On 22 September George Benjamin and Martin Crimp’s Picture a day like this received its UK premiere at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre, with Corinna Niemeyer conducting the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in 11 performances. Listen to the BBC Radio 3 broadcast of the opera here.
The opera, which lasts just over an hour, tells the story in seven scenes of a Woman who has lost her child. If before nightfall she meets one truly happy person and cuts a button from their sleeve, her child will live again. In this search she meets a pair of lovers, a Composer and their Assistant, an Artisan, Collector, and, in a beautiful garden, the mysterious Zabelle. Watch Benjamin discuss composing the opera here.
A limited edition of the full score, one of only one hundred and fifty, is also now on sale. Presented in a cloth-bound hard cover, it is signed by George Benjamin and Martin Crimp and includes facsimile reproductions of pages from the manuscript, sketches by Benjamin and Crimp, and a photograph of Benjamin, Crimp and directors Daniel Jeanneteau and Marie-Christine Soma in rehearsal at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. The first edition vocal score for Picture a day like this and Martin Crimp’s text for music are also available to purchase.
The production was directed by Daniel Jeanneteau and Marie-Christine Soma, with video designs by Hicham Berrada. The cast comprised Ema Nikolovska (Woman), Jacquelyn Stucker (Zabelle), Beate Mordal (Lover 1/Composer), Cameron Shahbazi (Lover 2/Composer’s Assistant) and John Brancy (Artisan/Collector). Picture a day like this was co-commissioned and co-produced by the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Royal Opera House Covent Garden London, Opéra national du Rhin, Opéra Comique, and les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, Oper Köln and Teatro di San Carlo.
Critics praised the fourth collaboration from Benjamin and Crimp:
…the whole opera has a dream-like insubstantiality…That sense of enchanted mystery seems only to be enhanced by the measured unfolding of Benjamin’s score, with its gracefully contoured vocal lines, in which every morsel of the text is perfectly clear, and exquisitely crafted instrumental writing, full of luminous colours and doublings.
The Guardian (Andrew Clements), 24 September 2023 ****
…the instruments…slowly start weaving lines around the voice, shadowing it in rhythmic and harmonic syncopations of growing activity and force…the sense of drama and its musical, psychological and emotional contours come progressively into the open…In its beautifully wrought musical vignettes and unhurried dramatic brevity, it might just better the earlier operas in depicting the kind of fundamental mystery that the mixture of music and poetry seem uniquely equipped to express.
Times Literary Supplement (Guy Dammann), 6 October 2023
…sparkling with invention and intricacy…Instruments are aligned with brilliant sonic novelty. Tubular bells, harp and celesta shimmer, offsetting the burble and growl of low woodwind, including bass flute, tenor and bass recorder, basset horn and contrabassoon. In bright contrast, volleys of brass, with piccolo trumpet and tenor trombone, are intense and nervy.
The Observer (Fiona Maddocks), 30 September 2023 ****
If the outline sounds whimsical, the addition of Benjamin’s rich and complex (yet never abstruse) music gives it dimensionality. Each of the sections…requires a different musical approach. The result is a piece that holds the attention with its mix of emotional sincerity and dark humour… Everything works.
The Stage (George Hall), 25 September 2023 ****
It is a beautiful tale of grief and acceptance, and our capacity for hope…the beauty of the piece lies in its enigmatic terminus. It will leave you pondering its idiosyncrasies for days on end.
City AM (Tacita Quinn), 3 October 2023