George Benjamin’s lyric tale, Into the Little Hill, received its London premiere on Saturday 14 February. Unusual circumstances arose however, when technical difficulties forced the performance to be moved from the auditorium of the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studios to the foyer bar.
This impromptu staging could not inhibit the majesty of the piece, however, and the performance was given five star reviews:
'When I first heard George Benjamin’s one-act opera Into the Little Hill two years ago, I tentatively suggested that it might be a masterpiece… A second hearing, in a superb performance by the Opera Group authoritatively conducted by the composer, confirms my judgement that this is something quite exceptional, both in the originality of its form and the depth of its inspiration.
Benjamin’s score inhabits the text with absolute assurance: not a note is wasted, the dramatic pacing is impeccable controlled. The word setting is always pellucid and sometimes lyrical, the orchestration… luminous, subtle and delicate. Most strikingly imaginative of all, however, is the way that Benjamin creates a world of sound, quite unlike any other…it left me both stunned and elated. A masterpiece, no question.’
The Telegraph (Rupert Christiansen), 16 February 2009
‘If the best test for any music is whether it retains its power whatever the circumstances, then Benjamin’s score passed triumphantly. It is a transcendentally beautiful piece, perfectly scaled to Martin Crimp’s taut libretto… Benjamin’s conducting brought out pungent colours in the ensemble writing that enhanced the dramatic power more than ever.’
The Guardian (Andrew Clements), 16 February 2009
‘…it was mesmerising. There was nowhere to hide from Booth’s marvelously angry, protesting Child and Bickley’s mendacious Minister, slyly making a pact to exterminate the rats… Nor from the visceral power of Benjamin’s score – by turns eerie, abrasive, sad and lyrical.’
The Times (Richard Morrison), 16 February 2009
A full report on this exceptional evening can be found on the BBC News website.
A CD of Into the Little Hill has been released on the Nimbus label. The libretto and full score, both published by Faber Music, are available for sale.