Following the international success of their opera Into the Little Hill, composer George Benjamin and writer Martin Crimp have turned for their newest work to a medieval tale of jealousy and violence. Written on Skin is situated in 13th-century France, while frequent leaps in time offer a 21st-century perspective as well. A wealthy landowner invites an artist to his castle to produce a magnificently-ornamented book. The illustrations are meant to reflect both his merciless exercise of power and the serene harmony of his domestic life, embodied by the childlike servility of his wife. The making of the book, however, has a catalyzing effect on the household: the wife rebels against her subservient position, and having succeeded in seducing the artist, she uses their intimacy to leave her own mark on the book, so that her husband eventually comes to see her as she truly is. Written on Skin explores the disruptive effects of a process of self-awakening and the boundaries of control that individuals can exert on one another.

Benjamin's music seems to combine a total awareness of tradition with a determination to shape its legacy entirely to his own musical ends.

Andrew Clements

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