George Benjamin and Martin Crimp’s latest stage work Picture a day like this will premiere at the Aix-en-Provence Festival on 5 July. The opera, which lasts just over an hour, is cast in seven scenes and is a bittersweet fable of grief and renewal. 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.
Benjamin discusses how the opera represents a “substantial change” compared to his previous stage works and his way of working with singers here. Crimp describes the story of the opera – “A kind of Alice in Wonderland, but for adults” – in an interview for the Aix festival here.
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. Benjamin discusses the composition of Picture a day like this and his close collaboration with Martin Crimp with the Financial Times here.
The work is scored for 22 instrumentalists and five voices. The world premiere production is directed by Daniel Jeanneteau and Marie-Christine Soma and conducted by the composer, which sees Benjamin joined by his regular collaborators 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 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.
It is the fourth piece to come from the acclaimed partnership of Benjamin and Crimp, whose previous work comprises 2006’s Into the Little Hill (a visceral, 40-minute retelling of the story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin for two singers), Written on Skin (performed over 140 times since its 2012 premiere at the Aix Festival), and Lessons in Love and Violence (2017), which received its latest production in May from Evgeny Titov at Opernhaus Zürich.
Benjamin, who was awarded the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize this year, is an artist-in-focus at the Aix Festival, which also features two concerts of his orchestral music. On 20 July Susanna Mälkki conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in Benjamin’s 2021 Concerto for Orchestra. On 19 July Benjamin conducts At First Light with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, in a programme including works by Ligeti, Abrahamsen, and Ravel.