George Benjamin's opera 'Written on Skin' a triumph
Opera lovers take heart, Benjamin and Crimp's revenge drama is 'a musical masterpiece'
What you need to know
Composer George Benjamin's new opera Written on Skin has opened at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. It premiered last year at the Festival of Aix-en-Provence. Benjamin and librettist Martin Crimp previously collaborated on Into the Little Hill.
Written on Skin, directed by Katie Mitchell, is based on a 12th-century French legend about a ruthless landowner, the Protector, who commissions the Boy to make a parchment book celebrating his glory. When his wife Agnes falls for the Boy, the Protector is driven to bloody revenge.
Christopher Purves stars as the Protector, Barbara Hannigan as his wife Agnes, and Bejun Mehta as the Boy. Until 22 March.
What the critics like
Benjamin's new opera is "nothing short of a triumph", says Erica Jeal in The Guardian. The score is sparse yet achingly sensual, and the air crackles with tension. It's "a musical masterpiece".
Written on Skin has "a powerful allegorical tale, and a score that is ultra-sophisticated", says Andrew Clark in the Financial Times. "Benjamin himself conducts and the performance is a triumph." Anyone worried about the future of opera "should take heart".
This music drama is surely here to stay, thanks to Crimp's "salty libretto" and Benjamin's "ingenious score", says Neil Fisher in The Times. Benjamin uses the orchestra to both convey "the sweaty detail" of the narrative and "its wider, stranger dramatic resonance".
What they don't like
The opera self-consciously jolts us between an ancient past and unspecific present, says Nick Kimberley in the Evening Standard. Benjamin does his best to knit the two together, but "too many passages are anti-dramatic and preeningly overwrought". ·