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Written on Skin

The Royal Opera

George Benjamin and Martin Crimp’s opera is one of the greatest triumphs in contemporary music of recent years.

Most recent performance

There are currently no scheduled performances of Written on Skin. It was last on stage 13–30 January 2017 as part of the Winter 2016/17 season.

The Story

A powerful Protector commissions a young artist to create an illuminated book to celebrate his power. The book, and its artist, spark the rebellion of the Protector’s submissive wife Agnès.

Agnès compels the Boy to depict their relationship in his illuminations. The Protector cannot avoid understanding what he sees. He kills the Boy and serves his heart to Agnès. She remains defiant, and leaps to her death rather than let herself be killed.


George Benjamin and Martin Crimp’s Written on Skin is one of the most successful new operas of recent times. Since its premiere at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2012 it has been performed worldwide in numerous productions, to widespread acclaim. The Royal Opera’s performances in 2013 of Katie Mitchell’s original production were no different; it received five-star reviews across the board and was described as ‘a musical masterpiece’ by The Guardian and ‘a serious and important work of art… music of genius’ by The Telegraph.

Written on Skin draws on a 12th-century Occitan legend about the troubadour Guillem de Cabestaing. Crimp’s text pulls out the story’s enduring themes of love, passion and violence, with a contemporary twist: mysterious 21st-century angels watch over the enfolding drama. Benjamin’s strikingly beautiful score – compared to Pelléas et Mélisande and Wozzeck – moves with breathtaking agility from moments of heightened stillness to unmistakable brutality.

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On Wikipedia

Written on Skin is an opera by the British composer George Benjamin. Benjamin's first full-length opera, it was premiered at the 2012 Aix-en-Provence Festival as a commission from five opera centres, and received its British premiere at the Royal Opera House in London in March 2013 and its Paris premiere at the Opéra-Comique in November that year; Benjamin conducted for all of these premiere seasons. The libretto by Martin Crimp, who also wrote the libretto for Benjamin's first opera Into The Little Hill, is based on legend of the troubadour Guillaume de Cabestanh; the story is also repeated in The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio. The action takes place in 13th-century Provence. The opera is divided into 15 scenes. The Protector (a rich land-owner) pays the Boy (an artist) to create and illustrate a manuscript about his family. The Boy and the Protector's wife Agnès are attracted to each other. Incensed by the reawakened independence of his wife, the Protector murders the Boy and forces Agnès unwittingly to eat the heart of the Boy. Agnès commits suicide. 'Angels' comment throughout on the action from a modern-day perspective. One reviewer described the music as "glistening, mysterious sounds" from the orchestra (which includes a viola da gamba) in "Benjamin's most vivid music to date, in a score embracing everything from sensuousness to explosive ferocity". The success of the opera in performance has motivated the Royal Opera to commission a new full-length opera by Crimp and Benjamin, to be premiered in 2018. The title is not yet known.

Read the complete Written on Skin article on Wikipedia, available under a Creative Commons license.