New York Phil will perform new operas the Met won’t touch

New York Phil will perform new operas the Met won’t touch


norman lebrecht

January 15, 2015

We’re delighted to see that the New York Philharmonic is putting on the US premieres of two British operas – George Benjamin’s Written on Skin (pictured) and Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

Both are challenging works that did well in London.

Presumably, the Met passed.

Wonder why.

Press release below.


Written on the Skin ? opera by George Benjamin

January 14, 2015 — Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the New York Philharmonic today announced plans for the two organizations to collaborate on a new, multi-year opera initiative to present fully-staged productions of significant modern operas not yet seen in New York.

This new creative partnership, which will present three opera productions starting in 2015, marks the first collaboration for opera between the artistic teams of Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic. It also illustrates a growing relationship between the two organizations, represented by last season’s co-presentation of Marino Formenti’s recital during the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL and this season’s recital with the Philharmonic’s Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence Lisa Batiashvili. Collaborative efforts also extend to plans to redevelop Avery Fisher Hall.

Lincoln Center initiated discussions about this partnership with the New York Philharmonic in the summer of 2013, recognizing that both institutions have strong commitments to opera presentations, especially with a focus on new repertoire and innovative productions. The organizations will pool their collective artistic and financial resources, and will collaborate on all artistic decisions, such as repertoire, directors, conductors, casting and design, as well as the marketing and fundraising efforts, to realize these artistic visions.

Each of the first two operas selected to be produced as a result of this new partnership will be receiving its first stagings in the United States. The Lincoln Center–New York Philharmonic collaboration will launch with the American stage premiere of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin, at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, August 11, 13, and 15, 2015. This presentation, a revival of Katie Mitchell’s acclaimed production which was premiered at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2012, will take place at the David H. Koch Theater. It will be conducted by New York Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert leading the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. The cast will include Barbara Hannigan, Christopher Purves, and Victoria Simmonds, who are reprising their roles from the Aix production, as well as Tim Mead and Robert Murray.

The second presentation is the American stage premiere of the Irish composer Gerald Barry’s operaThe Importance of Being Earnest, based on Oscar Wilde’s comedy. This production, which was premiered at the Royal Opera House in London, is directed by Ramin Gray and will be conducted by Ilan Volkov leading New York Philharmonic musicians. This New York production brings together most of the original Royal Opera House cast including Simon Wilding, Benedict Nelson, Paul Curievici, Stephanie Marshall, Alan Ewing, Hilary Summers, and Ida Falk Winland. An additional cast member will be announced at a later date.  It will be presented June 2 and 4, 2016, jointly as part of the second NY PHIL BIENNIAL and Lincoln Center’s 50th season of Great Performers at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

A third production, slated for 2017, will be announced at a later date. Information about each opera follows below.


  • Alex says:

    Presumably the Met passed because neither of these works is by an old, dead Italian.

    • Marshall says:

      Oh, not German?

      The problem is NYC was supposed to have, (the NYCO became Met light and cheap instead of what it should have been) should have, another opera company in a smaller venue for baroque opera, new works etc.

      All the Met haters should be happy-I don’t see how it’s going to survive in the long run. The delusion of Regietheater is not going to save traditonal opera, and there is no new audience. (I went to the HD Meistersinger and there were 23 people in the theater – and though it was a wonderful performance the mournfall talk was that this is the last appropriate production in our lfetimes.) I’ll also throw in all classical music with any kind of general audience, or even held as something special is on a death march.

    • Brian says:

      Does that include Nico Muhly and John Adams, to name two?

      • Alex says:

        My admittedly unscientific survey, conducted just a moment ago, of the Met’s 2014/15 season yielded the following results (by number of operas):

        11 old, dead Italians
        5 old, dead Germans
        3 old, dead French
        3 20th Century classics (none American)
        1 John Adams

        This seems (mostly) quite boring, and completely unimaginative programming. Surely there must be interesting, lesser-known American works that could be brought forward.

  • Daniel Farber says:

    NL is incorrect. The New York performance will NOT be “the US premiere” of George Benjamin’s opera. It was performed in 2013 at Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall in a concert version with the composer conducting. The press release has it right: it’s “the American stage premiere”.

    • John Borstlap says:

      “Written on skin” is a ridiculous garbage bag of 20C clichées of ‘modern opera’, throwing-in all the collected morbitities, sado-masochistic abberations, violence, and skin-deep ‘psychology’ that could be gathered from all the puerile attempts to ‘épater les bourgeois’, in short: ‘gefundenes Fressen’ for Regietheater directors. And with a soundtrack offering a comparable range of clichées from early 20C expressionism, which really was only bearable one time, namely as used by Schönberg and Berg.

      Alas, the victorian middle-classes who were supposed to be shocked, no longer exist. The second time, a uniquely desparate scream looses it eloquence; now, after hundreds of times, it has turned into morbid, pointless convention for a contemporary audience that wants to feel it is truly up-to-date. In short: comparable to the Salieri or Meyerbeer situation in the 18th and 19th century.

      • Karen says:


        So you are not a fan of “Written on Skin”?

        You might like to know that there is already a brand new special appreciation guide/study of the opera!

        “Written on Skin, an opera that premiered in July 2012 in France, is an astounding masterpiece. Its success around the world is almost unprecedented when contemporary opera is considered. It’s been produced literally dozens of times by opera companies everywhere including the most prestigious European houses in London, Paris, Munich, Vienna, Amsterdam, Stockholm, and many others, to the point that when it completes three years of existence later this summer, it will have clocked more performances than Peter Grimes in an equivalent time period”

        More info here:

  • Brian says:

    If I were running the Met, there is no way Barry’s opera would waste my company’s production money. It has got to be,hands down, the worst text setting in the history of opera.
    On the other hand, the opera I would produce that should have been at the Met long ago, that has also been produced by the NYPh, is Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre, a genuine masterpiece.

  • MacroV says:

    I know it’s fun to trash the MET, but this is a completely inappropriate comparison. The Philharmonic/Lincoln Center, with a limited run in a festival setting, face very different financial parameters than the MET, which has to fill a 3,600-seat theatre, and meet huge overhead costs, and needs productions they can revive periodically for a few years. Sure, the MET could be more adventurous, but this isn’t the time to beat them over the head. In the meantime, it’s cool that the Philharmonic will take on a few operas that the MET probably can’t do, given its need for blockbusters.

    • Daniel Farber says:

      Actually the Met’s seating capacity is listed at 3800 with room for 175 standees.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      This website has also had lots of fun trashing Alan Gilbert. This time he is spared (I wonder how one could pull this one off), but he doesn’t get any credit either.

  • Jeffrey Levenson says:

    It seems like this is more of a pilot program in preparation for 2019 when the band becomes The Peripatetic Philharmonic for two years.

  • Novagerio says:

    Wonder why? Are you sure they can sell out a 3.000 seat capacity opera house in financial dire straits that hardly can cast a random italian classical opera?…

  • Le forgeron Blancard says:

    Why should the Met stage these two particular operas? They have a limited number of new productions each season and a large repertoire to take care of. Witten on skin is a compelling and well crafted work (I don’t know Barry’s opera). All the same, in addition to the relevant commercial factor mentioned in other comments, is too much of a chamber piece to work that big theatre. But it is a British success, so it should conquer the world. Thus spoke NL on his island.

  • Harmonymus says:

    Is Barry British or Irish?

  • Anon says:

    Perhaps worth clarifying that Gerald Barry isn’t British, but Irish.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Ireland is part of the British Isles.

      • Anon says:

        Fairly controversial opinion when it comes to nationality though – I don’t think you’d find many Irish people who would agree with you. Barry is always referred to as Irish rather than British.

        • Alex says:

          This is like the time I naively referred to a man from Quebec as ‘French-Canadian’. I got a rather snide remark in return!

        • Daniel Farber says:

          You have to remember that NL hasn’t really accepted the American Revolution. Once you realize that, his observations are easier to comprehend.

          • Paul Curievici says:

            Hi Norman! Gerald is from Eire not Northern Ireland, and is therefore proudly Irish rather than British. To the above commentor, Earnest is very deliberately not a setting of the text but a setting of what Gerald sees as the atmosphere of suppression and panic in the play. Of course you’re entitled to like that or not but worth, i thought, clarifying a little. On a personal note I’m extremely excited to be to New York!

  • JAMA11 says:

    I find it highly amusing that you are praising the Philharmonic’s decision to perform concert versions of these operas (at maybe $100K a pop, with the need to only sell a few thousand seats), and simultaneously criticizing the Met for not sinking ~$3million or more into mounting full productions and selling ~30,000 total seats to the same operas (which are, let us remember, 2 out of what, 800 operas the Met could theoretically produce in any given year?) The critical thinking skills are not in evidence today.

    • Eric says:

      These aren’t concert versions based on the fact that it says “staged” and that the theaters are not Avery Fisher Hall, but rather theaters with a stage and a pit.