George Benjamin

Written on Skin


European tour
Mahler Chamber Orchestra and George Benjamin, conductor

“Barbara Hannigan and Christopher Purves are indelibly associated with their roles as Agnès and The Protector. Hannigan’s dramatic commitment and fearless soprano was incredible; she bends notes so seductively that it wasn’t just Tim Mead’s Boy who fell under her spell. Stabbing an ivory finger to the skies and demanding that the Boy makes her Protector “cry blood”, her performance thrilled to the core.”

Bachtrack, Mark Pullinger, 20 March 2016

“The score is masterful in its tension and compression, its spareness of detail, both vocal and instrumental, speaking volumes. The MCO played it with an almost queasy beauty, and the singing was flawless. Christopher Purves and Barbara Hannigan, who also created the roles of the Protector and Agnès, are remarkable vocal actors, and their interpretations intensify with time.”

The Guardian, Tim Ashley, 20 March 2016

“Agnès was played by Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan, one of the most interesting artists today. In addition to being a great singer, she is an outstanding actress. Ms. Hannigan has been Agnès since the opera premiered, and I find her irreplaceable in the part. She has made contemporary opera her warhorse, and triumphed here.”

Seen and Heard International, 17 March 2016

Mostly Mozart festival, New York

“Barbara Hannigan is a great musician. In the lead female role, the fierce and pitiable Agnès, the wife of a brutal husband who has awakened to love only to have it destroy her, Hannigan retained vocal purity and intellectual control as she threw herself into as broad a range of emotion and physical response as a composer could ask. (No wonder she is an acclaimed Lulu.) She is now pursuing a concomitant career in conducting, having led the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and other front-rank groups. Let ‘er rip.”

The New Yorker, Russell Platt, 18 August 2015

“The impassioned soprano Barbara Hannigan, the original Agnès, owns the role. During sustained passages, her luminous voice sounds shimmering and sensual one moment, piercing and desperate the next. She not only wants the Boy, she also wants to thrust her passion openly at her husband, which happens in a brutal later scene.”

New York Times, Anthony Tommasini, 12 August 2015

“…soprano Barbara Hannigan, whose electrifying physical presence and silvery soprano utterly focused the performance on the emotional journey of Agnès.”

Observer, James Jordan, 19 August 2015

“Barbara Hannigan gives us a fierce Agnès, by turns seductive, imperious, and brutally honest.”

Vulture, Justin Davidson, 12 August 2015

“As played by Ms. Hannigan, Agnès’s sensual awakening was a slow burn—“The woman takes off her shoes”—that erupted like a fever. When her impassioned soprano combined with Tim Mead’s stunningly pure, otherworldly countertenor in the role of the Boy, their connection was distilled into a startlingly erotic and beautiful moment of recognition.”

Wall Street Journal, Heidi Waleson, 12 August 2015

“All of this is clear in word, music and even in the delivery of the singers, particularly Barbara Hannigan as Agnès, who repeatedly sang her long-sustained notes with a straight sound as hard and pure as glass, only at the end of the note refracting into a softer vibrato as if returning its humanity.”

Washington Post, Anne Midgette, 12 August 2015

Opera Comique, Paris

“Les interpretes, ensuite. Benjamin leur a écrit les rôles sur mesure, à commencer par la renversante Barbara Hannigan : on va finir par être en panne d’adjectifs pour qualifier cette extraterrestre dont la voix kaleidoscopique applique à la musique contemporaine toutes les règles du bel canto.”

“As for the performers. Benjamin tailor-made the roles for them, starting with the stunning Barbara Hannigan: we will eventually run out of adjectives to describe this extraterrestrial whose kaleidoscopic voice brings to contemporary music all the rules of bel canto.”

Le Figaro, November 2013

“D’autant que les lignes vocales, en constant renouvellement, ont été ajustées sur l’éloquence, la palette de nuances et l’élasticité ascensionnelle de Barbara Hannigan — définitivement l’une des grandes actrices lyriques de notre temps, qui nous laisse aussi haletant qu’elle à la fin de la deuxième partie — et du baryton à la fois généreux et inquiétant de Christopher Purves…”

“The vocal lines, in constant change, were moulded with eloquence, elasticity and a palette of subtle nuances by Barbara Hannigan – definitely one of the great operatic actresses of our time.”
Diapason, November 2013

“…dans la brutalité d’un personnage fondamentalement abject, tandis que Barbara Hannigan livre une fois de plus une composition des plus frappantes, dans ce parcours qui la mène du statut d’épouse opprimée à celui de femme torturée qui choisit la mort par fidélité à son amant.”

Forum Opéra, November 2013

Royal Opera House
Covent Garden, London

“Meanwhile the performance of soprano Barbara Hannigan takes the breath away as she modulates from virginal shyness to becoming a ravening Lady Chatterley, before being made to consume the bleeding heart of her young lover in a scene of startling Jacobean horror.”

The Independent, 11 March 2013

“Hannigan’s voice has a pure beauty, and her acting is physically mesmerizing.”

Bloomberg, 13 March 2013

“Hannigan, who has natural catwalk glamour to match a voice of bewitching beauty, charts Agnès’s path from servitude to resistance to self-destruction with uncanny precision.”

Evening Standard, 11 March 2013

“Would the opera work so well without a soprano combining such pure tone and fierce presence as Barbara Hannigan?”

* * * * * 5 out of 5 stars
The Guardian, 11 March 2013

“(Written on Skin) draws superb performances from a flawless cast…”

* * * * * 5 out of 5 stars
The Telegraph, 11 March 2013

“The performers are all superb, with Hannigan making a particularly striking impression with her haunting stage intensity.”

Metro, 11 March 2013

“It is Barbara Hannigan who dominates proceedings with an assumption of Agnes that captures her rapid and fateful comprehension in all of its conflicting ecstasy and anguish…”

The Classical Source, 8 March 2013

“All three main singers were superb, with clear diction and excellent projection of their characters. Barbara Hannigan’s voice was extraordinarily flexible whether in sweetness or steel”

Bachtrack, 11 March 2013

“played with utmost intensity and dedication by the great Barbara Hannigan (in the role of Agnès, on alternately grave and spitting form)”

Musical Criticism, 11 March 2013

Festival d’Aix en Provence, France

“The piece is aided by a top-drawer cast. As Agnes, Barbara Hannigan has all the sensual physicality you could dream of for the role. She can convey dangerously repressed passion and sing meltingly rich high notes at the same time; she makes us believe every second of her part.”

Financial Times, 9 July 2012

“[…] et la distribution est parfaite: Barbara Hannigan est une fois de plus fascinante avec sa voix serpentine qui s’enroule autour de vous.”

Le Figaro, 10 July 2012

“The premiere was a triumph for the Amsterdam-based soprano Barbara Hannigan from Canada, for whom George Benjamin wrote the role specifically: Barbara Hannigan a traditional singing technique has effortlessly at her disposal but can also go beyond these borders. She is at present the top-level performer for such a role.”

Neue Musikzeitung, 9 July 2012

BENJAMIN PREMIERE IS THE HIGHLIGHT IN AIX:
“Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan gives a shattering, definitive performance as Agnes.”

Wall Street Journal, 12 July 2012

“The mesmerising Barbara Hannigan, as supple and subtle in voice as in her smouldering physicality.”

The Times, 12 July 2012

“lyrisme radieux et envoûtant de la mystérieuse Agnès de Barbara Hannigan (sublissime)”

Le Soir, 10 July 2012

“Barbara Hannigan se déchire avec une cruauté carnivore. […] Les aigus intenses, tendus, la souplesse chatte de Barbara Hannigan contraste avec le baryton terrien de Christopher Purves.”

La Marseillaise 9 July 2012

“An outstanding portrayal of the wife by soprano Barbara Hannigan, at once the fourteen year-old girl, the bride, the subject of her husband and an animal in heat.”

Opera Today, 9 July 2012

“Die Uraufführung der neuen Oper Written on Skin, mit der George Benjamin der Amsterdamer Sopranistin Barbara Hannigan wieder einmal eine Rolle auf den Leib schrieb.“

“The world premiere of the new opera Written on Skin with which George Benjamin has written once again a role tailor-made for the Amsterdam-based soprano Barbara Hannigan.”

Deutschlandradio Kultur, July 2012

“La distribution, enfin, pour laquelle chaque fut écrite, rassemble des interprètes hors pairs, vocalement et scéniquement, avec Barbara Hannigan, la sensuelle (Agnès), Bejun Mehta, L’insaisissable et Christopher Purves, le cruel”

La Libre Belgique, July 2012

Le Meilleur Opéra écrit depuis vingt ans?
“Barbara Hannigan (Agnès), Christopher Purves (le Protecteur), et Bejun Mehta (le Garçon) sont comme hantés par leurs démons et leurs pulsions. Ils font frissonner la peau et sidèrent par leur présence, dramatique, vocale, et leur précision musicale ahurissante”

Le Monde, 10 July 2012

“Sparking an instantaneous standing ovation at its world premiere performance last night, Written on Skin is almost certainly headed straight for any list of the best operas of the 21st century so far.
Canadian soprano and consummate actress Barbara Hannigan, a contemporary music specialist, outdoes even her virtuoso reputation with an emotionally shattering performance that will surely define the role of Agnès for many years to come.”

France Today, 8 July 2012

“The cast is remarkable, too. Barbara Hannigan compellingly charts Agnès’s growing self-awareness, and wraps her voice ravishingly around Benjamin’s high-lying vocal lines..”

The Guardian, 8 July 2012

“La prestation des trois chanteurs principaux est tout simplement épousouflante, elle aussi. Barbara Hannigan dans le role d’Agnès parvient a rendre toutes les étapes par lesquelles passe son personnage avec un très large éventaile couleurs, allant de la résignation totale a la révolte la plus violente, et des moyens vocaux illimités que se révèlent au fil de l’évolution de personnage.”

Forum Opéra, 12 July 2012

“Quant à la distribution vocale, elle ne mérite que des éloges, à commencer par le rôle d’Agnès, éprouvant, auquel la belle soprano canadienne Barbara Hannigan prête une fausse fragilité farouche”

Télérama, 10 July 2012

“Barbara Hannigan et Bejun Mehta nous subjuguent dans un Written on Skin d’anthologie. […] Bejun Mehta plane dans le rôle de l’artiste au destin séraphique et Barbara Hannigan subjugue par ses intonations d’une parfaite justesse, sa conviction et son charme félin.”

Les Echos, 10 July 2012

“Auch die Besetzung war von einmaliger Qualität. In der Rolle der Agnès war eine Barbara Hannigan in Hochform zu erleben. […] Also the cast had a unique quality. In the role of Agnès, Barbara Hannigan performed on top-form.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 11 July 2012

“The voices have been composed in a discreet way, but the female protagonist, Agnes (Barbara Hannigan), is intense and eruptive in the central part of the opera.”

Titel-Magazine, July 2012

“Sopranistin Barbara Hannigan lässt die erwachenden Liebesgefühl von Agnes wie einen Sonnenstrahl durch das Grand Théâtre de Provence leuchten.”

Tages-Anzeiger, 11 July 2012

“…above all, the searing and soaring soprano Barbara Hannigan…had much to offer”

The Sunday Times, 15 July 2012


we will eventually run out of adjectives to describe this extraterrestrial
whose kaleidoscopic voice brings to contemporary music all the rules of bel canto.Le Figaro