Lessons in Love and Violence


George Benjamin Lessons in Love and Violence opera to a libretto by Martin Crimp. Directed 2018 by Katie Mitchell (with associate director Joseph Alford) at the Royal Opera House. Stars Stéphane Degout (King), Barbara Hannigan (Isabel), Gyula Orendt (Gaveston/Stranger), Peter Hoare (Mortimer), Samuel Boden (Boy/Young King), Ocean Barrington-Cook (Girl), Jennifer France (Witness 1/Singer 1/Woman 1), Krisztina Szabó (Witness 2/Singer 2/Woman 2), and Andri Björn Róbertsson (Witness 3/Madman). The composer himself conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Co-Concert Master Sergey Levitin). Designs by Vicki Mortimer; lighting by James Farncombe; movement direction by Joseph Alford. Directed for TV by Margaret Williams. Released 2019, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade NA

If you liked Written on Skin, you will probably also admire Lessons in Love and Violence, another grim morality tale brought to you by the same composer/writer/director team and based loosely on medieval history. This time the inspiration comes from the obscure and poorly documented era of the English King Edward II, Queen Isabella of France, Piers Gaveston, and Roger Mortimer (hit the history books). Richard Fairman, writing in the March 2019 Gramophone (page 84), approves of all aspects of the production and the recording. But he winds up with a conclusion that probably fits both this work and Written on Skin: “Here is a opera to chill the blood, but not, I think, one to love.” Joe Cadagin states in the July 2019 Opera News (at pages 56-57) that this is a “hyperrealist” modern take on a “timeless Shakespearean parable of power and corruption” supercharged with “unabashedly exotic expressions of sensuality.” Cadagin also notes that the video by Margaret Williams stresses the cinematic nature of Mitchell’s show to the point that some of the file is played in slow motion, which is probably a first for a fine-arts HDVD. I sometimes tell people that an opera is a play with music about sex, power, and violence. If you think your life might benefit from a lesson about such things, it seems this title should be high on your buy list.

This got a Diapason d’Or award in May 2019.

The scene in the official clip below from the Royal Opera House comes from the legend that Cleopatra wooed Anthony by dissolving a precious pearl for him to drink, but with a nasty twist :