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Alan Gilbert Conducts US Stage Premiere of Benjamin’s Written on Skin Aug 11 – 15

Bethany Taylor / 22nd October 2015 / Journal

Making his Mostly Mozart Festival debut, Alan Gilbert leads the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in the American production debut of George Benjamin’s much-heralded 2012 opera Written on Skin.

With a libretto by Martin Crimp and a striking score that showcases a diverse range of instruments — including a glass harmonica, pebbles, viola da gamba, tabla, and mandolins — Written on Skin tells a visceral tale of tale of submission, desire, and liberation. It is the first opera to be presented as part of a new artistic partnership between Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic with the aim of staging important new works not yet seen in New York.

Described by The New York Times as a “psychologically gripping, emotionally heart-pounding and viscerally satisfying drama,” Written on Skin is inspired by a 13th-century story by Occitan poet Guillem de Cabestany about a rich and powerful landowner in the Provence region of France who commissions a young artist to write a book about his riches and status. The landowner, referred to as “The Protector” in the piece and portrayed by Christopher Purves, invites The Boy (Tim Mead) to stay with him and his wife, Agnès (Barbara Hannigan), so that he might further celebrate his property and legacy. Agnès becomes drawn to the boy, and an affair ensues, with shocking consequences for all parties. The opera features a cast of five, including three Angels who double as the Boy, Agnès’s sister Marie (Victoria Simmonds), and Marie’s husband John (Robert Murray). The Angels themselves serve to frame the story as a sort of cautionary tale. Crimp also uses a self-narrating device with all of the characters to remind the audience that both the present and the past exist in the piece. This production, directed by Katie Mitchell, further explores the connection between the three main characters and the Angels as interplay between our world and days gone by.

More information about Written on Skin, which will be presented on August 11, 13, and 15 at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater, can be found from Mostly Mozart and The New York Times.

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