Benjamin Opera in the Philharmonic: When angels sneer

George Benjamin is an amazingly clear-sighted daydreamer. The British composer, born in 1960, writes such a lucid music that it unfolds the effect of a mind-expanding drug in no time at all. Surrendering or energetically plucked violins, stuffed trombones, thumping basses, an archaizing bass gamba and irritating percussion from clacking stones to various maracas to the big drum knit a seductively dense, harmonious fabric. Familiar climes mutate into strange soundscapes, with nervous, flickering melodies and violent emotional eruptions.

This year’s Composer in Residence of the Philharmonie itself is on the podium of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra ; spirited and unerring they navigate through the score of Benjamin’s opera “Written On Skin – A Stormy Ride”. The work, which premiered in 2012 in Aix-en-Provence and is now being taken over at 20 venues, is finally being heard in Berlin. Not on an opera stage, but half-scenic in the Philharmonic, directed by Benjamin Davis. Whereby the lack of scenery and costume is compensated by the intensity of the interpretation and the so impeccable and strikingly dramatic vocals of the five outstanding soloists.

Sensual music theater full of eroticism, poetry and humor

The story of an angel and jealousy, based on an Occitan troubadour text, about an autocratic protector (authoritarian: Evan Hughes), his wife Agnès (sovereign in the highest heights: Georgia Jarman) and a young book illustrator (cool, seductive: countertenor Bejun Mehta ) has it all – as a sensual, symbolic music theater full of eroticisms, political allusions, poetry and humor. With astounding elegance Benjamin leaps between the times, the Middle Ages and the present, crossing the sound of the Renaissance with that of the Newtonians and the Epic Theater.

“Cancels all flights from the international airport and populates the sky with angels,” says the text of the dramatist Martin Crimp, the concreteness of the fiction as concise as well. Again, Benjamin lets the singers step out of their roles, as you could already see in his short opera “Into The Little Hill” , in September in the Chamber Music Hall. The singers talk simultaneously in the third person, they also change the roles. Thus, the three mockingly commenting angels themselves become protagonists in this drama about the dangerous power of love and the (sound) painting that reveals the hidden, the desire, the violence, the self-empowerment of a woman forced into immaturity.