US premiere of 'Written on Skin' recalls impact of 'Peter Grimes'

US premiere of 'Written on Skin' recalls impact of 'Peter Grimes'
A lengthy standing ovation hailed the United States premiere of George Benjamin’s opera Written On Skin on 12 August at Tanglewood’s Seiji Ozawa Hall.
‘It really is that good’
‘In the past year, it has been staged in London, Amsterdam, Toulouse, Munich and Vienna, each time bringing audiences to their feet and leaving critics to pull out superlatives they hadn’t thought they’d ever use in the context of new opera… It really is that good… Mr. Benjamin is a master of color and detail and in this subject, with its themes of illumination and enlightenment, his music has found its home… In concert version, the visual power of Mr. Benjamin’s writing comes through especially sharply.’
The New York Times (Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim), 13 August 2013
‘the score is indeed a marvel’
‘Successful, serious contemporary operas are exceedingly rare in today’s classical music world, but the composer George Benjamin and the playwright Martin Crimp have created one in Written on Skin… the score is indeed a marvel, astonishing in its timbral precision and in its balance of flexibility and sweep, with moments of local drama set off against a meticulously integrated whole. As a composer Benjamin is known as a master colorist, but evidently inspired by the subject of medieval illumination, he has outdone himself here… [a] complexly beautiful 21st-century score, one that carries forward the worlds of Debussy and Berg without surrendering to either one.’
The Boston Globe (Jeremy Eichler), 14 August 2013

‘A savagely beautiful score'
‘A savagely beautiful score with a fierce, multilayered libretto, the 90-minute "Written on Skin" is an original. It pushes the boundaries of narrative while maintaining constant theatrical tension, and its musical inventiveness serves the drama impeccably. Five singers and the 60-piece orchestra create an amazing variety of timbres and colors. The text setting has great rhythmic flexibility… The orchestra plays full tuttis only at strategic moments, like the cacophonous opening and the almost random frenzy of the murder. Every scene has its own musical character…’
Wall Street Journal (Heidi Waleson), 19 August 2013
‘[it] could not help but bring to mind another Tanglewood U.S. premiere of Peter Grimes’
‘Monday’s performance was gripping on many levels…. Benjamin’s scoring exploited a palette of a thousand shades – masterfully employed. He was always mindful of his singers, providing support for their full range of expression and declamation without their ever having to worry about being heard… The 53-year-old Benjamin’s music, like Mozart’s, needs no director to stage it. It peers into the souls of the characters, charts their courses, describes their actions, and foretells their futures. His craftsmanship is meticulous, ingenious, and visionary, and any new project that bears his name merits watching and listening… The Tanglewood U.S. premiere of Written On Skin could not help but bring to mind another Tanglewood U.S. premiere by George Benjamin’s countryman Benjamin Britten in 1946 of his opera Peter Grimes…’
Massachusetts Republican (Clifton Noble Jr.), 13 August 2013

'A ringing success’
‘After all of the attention and critical praise George Benjamin’s Written on Skin has garnered since its triumphant debut in Aix--‐en--‐Provence last year, it may be time for someone to take it down a notch now that it has had its U.S. premiere. However, you are not going to get that here. After attending that premiere at the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood Monday night, I can report that it is a vivid vision of human disaster, coruscating and scouring in equal parts, based on a brilliant text set to music both brooding and iridescent… The audience rose to its feet immediately upon its completion, and the ovation went on for some time. A ringing success…’
The Boston Music Intelligencer (Brian Schuth), 13 August 2013