Lessons in Love and Violence

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Lessons in Love and Violence is an opera with music by George Benjamin and libretto by Martin Crimp. The opera, which is based on the story of King Edward II and Piers Gaveston, was premiered at the Royal Opera House London on 10 May 2018, conducted by the composer and directed by Katie Mitchell. The opera was a co-production with Dutch National Opera, Hamburg State Opera, Opéra de Lyon, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, and Teatro Real, Madrid.[1]

The opera covers the events set out in Christopher Marlowe's play Edward II, which combines the story of Edward and Gaveston (who was murdered in 1312), with the deposition of Edward II by Mortimer (1327) and the overthrow of Mortimer and Edward's queen Isabella of France by Edward III (1330).[2]

The opera is in two parts, of four and three scenes respectively, and is performed without a break.[3] King Edward is not referred to by name, only as 'the King'. Similarly his wife Queen Isabella is referred to simply as Isabel, and his son, later Edward III, is listed as 'Boy, later Young King'. Both Gaveston and Edward's nemesis Mortimer are named.


Picture of Edward II being crowned
Edward II shown receiving the English crown in a contemporary illustration
Role Voice type Premiere cast,
10 May 2018[1]
(Conductor: George Benjamin)
King baritone Stéphane Degout
Isabel soprano Barbara Hannigan
Gaveston / Stranger baritone Gyula Orendt
Mortimer tenor Peter Hoare
Boy / Young King tenor Samuel Boden
Girl silent Ocean Barrington-Cook
Witness 1 / Singer 1 / Woman 1 soprano Jennifer France
Witness 2 / Singer 2 / Woman 2 mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó
Witness 3 / Madman bass-baritone Andri Björn Róbertsson


Part One[edit]

Scene 1. Mortimer criticizes the King's obsession with his lover, Gaveston, at a time when his people are suffering from war and starvation. The King strips Mortimer of his wealth and lands.

Scene 2. Mortimer impresses on Isabel the King's dereliction of his duties by confronting her with representatives of the suffering people. She agrees to support Mortimer's campaign against Gaveston.

Scene 3. Gaveston is arrested during an entertainment at the King's residence.

Scene 4. The King rejects Isabel when he hears of Gaveston's death.

Part Two[edit]

Scene 1. Isabel is now living with Mortimer. They instruct the King's son to assert his royalty by presenting him with a madman who believes that he himself is the true King.

Scene 2. The King is in prison. Mortimer persuades him to abdicate. Death, in the guise of Gaveston, claims the King.

Scene 3. The King's son, having succeeded to the throne, rejects Isabel and arranges the death of Mortimer.

Critical reception[edit]

The opera received a positive reception in the British press, with some reservations. The review in The Guardian commented: "[D]espite the care that has so clearly gone into every aspect of the production, it often seems to be the orchestral music that is really in charge of the drama, as if the usual priorities of opera have been reversed. In the end the terrible story becomes the excuse for some striking music rather than being driven along by it."[4] The critic in the Daily Telegraph commented that he "left Covent Garden impressed rather than excited or moved. For all the refinements, Benjamin and Crimp haven’t moved on from Written on Skin [their previous opera] so much as shuffled the cards to play the same game."[5] The Stage however praised the opera: "George Benjamin’s new work on the subject of Edward II once again shows his operatic mastery."[6]


  1. ^ a b "Lessons in Love and Violence", ROH website, accessed 15 May 2018.
  2. ^ Richard Rowland, "Re-imagining Edward II", Royal Opera House Programme, "Lessons in Love and Violence" (2018), p. 40.
  3. ^ Royal Opera House Programme, "Lessons in Love and Violence" (2018), p.7.
  4. ^ Andrew Clements, "Lessons in Love and Violence review – soaring tale of a brutal royal downfall", 11 May 2018, Guardian website, accessed 16 May 2018.
  5. ^ Rupert Christiansen,"Lessons in Love and Violence review, Royal Opera: a potent and beautiful account of Edward II's downfall", 11 May 2018, Daily Telegraph website, accessed 16 May 2018.
  6. ^ George Hall,"Lessons in Love and Violence review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘operatic mastery’", 11 May 2018, The Stage website, accessed 16 May 2018.