Published12 Dec 2017
Opera Philadelphia Launches New Year with Philadelphia Premiere – and First New U.S. Staging – of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin (Feb 9–18)
Having confirmed its status as “one of the most progressive forces on the opera scene” (Opera News) with O17, the first edition of its new annual season-opening festival, Opera Philadelphia forges ahead with back-to-back new productions in the new year. The first of these is George Benjamin’s Written on Skin (2012), widely considered the “century’s most successful new opera” (Financial Times). Marking its first new staging in the U.S.A., this major new addition to the canon makes its Philadelphia premiere in an original treatment from director William Kerley, starring Lauren Snouffer, Mark Stone, and Anthony Roth Costanzo under the leadership of Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris in four performances at the Academy of Music (Feb 9–18).
Since its 2012 premiere at the Festival d’Aix en Provence, Written on Skin has proven to be a phenomenal international sensation. Hailed as “the work of a genius unleashed” (New Yorker), “a modern classic” (The Telegraph, UK), and “truly a 21st-century masterpiece” (The Times of London), Benjamin’s first full-length opera has been recognized with a host of honors that include an inaugural International Opera Award. As the UK’s Independent put it, “rarely has a new opera been so universally welcomed.”
Director William Kerley, whose past company successes include the acclaimed Philadelphia premiere of Thomas Adès’s Powder Her Face, explains: “I believe Written on Skin is a modern masterpiece. The score and libretto represent an extraordinary conjunction of supreme musicality and innovative theatricality: music and theatre conspiring to create something far greater than the sum of their parts. I love the piece because it demonstrates that combustible mixture of spontaneity and discipline that is evident in any outstanding work of art.”
Set to a haunting libretto by playwright and regular Benjamin collaborator Martin Crimp, Written on Skin is a “chilling parable about the transformative potential of art” (The Guardian). It depicts a powerful landowner, the Protector, who commissions a young artist to create an illuminated manuscript celebrating his life and family. When a relationship develops between the artist, or Boy, and the Protector’s wife, Agnès, she compels him to reveal their clandestine love within his illustrations. Passion and violence erupt in the household, while behind the scenes a mysterious trio of angels watches the story unfold. Drawn from a 12th-century legend but imbued with a contemporary twist, Written on Skin displays “a profound awareness ofhuman cruelty and its inextricable connection to passion and art” (National Public Radio).
Corrado Rovaris adds: “We could not be more excited about bringing this most extraordinary contemporary opera – an indisputable masterpiece – to Philadelphia, not only in a new production, but with a truly superb cast. George Benjamin is one of the most original and compelling compositional voices of our time, and I am sure audiences will be as gripped by this music as the musicians are thrilled to perform it.”
Opera Philadelphia’s original production stars Lauren Snouffer, who lends her “rich-toned soprano” (Boston Globe) to the role of Agnès, which she has sung under the composer’s baton at Tanglewood and in Toulouse. She makes her Opera Philadelphia debut immediately after creating the leading role this December in Houston Grand Opera’s world premiere production of The House Without a Christmas Tree by Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek.
Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, who undertakes the dual roles of the Boy and First Angel, returns to Opera Philadelphia on a wave of critical success. “A bona-fide star” (New Yorker) who is both “vocally brilliant and dramatically fearless” (New York Times), Costanzo has already headlined Giulio Cesare at Houston Grand Opera and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater at Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival this fall, and looks forward to singing the title role in Florida Grand Opera’s Orfeo ed Euridice next spring.
Baritone Mark Stone gives his first performances as the obsessive, tyrannical, sexually troubled Protector, a role seemingly tailor-made for his voice and acting skills. In the title role of Rigoletto at last year’s Glyndebourne Festival, Stone gave “a superlative, disturbingly eerie performance” (Opera magazine) that prompted Opera Now to observe: “So terrifying was Stone’s searing central performance you would have thought he was a crazed murderer himself.”
Canadian mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó, who looks forward to gracing the world premiere of Benjamin’s next opera at Covent Garden next May, sings the roles of Second Angel and Marie. And the stellar cast is completed by Australian tenor Alasdair Kent, a graduate of Opera Philadelphia’s Emerging Artist Program, who brings “remarkable old-style vocal pyrotechnics” (Washington Post) to the roles of John and the sinister Third Angel.
To help realize his directorial vision, Kerley reunites with award-winning set and costume designer Tom Rogers, his collaborator on Powder Her Face, with lighting design by Howard Hudson, a West End veteran whose credits include the Royal Opera House.
About Opera Philadelphia
In recent years, Opera Philadelphia has consistently proven itself “a model for innovation in the classical-music industry” (Opera News), as highlighted by the success of its world premiere productions of Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD, which went on to launch new partnerships with Harlem’s Apollo Theater andLondon’s Hackney Empire; ANDY: A Popera, a Warhol-inspired opera-cabaret hybrid that Opera News pronounced “a smash”; and Breaking the Waves, a 2017 International Opera Award finalist that not only won the Music Critics’ Association of North America’s inaugural “Best New Opera” award, but is already reputed to be “among the finest operas of the new century” (New York Times). Building on this blaze of glory, the company launched the present season with its first Festival O, welcomed as “one of the most enjoyable additions to the fall calendar in years” (Washington Post). Transforming the City of Brotherly Love into an urban stage for opera, O17 featured three more highly acclaimed world premieres – Elizabeth Cree, We Shall Not Be Moved, and The Wake World, complemented by the sold-out Philadelphia premiere of War Stories, the warmly received exclusive East Coast presentation of Komische Oper Berlin’s The Magic Flute, a free open-air screening of The Marriage of Figaro, and a recital and masterclass from superstar soprano Sondra Radvanovsky. Now Opera Philadelphia – the only American finalist for the 2016 International Opera Award for Best Opera Company – completes this season of firsts with back-to-back new productions, following Written on Skin with Bizet’s beloved Carmen, in an original new staging from Scotland’s Paul Curran (April 27–May 6).For more information, visit operaphila.org.
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