Thursday, 12 July 2012

George Benjamin Written on Skin - world premiere

George Benjamin's eagerly awaited new opera Written on Skin received its world premiere this week at the Aix Festival. Michael Milenski was there, and writes in Opera Today.

"Not since Monteverdi have music and words combined with more force and clarity. Playwright Martin Crimp distills a thousand years of images and issues into a brief text that composer George Benjamin embodies in one hour and forty minutes of sounds that defy definition. If opera is essentially sex and violence Written on Skin well qualifies. Benjamin’s score magnifies the strange and delicate sexual stirrings that Benjamin Britten musically discovered and carries these urges to powerful and violent climax, rendering Britten’s guilty regret into utter hopelessness. And there is the sonic scope of timeless Messiaen transferred from God’s lofty nature to the creator’s own, base human nature. It is the sonic gamut of human nature." Hyperbolic, but said with a smile.  Read more, and see the photos in Opera Today.

The idea of a protagonist who illuminates medieval manuscripts is slightly unsettling, as Benjamin is himself a meticulous miniaturist.  His Into the Little Hill is a masterpiece (read more about it here), but it's a chamber opera and very compact. I was worried that writing for a large house might push Benjamin too far, but from all accounts, Written on Skin works very well. Andrew Clements in the Guardian likes it too, though he's not keen on the staging. Oh, for John Fulljames who made Into The Little Hill the experience it was!  But Fulljames is busy at the Royal Opera House, which will be bringing Written on Skin to London from 8 March 2013.
photo Robert Millard

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