Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Photo © Pascal Victor / Artcomart, courtesy of Festival d’Art Lyrique d’Aix en Provence
09 Jul 2012

Written on Skin at the Aix Festival

Not about tattoo art, not an evocation of the Holocast, and let us not even try to put our finger on what it is about.

George Benjamin: Written on Skin

The Protector: Christopher Purves; Agnès: Barbara Hannigan; Angel 1/The Boy: Bejun Mehta; Angel 2/Marie: Rebecca Jo Loeb; Angel 3/John; Allan Clayton. Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Conductor: George Benjamin; Mise en scène: Katie Mitchell; Scenography and Costumes: Vicki Mortimer; Lighting: Jon Clark. Grand Théâtre de Provence, Aix-en-Provence. 7 July 2012.

Photos © Pascal Victor / Artcomart, courtesy of Festival d’Art Lyrique d’Aix en Provence.

 

Because Written on Skin seems to be about every thing you can think of, let us just say it is about being alive and knowing it. The artistic trick in Written on Skin is this huge revelation, which is art itself. It is big art, hard art, tender art, brutal art. Written on Skin above all is very real art.

WRITTEN6113.gif

Written on Skin is a libretto and its music — not since Monteverdi have music and words combined with more force and clarity. Playwright Martin Crimp distills a thousand years of images and issues into a brief text that composer George Benjamin embodies in one hour and forty minutes of sounds that defy definition.

If opera is essentially sex and violence Written on Skin well qualifies, Benjamin’s score magnifies the strange and delicate sexual stirrings that Benjamin Britten musically discovered and carries these urges to powerful and violent climax, rendering Britten’s guilty regret into utter hopelessness. And there is the sonic scope of timeless Messiaen transferred from God’s lofty nature to the creator’s own, base human nature. It is the sonic gamut of human nature.

It was an exhilarating evening that owes everything to everyone who created it, an astounding portrayal of the wife Agnes by soprano Barbara Hannigan, at once the fourteen year-old girl, the bride, the subject of her husband and an animal in heat. Baritone Christopher Purves made a profoundly moving portrayal of the Protector, Agnes’ husband, provider and, yes, protector and victim. The Boy, the medieval and timeless illuminator who was at once artist, innocence, lover and angel, was countertenor Bejun Mehta in beautiful voice and charismatic character.

Two additional presences complete Martin Crimp’s humanity, the female, mezzo soprano Rebecca Jo Loeb, consumed by unconsecrated sexuality, her essence played out on the senses of her skin. She is a lost, unredeemed angel. Her husband, baritone Allan Clayton, like the Protector is an actor in the world, like all men unprotected, ineffectual and meaningless. He too is an unredeemed angel.

WRITTEN608.gif

Metteur en scène Katie Mitchell and scenographer Vicki Mortimer echoed the complexities of the Crimp text within five designated spaces on the split level stage to move between dialogue and narration, from action to description, from self discovery to self-conscious notation. High above was the artist's studio where the world’s happenings are recorded, and next to it a verdant space with a window looking into something, maybe fulfillment, below a sort of ante-room to heaven and hell next to the world stage that was a room in the Protector’s house, both heaven and hell.

A side space in nature gave way in the last of the three part opera (marked by two brief pauses) to a coup de théâtre — the sudden apparition of a stairway ascending to undefined spaces above the stage where Agnes climbed to a sort of redemption. At last, served for dinner the heart of the boy, the artist, the lover, she knows that nothing will ever take its taste from her mouth, erase the boy’s pictures from her skin.

Like Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle, Written on Skin is a horror story, a journey into the darkest abyss’s to be tread by the human spirit. It brings the fascination and exhilaration of a glimpse into a psychic place one should never enter without the protection of really good art. Like Written on Skin.

Michael Milenski

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):