Review: Written on Skin / Oliver Zeffman / Melos Sinfonia

Oliver Zeffman and Jack Furness’ production of George Benjamin’s three part opera Written on Skin is a bit of a treat.

The considerable forces of the Melos Sinfonia combined with a supple vocal ensemble made light work of Benjamin’s efficient but uncompromising opera. A compelling watch.

Ross Ramgobin’s Protector was a proud man, strutting, posturing and posing, full of his own self-importance – a man deliciously destined for a fall.

His wife – Agnes – was a taut, tense, and dangerous creation – an effortless triumph for soprano Lauren Fagan’s, whose laser-like precision was remarkable.

Patrick Terry delivered sensuous melodic lines with an exquisitely alluring voice – a man who, quite frankly, could sing the contents of a pizza menu and I’d still listen with rapt attention. I wasn’t entirely sure about the tight grey shorts and ankle-length lace-up boots (a minor point).

Nick Pritchard and Bethan Langford switched between Chorus of Angels and Marie/John effortlessly. (Good to see Bethan will be attending next year’s Verbier Festival Academy.)

Conductor Zeffman has been heralded in the mainstream press and is already benefiting from valuable relationships in the classical music world. His baton technique is precise, and his confidence on the platform captivating. The clean beat and confident cues are alluring for those of us who derive joy from order, but I’d like to see himself out of his comfort zone and allow some of his own personality spill out just a little bit.

There were moments when the orchestra could have been a little tighter – some fast passages in the strings were in need of a tighter sense of ensemble – and there were a few occasions when the fortissimos felt a little too intense. The brass was blistering; the sequence with the glass harmonica spellbinding.

But these are piffling points made in a desperate attempt to demonstrate a sense of objectivity.

Benjamin’s opera is brilliant, the music utterly absorbing, and the ensemble work in Zeffman and Furness’ resourceful production electrifying.

Performances to follow on Friday 20 October at LSO St Luke’s, London, and at Mariinsky Concert Hall in St Petersburg on Sunday 22 October.



Oliver Zeffman to conduct Written on Skin in St Petersburg, Cambridge, and London in October

Seven years ago conductor Oliver Zeffman set up the Melos Sinfonia, whose concerts he conducted received glowing reviews.

Zeffman signed up to prestigious agency HarrisonParrott in February of this year.

In 2017, the now 23 year old conductor is mounting a concert performance of George Benjamin’s Written On Skin.

Appearing in the concert performances are are Lauren Fagan, Ross Ramgobin, Patrick Terry, Bethan Langford, and Nick Pritchard whose lead in the RCM International Opera School’s Albert Herring was ‘adorable‘.

This is a billing which makes me bristle. Zeffman is an incredibly exciting prospect whose spirit reinvigorates the sector just by virtue of his drive and determination.

When I think back to what I was conducting when I was 22 years old I shudder a bit.

Take a listen to this live performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod given by the Melos Sinfonia three years ago when Zeffman was 19.

Performances of Written on Skin are on Thursday 19 October, 8pm at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, Friday 20 October, 8.30pm at LSO St Luke’s, London, and 22 October, 8pm at Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg. Tickets available via the Melos Sinfonia website