"…spare, haunting, immediate…" Financial Times

George Benjamin and Martin Crimp’s Picture a day like this, the fourth collaboration from the acclaimed partnership, has been celebrated by critics following its premiere at the Aix Festival on 5 July.

The opera, which lasts just over an hour, is cast in seven scenes. It tells the story 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 the mysterious Zabelle. 

Picture a day like this will be available to watch on demand on Medici.tv from 23 July. The world premiere production is directed by Daniel Jeanneteau and Marie-Christine Soma; Benjamin conducts 22 members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. The cast comprises Marianne Crebassa (Woman), Anna Prohaska (Zabelle), Beate Mordal (Lover 1/Composer), Cameron Shahbazi (Lover 2/Composer’s Assistant) and John Brancy (Artisan/Collector).

The first edition vocal score for Picture a day like this and Martin Crimp’s text for music are now available to purchase. The opera 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. 

The opera’s UK premiere will take place on 22 September in the Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House, where it receives 12 performances. The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House will be conducted by Corinne Niemeyer, with the roles of the Woman and Zabelle sung by Ema Nikolovska and Jacquelyn Stucker.

…a beautifully written triumph…Benjamin’s music conjures a line of chant-like declamation and suppressed emotion…[He] deftly sketches characters in the space of a few moments, while sustaining the onward flow of the narrative. That flow is reflected in the refined writing…using precisely-chosen shifting colours for orchestral soloists…an exquisitely crafted little masterpiece. 

The Telegraph (Nicholas Kenyon) 6 July 2023 *****

Benjamin proves with this taut, sharp miniature that he is the finest opera composer of today…a work of depth of feeling, humanistic artistry and expressive rigor…a drama that is miraculously condensed.

Süddeutsche Zeitung (Reinhard J. Brembeck) 9 July 2023

…a taut one-act of masterly craft…a motif of muted trumpets and a trombone; tubular bells, quietly embedded in each scene’s climax, suggest a clock striking, and time running out… Benjamin’s music…despite its immaculate construction is never obviously representational or tidily resolved.

The New York Times (Joshua Barone) 9 July 2023

The fourth collaboration between Benjamin and Crimp once again falls into the category of “masterpiece”…Benjamin’s writing for the voice…creates vocal lines perfectly matched to the prosody…The refined score is sensual and intoxicating, puncturing and caressing.

Le Monde (Marie-Aude Roux) 7 July 2023

…with Martin Crimp, Benjamin has returned to Aix to affirm that 21st century opera – modern, classical, significant, profound, enduring – finds in him its greatest champion.

El País (Luis Gago) 7 July 2023

…spare, haunting, immediate…a fable of loss and anguish for our times… The whole has the slick perfection of a piece crafted specifically for exceptional performers…the score [is] deft and restrained, its occasional outbursts of passion all the more intense for the careful control of the rest…There is a ritualistic slowness to the movement, resembling an underwater memory or the trance-like dullness of bereavement…For Zabelle’s enchanted garden, video artist Hicham Berrada has created an ambivalent scene of blossoming chemical reactions — toxic and vibrant, sinister and fascinating…It is fiendishly clever…. [the opera] tackles huge subjects with daring economy of means…Its impact is unsettling...For all its beguiling beauty, its moments of dark wit and bitter social observation, Picture remains a voyage beyond all comfort zones.

Financial Times (Shirley Apthorp) 7 July 2023 *****

A sensual and elegant fairytale…An exemplary instance of writing for the voice.

Opern News (Joachim Langer) 9 July 2023

Picture a day like this confirms [Benjamin’s] affinity for the medium…at every moment the poetry of the text enters into sympathetic resonance with the music…the orchestral language again stands out for its extreme refinement…infinite shimmers reflecting the changing moods of the characters…the counterpoint teems but is never overwhelming…it is no exaggeration to call this a masterpiece.

Diapason (Emmanuel Dupuy) 7 July 2023

His writing is more chiseled than ever…luxurious sonorities, cut like diamonds…[the music] imperceptibly renews  itself…The vocal writing is masterful.

Le Figaro (Christian Merlin) 7 July 2023

…The vocal lines fit Crebassa like a glove…an intravenous injection of the emotions portrayed…the end result is ambiguous but utterly satisfying…Picture shares the best qualities of Written on Skin and Lessons in Love and Violence – the poetry, the quality of singing, the score, the sure-footed sense of the dramatic…Its 75 minutes were the most inspiring I have ever spent in an opera house.

Bachtrack (David Karlin) 6 July 2023 *****