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US Concert Premiere of Sir George Benjamin's Lessons in Love and Violence at Tanglewood

Aug. 08, 2022

Sir George Benjamin’s critically acclaimed opera Lessons in Love and Violence received its US concert premiere at the Tanglewood Music Festival on August 8. George Benjamin conducted the concert performance at Seiji Ozawa Hall, with a cast drawn from past and present Tanglewood Music Center Vocal Fellows, as part of the 2022 Festival of Contemporary Music.

Martin Crimp’s text for the 90-minute work is a potent brew of politics, sexuality, and human frailty. Across two unbroken parts the opera tells the story of Edward II’s relationship with his advisor Gaveston, and the deadly machinations of Edward’s wife Isabel and military advisor Mortimer. Benjamin’s score was described in the Financial Times as “brilliantly clear and full of half-suggested meanings.” Following the performance of the work at Tanglewood, The Boston Globe called it, "a study in sonic storytelling" while The New York Times raved, "Like [George Benjamin's opera Written on SkinLessons has a dense, historically contrived libretto, offering a callous plot that hacks away at any sentimentality you might have left about power or love. There is music that seethes and soothes — its every last, creepy twang of a cimbalom or bludgeon of brass conceived and executed with flawless clarity of gesture and precision of timbre. Yet somehow this jewel-studded, velvet-wrapped mace of a score never once feels deliberately methodical or sounds anything but fully alive. Its imposing rigor scalds in the heat of the murderous moment. Listen to it, and you might ask yourself which of these two unsparing operas is supposed to be Benjamin’s masterpiece. For if “Skin” disappeared, “Lessons” would be sufficient to anoint its composer all on its own."

Since its premiere at the Royal Opera House in 2018, Katie Mitchell’s production has been performed by the Dutch National Opera, the Hamburg Staatsoper, the Opéra National de Lyon, and the Liceu Opera Barcelona. Planned performances at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Teatro Real Madrid were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

In May 2023 a new production by Evgeny Titov will open at the Opernhaus Zürich, conducted by Ilan Volkov. Designs, costumes, and lighting will be from Rufus Didwiszys, Falk Bauer, and Martin Gebhardt respectively. The King will be sung by baritone Lauri Vasar, Isabel by soprano Jeanine de Bique, Mortimer by tenor Mark Milhofer, and the Boy/Young King by Sunnyboy Dlada.

(An excerpt from George Benjamin's Lessons in Love and Violence performed by Barbara Hannigan
at the Royal Opera House)

Additionally, George Benjamin conducts Into the Little Hill, his chamber opera with librettist Martin Crimp on August 12 in concert at the Marlboro Music Festival. The singers include soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano.

To learn more about George Benjamin, please visit

George Benjamin
Lessons in Love and Violence (2017)
opera in two parts
text by Martin Crimp