A powerful contemporary opera that takes a little work to fully appreciate.,
This review is from: Benjamin: Written On Skin [Katie Mitchell, Martin Crimp, Christopher Purves, Barbara Hannigan] [DVD]  [NTSC] (DVD)
Written on Skin is the work of British composer George Benjamin with text by Martin Crimp. It takes place in medieval Italy and tells a story of three people: the Protector, his wife Agnes and the Boy and their complicated love triangle. The story is told though a framework of XXI C. angels, one of whom becomes the Boy and experiences the forces of sexual attraction and violence.
The story focuses on the Boy who is commissioned by the Protector to create a book. The Protector’s wife Agnes finds herself attracted to the Boy and it is through that attraction that she is able to liberate herself from her abusive husband who treats her like his property. This Opera is violent and full of passion. Characters sing about themselves in a 3rd person form, which can be a little confusing at the beginning, but with a little adjusting ceases to be a problem.
The set design is very impressive as it is divided into two parts – a minimalist modern scene and another that represents medieval Italy. Most of the action takes place in the medieval part and characters there are expressive the full of passion. This clashes with the modern part that is calm and clean and has some sort of clinical feel to it. It is a shame that there are so few shots featuring the whole of the stage, as the contrast is a little lost in the DVD version.
The lightening in the production is remarkable and watching the DVD feels more like watching a film rather than a recording of the onstage piece. Another benefit to watching Written On Skin at home is that you can look at the singers great performance up close including their movements and facial expression – something I was not able to do in the theatre.
The DVD includes a leaflet with a synopsis of the Opera as well as an introduction to Benjamin’s work. (Available in French and German) The DVD has English, French, German and Japanese subtitles making it accessible to the international audience. The extra features include cast gallery, interview with George Benjamin and an introduction to ‘Written on Skin’.
I think this work can be challenging for those who are not too familiar with Opera. I certainly would not recommend this performance to someone new to the world of Opera. However the DVD’s extras offer a great inside to the work of Benjamin. Although the storyline was a little confusing at first I have gained a much better understanding of the work being able to see it twice.