart's Ehrenkranz artistic director, Jane Moss.

Otherwise, your last chance to experience George Benjamin's Written on Skin at the 2015 Mostly Mozart Festival is Saturday, August 15, also at 7:30.

Until then, bone up on Skin with the full program notes from Lincoln Center.

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TagsMostly Mozart, George Benjamin, Written on Skin, Lincoln Center, Martin Crimp, Christopher Purve, Barbara Hannigan, Alan Gilbert, Mahler Chamber Orchestra

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