Opera: Written on Skin


After seeing Written on Skin, I have some idea what it must have been like to have been at the premiere of Peter Grimes. Just as Britten’s opera was immediately obvious as a masterpiece — and not just of British opera —so, too, George Benjamin’s work is a league above any other new opera I have seen.

From its first note to its last, through 90 riveting minutes, Written on Skin shows that reports of opera’s demise are nonsense. In the right hands, it can still be the most gripping of all performance media.

Benjamin’s score is at once exquisite, threatening, melodic and translucent. Better still, the match of music and libretto (by the playwright Martin Crimp) is not merely seamless but organic. And, as a theatrical performance, it is difficult to imagine anything more compelling.

The story is simple. A medieval landowner hires an illustrator to celebrate his life in a book. The landowner’s wife seduces the artist. The cuckold kills him and forces the wife to eat her lover’s heart. But that simplicity masks a wonderfully rich opera.

There are three performances left. Drop everything. Go. (

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