World premiere of George Benjamin’s Lessons in Love and Violence


Lessons in Love and Violence is the latest collaboration between composer George Benjamin and playwright Martin Crimp. Their previous work includes the large-scale opera Written on Skin – which has since become the most performed new opera of the 21st century.
The world premiere of Lessons in Love and Violence opened at London’s Royal Opera House on May 10th. The production brings together soprano Barbara Hannigan as Queen Isabel, stage director Katie Mitchell, and designer Vicki Mortimer, reprising the creative team of their wildly successful 2012 Written on Skin that was hailed as “truly a 21st-century masterpiece” (The Times).

Reviews from the Royal Opera House performances

The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini, 11 May 2018

“A Long-Awaited New Opera Is a Raucous Beauty”
“In the queen, Mr. Benjamin has created another remarkable role for Ms. Hannigan’s immense vocal gifts and comprehensive musicianship. He writes lines that shift from earthy emotionalism to angelic purity, knowing that this artist can handle those pivots. He takes advantage of her focused intonation and rhythmic precision to lend even anguished passages structural strength.”

The Guardian, Andrew Clements, 11 May 2018
(4 out of 5 stars)

“…soaring horn lines, long, self-renewing melodic strands, pungent punctuations from cimbalom and wooden percussion. That is matched in some of Benjamin’s vocal writing, especially Isabel’s spiralling melismas, tailor-made for Barbara Hannigan’s extraordinary agility”

Seen and Heard International, 16 May 2018

“a towering masterpiece, its intellectual brilliance and sensual wonders matched, at the very least, by its emotionally overwhelming dramatic path”
“So too, and increasingly so, as her role came into focus, was Barbara Hannigan, as his consort. That she played so well in the initial background speaks just as well of her as the display of that extraordinary ability we all know and love – think, for instance, of her Ligeti – to encompass so many modes of vocal delivery within a single line that remains spun from the same silk.”

Classical Source, Guy Holloway, May 2018
(5 out of 5 stars)

“We enter a soundworld that is endlessly fascinating, utterly beguiling in orchestration, harmony and rhythm. This is music that appeals to the senses; yet it is intellectually intricate too.”
“Barbara Hannigan is thoroughly at home; and she is so damned watchable as an actress, let alone a singer. She reveals a wife, a queen, a mother, and a lover; add to which an attention to detail in matters other than musical. Given her thrilling and effortlessly agile, soaring voice, she is nevertheless careful not to unbalance the broader dramatic and musical design of the whole.”

Bachtrack, David Karlin, 11 May 2018
(4 out of 5 stars)

“To the role of Queen Isabel, Hannigan brings her trademark ability to negotiate a difficult musical phrase with perfect timbre. It’s another tricky role because ultimately, Isabel is ineffectual: her real goal – regaining her husband’s love – is unachievable, so all we can see is the flailings of a woman who grows increasingly desolate.”

The Telegraph, Rupert Christiansen, 11 May 2018
(4 out of 5 stars)

“Lessons in Love and Violence intrigues and compels. Charged with music of exquisite beauty and a potent narrative, it is immaculately staged and performed. The artistry involved is consummate.”
“As Isabel, the phenomenal Barbara Hannigan does what she always does, but does it brilliantly.”

The Stage, George Hall, 11 May 2018

“operatic mastery”
“Edward’s wife Isabel (sung with immaculate focus by Barbara Hannigan)”

Following the Royal Opera House shows, Lessons in Love and Violence travels to Amsterdam, with six performances at the Dutch National Opera from June 25 – July 5, 2018.

photo credit: ROH/Stephen Cummiskey