Written on Skin review – spare staging highlights richness of Benjamin’s opera
West Road Concert Hall
The Melos Sinfonia’s thrilling concert performance of George Benjamin’s intense, horrifying work was often more dramatic than full productions
In the five years since its premiere at the Aix-en-Provence festival, Written on Skin has travelled widely. In Britain alone, there have been two runs of the original Aix production, at Covent Garden, and in a concert performance at the Barbican in London – all with more or less the same cast. But this concert staging put on by the Melos Sinfonia, conducted by Oliver Zeffman and directed by Jack Furness with a outstanding cast of young, up-and-coming singers, offered a wholly different perspective on George Benjamin’s second stage work. Like all of the best operas, it is dramatically and musically rich enough to reveal more and more facets of itself with every new interpretation.
Furness’s staging of this medieval tale was spare – a few chairs, essential props, and casual modern clothes for the protagonists. The style of Martin Crimp’s libretto, in which characters regularly describe their actions in the third person, and often deliver lines as reported speech, can seem arch and contrived in a full staging, but seems much more involving when the dramatic trappings are minimised.