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Opera Essentials: Written on Skin

A tale of love, art and death from George Benjamin and Martin Crimp.

By Kate Hopkins (Content Producer (Opera and Music))

8 March 2013 at 7.08pm | 1 Comment

Written on Skin recounts the story of a wealthy Protector who commissions a young artist to create an illuminated book, depicting his lands and family. He is unprepared for what the boy will paint, and for the effect that it will have on his wife, Agnès.

The text is inspired by the legendary story of the medieval troubadour Guillem de Cabestaing, who fell in love with the wife of the Lord of Rossillon. The Lord killed Cabestaing and fed his wife her lover's heart. Martin Crimp has deftly rewritten the story to include references to our times, including contemporary environmental and humanitarian concerns, and to examine timeless topics such as the abuse of power.

Get a glimpse inside rehearsals of Written on Skin:

George Benjamin's score is colourful, with rich orchestration. He adds instruments including cowbells, mandolins, a bass viol and a glass harmonica to the traditional orchestra. Many of the musical textures are delicate and subtle, and though the opera’s story contains violence, the vocal style is predominantly lyrical. Benjamin wrote each part with the singers performing in this production in mind and the vocal writing reflects this. Listen to the score in full.

Benjamin’s first opera, Into the Little Hill, was also written in collaboration with Martin Crimp, and had its world premiere at the Opéra-Bastille in Paris. Into the Little Hill subsequently toured Europe and beyond, coming to the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre in 2009 and 2010.

Watch George Benjamin talk about composing Written on Skin and preparing the opera for stage:

Katie Mitchell's striking production of Written on Skin moves deftly between the past and the present, as contemporary angels, living in a strange, museum-like environment, watch the Protector, Agnès and the Boy as they re-enter the medieval world to re-enact their tragedy.

Written on Skin had its world premiere at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in July 2012 to rave reviews. It has since toured to Toulouse and Amsterdam, and will travel to Florence for the Maggio Musicale this summer, and to Munich and Vienna.

Written on Skin runs 13 – 30 January 2017. Tickets are still available.

This article has 1 comment

  1. Leslie Rocker responded on 28 June 2013 at 10:13am Reply

    Coincidence: Some 50 years ago I wrote a "semi-epic" poem on the subject of Guillem de Cabestaing and more recently self-published it via AuthorHouse with other of my poetry in "The Devil and Mrs Brown".
    At one stage I considered turning it into an opera and for some time have been working on a related novel. It is particularly coincidental that I did use the device of a "devil" to link the earlier story with modern times.
    Leslie Rocker

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