Fragmented blood and lust: Written on Skin fires

Written on Skin © 2012 ROH/Stephen CummiskeyThere was style, passion and violence going around in spades at the Royal Opera's premiere of George Benjamin's new work, Written on Skin,  Friday evening.

Directed by Katie Mitchell, it is a big lavish production where angels look down on the unfolding story based upon the old fable Le Coeur Mangé (The Eaten Heart). It is a story about a powerful protector who engages an artist to create a work to celebrate his life and in doing so awakens his submissive wife. Upon discovery of this infidelity he plots his revenge.

It is a short piece of only ninety minutes with no interval, but it is perfectly formed. For an opera about despair and unlocking beauty the music is evocatively layered. There are no big arias and much wailing at times but bit by bit the music serves to build the drama and tension of the piece. By the time of the conclusion and act of revenge the production has taken you to another world of beauty and wonder.


The performances by three leads Christopher Purves as the Protector, Barbara Hannigan as his wife and Bejun Mehta as the boy are stunning and powerful. Both Purves and Hannigan had the roles written for them and it is clear this gives it a dramatic edge.

If anything Martin Crimp's libretto, which tells the story in the third person, can feel like a distraction. Instead of  being emotionally connected to the piece you find yourself left cold as it switches from the story to the present to describing the obvious. Alienation may be the intent but why hold back when everything else is so lavish and dramatic?

This opera orgasm had its world premiere at Aix En Provence in 2012 and will have a short season at the Royal Opera with four more performances... Good seats still look available for all performances...

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