George Benjamin's Into the Little Hill is back at the Linbury Studio Theare at the Royal Opera House. It is a work that defies classification. Quite likely Benjamin and his librettist Martin Crimp can't explain its full portent, because it operates on the unconscious, on a subliminal level which cold logic cannot reach. That's why it's endlessly intriguing. Perhaps the way to get into Into the Little Hill is to let your intuition lead you.
The Minister's Child appears to her mother in a chink of light."Come home" says the mother. No, says the child, "Our home is under the earth. With the angel under the earth" What can that mean, no-one knows. But as the child says "The deeper we burrow, the brighter his music burns" "Can't you see?" cries the child. The child sees, because it doesn't carry the millstone of received wisdom.
So far I've seen Into the Little Hill three times, each time more rewarding. It marks a change in Benjamin's style. Formerly he obsessed about refining details to pointillist perfection. Now he's eschewed micromanagement for something much more organic - instinct. Into the Little Hill seems to spring from deep within his psyche. Yet the details are there, too, more integrated into the flow. This time, sitting up close, I picked up things I'd missed before, like sounds so high pitched human ears almost can't hear, but rats can. Claire Booth sometimes "sings" without using her physical voice. And grasps her tummy protectively so the effort of using her lungs and muscles so strenuously doesn't strain someone who can probably hear already, within her womb.
Into the Little Hill is a masterpiece. And now, What's on Stage is doing a £15 offer. In fact I might go again
As usual, this is just a taster because I'll write a more formal, extended piece in Opera Today. In the meantime, read about the Aldeburgh performance in June.