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Benjamin: Written On Skin [Katie Mitchell, Martin Crimp, Christopher Purves, Barbara Hannigan] [DVD] [2013] [NTSC]

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Actors: Katie Mitchell, Martin Crimp, Christopher Purves, Barbara Hannigan, Bejun Mehta
  • Format: Classical, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, French, German, Japanese
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: Exempt
  • Studio: Opus Arte
  • DVD Release Date: 6 Jan. 2014
  • Run Time: 89 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00GJ6KA9K
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 20,999 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)
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Product description

Product Description

With a score by George Benjamin and text by Martin Crimp, Written on Skin has been hailed as ‘magic and irresistible … the best opera written over the last twenty years’ (Le Monde). A cruel and powerful Protector (Christopher Purves) asks a mysterious Boy (Bejun Mehta) to create an illuminated book in honour of his wealth and family. He invites the Boy into his home, little realizing that this will lead to a journey of startling, joyful and ultimately tragic self-discovery for the Protector's oppressed and much younger wife Agnès (Barbara Hannigan). Acclaimed director Katie Mitchell brings this
dark and intense story to life in an inventive production that skilfully combines elements
of the past and present, with Benjamin himself conducting. Filmed in High Definition 25p and recorded in true Surround Sound.

Press Reviews

"Magic and irresistible ... It is the best opera written over the last twenty years." (Le Monde)
"Written on Skin is close to being a masterpiece." (Le Figaro)
"Would the opera work so well without a Protector as adept at portraying cruel, complex characters as baritone Christopher Purves, or a soprano combining fierce presence with such pure tone as Barbara Hannigan, or a countertenor Boy sounding as beguiling and other-worldly as Bejun Mehta? Perhaps not quite. But it would still be a musical masterpiece." (The Guardian)
"This is music of genius. It also draws superb performances from a flawless cast: Christopher Purves (the castellan), Barbara Hannigan (his wife), Bejun Mehta (the artist), and Allan Clayton and Victoria Simmonds as the choric angels, who seem to instigate as well as observe the action.

Benjamin's conducting of his own music was literally authoritative, and the orchestral playing was ravishing. After a long run of mediocrity at the Royal Opera, what joy to encounter something as enthralling and enchanting as this.
(The Daily Telegraph)
Gramophone Award {2014} (Contemporary)

International Opera Award (UK) {2013} – World premiere

Opernwelt – Premiere of the Year {2013} – Best new work

Grand Prix Du Syndicat de la critique {2013} – Opera

Opéra Magazine – La Diamant d’opera {2013} – Opera

BASCA Award {2013} – Stage Category

New York Times –‘Favorite Classical record of the Year’ 2013

South Bank Sky Arts Award {2014} – Opera

Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik {2014} - DVD

Choc de Classica {2014} - DVD

Royal Philharmonic Society’s Large-Scale Composition {2014} – Opera

BEJUN MEHTA (Angel 1/ The Boy)
ALLAN CLAYTON (Angel 3/ John)
Orchestra & Chorus of the Royal Opera House; George Benjamin

Stage Director: Katie Mitchell
Television Director: Margaret Williams
Catalogue Number: OA1125D
Date of Performance: 2013
Running Time: 89 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic
Subtitles: EN, FR, DE, JP
Label: Opus Arte


George Benjamin's first opera, Written on Skin, had been eagerly anticipated. A co-production between The Royal Opera, Festival d'Aix en Provence and others, by the time it arrived at the Royal Opera House in early 2013, expectations were sky high. And it didn't disappoint some called it a masterpiece, but the less hyperbolic critics agreed it was one of the best contemporary operas this century. Katie Mitchell's staging divided opinions - was it too cluttered? - but the music was exquisite, and after Anna Nicole, the Royal Opera needed an opera with musical credibility. Playwright Martin Crimp had taken a medieval French folk tale and framed it with a 21st-century story acted out by angels. Benjamin provided a score with the delicate beauty and bright colour of the medieval illuminations that run throughout the plot. The Opus Arte DVD captures the production beautifully too close-ups intensifying the erotic tension between the 'eternal triangle' of the Protector (Christopher Purves), his young wife Agnès (Barbara Hannigan) and the Boy (Bejun Mehta). It s an ideal cast: Hannigan's silvery, versatile high soprano, Purves's virile baritone and Mehta's sweet but substantial countertenor each have their counterpart in the tapestry of Benjamin's orchestra which includes a glass harmonica, a bass viol, and cowbells. After 90 minutes of building tension, the ending is violent and unexpected. The whole experience is cathartic and uplifting. You ll want to watch it again as soon as it s over. --Sinfini Music, 24/2/14

This is an outstanding release in every way. There's not a note out of place in Benjamin's luminous score. Make no mistake: this a true masterpiece. Performance ***** Picture & Sound ***** Extras **** DVD OF THE MONTH --BBC Music Magazine, Apr'14

The cast is excellent, especially Barbara Hannigan as the wife, combining vocal trapeze-work with a thoroughly modern dramatic intensity, and Christopher Purves in the Golaud like role of the husband, forever searching for, and denying to himself, the truth. A new opera that will surely repay repeated viewings. --Gramophone, Apr'14

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

By Keris Nine TOP 500 REVIEWER on 4 Jan. 2014
Format: Blu-ray
It's hard to judge and define what makes a work of modern opera great when you don't have history and the legacy of the composer to look back on. In the age of DVD and Blu-ray you can judge for yourself now whether a work has merit by how much it draws you back to view it again. On that basis, standing up to repeated viewings that reveal new elements, George Benjamin's Written on Skin is undoubtedly one of the best new opera works of recent years, a work that creates a compelling musical and narrative language of its own that creates a world that resembles little else out there.

The question of events retaining or gaining significance with time is, not by chance, a large part of what Written on Skin is all about. Based on a 13th century work by the troubadour Guillem de Cabestaing (Le Coeur mangé), Written on Skin intentionally and very specifically filters a very old story through new eyes and with a modern sensibility. The medieval story involves a wealthy landowner, the Protector, who wishes to have his achievements and his pre-eminent place in the world to be immortalised by hiring an artisan to create an illuminated manuscript. His wife however wishes also to have her place in this world redefined and encourages the Boy to make the woman real. Starting to think for herself and act of her own accord undermines the Protector's position, so that when he discovers that his wife has cheated on him, he kills the Boy and serves his heart up to her to eat.

Crimp and Benjamin however use a framing device of 21st century angels in an adjoining "workshop" recreating and taking part in the drama. It's a very post-modern device in how it alerts us to the fact that the drama is an artificial construct.
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Although this 'opera' by George Bejamin is well produced, directed, acted and staged to the highest, five star, quality, it will not appeal to everyone and it didn't to me. Since I enjoy opera for the music and singing, I wasn't best pleased at having to sit through 90 minutes of actors sing-shouting at each other on one note without the slightest differentiation. Why didn't I just switch it off? Because I wouldn't have been able to write this review if I had.

Although I think I can see what the composer is 'getting at' in this obviously thoughtfully engendered and carefully considered work, which has real meaning for the understanding of the complex interactions involved in human relationships, it isn't the kind of performance I would watch for the sheer enjoyment of it and I think many other people will be like me in this respect. However, since it reveals a deep appreciation of the workings of the human psyche, it's thought provoking and worth enduring' for that reason alone. I would also say that it needs to be watched at least twice to truly appreciate it, although this advice comes with a 'health warning' as many may find this tedious.

It deserves five stars for the high qualities of its composition, production and acting even though some may find it depressing to .watch. However, viewers will notice that the audience on the recording, if their enthusiastic clapping is anything to go by, seem to have appreciated it very much.
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Format: Blu-ray Verified Purchase
I saw this twice at the opera house, Covent Garden during its first run and was immediately taken with it as a great work with several layers of meaning. The Blu-Ray displays the production better by focusing in on the singers facial expressions when necessary. The singing and acting skills are excellent and the production is effective in switching between two sets one mediaeval, the other present day. Particular mention should be made about Barbara Hannigan (as Agnes), Christopher Purves (as The Protector) and Bejun Mehta (as The Boy and First Angel.) This is a disc that deserves repeated playings to discover each time more from this production that I cannot fault.I recommend this Blu-Ray to all lovers of opera and hope that this production gets performances at opera houses worldwide..
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Format: Blu-ray
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.
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