George Benjamin conducts his brand new opera

Lessons in Love and Violence

George Benjamin, De Nationale Opera

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A king is forced to choose between love and the harsh reality of politics. He makes a fatal decision, after which his people and his family gruesomely turn on him. George Benjamin is the composer in focus at this year's festival, reflecting especially on his journey through the world of song and music theatre, building up to this new opera. Lessons in Love and Violence (2018), coproduced with Dutch National Opera, is conducted by the composer himself. Director Katie Mitchell and librettist Martin Crimp are also returning. The casts consists of baritone Stéphane Degout and tenor Peter Hoare as well as top soprano Barbara Hannigan.

background information

After the overwhelming success of Written on Skin in the 2012/13 season at the Dutch National Opera, British composer George Benjamin returns with Lessons in Love and Violence, his long-

awaited third opera. Lessons in Love and Violence, created in collaboration with his regular librettist Martin Crimp, will have its Dutch premiere during the Holland Festival 2018, with the composer himself conducting the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. The high-profile British director, Katie Mitchell, who also directed Written on Skin, will again be in charge of the staging, with designer Vicki Mortimer once more partnering her for this production. Benjamin is also this year’s Composer in Focus. The high-profile British director, who also directed Benjamin’s Written on Skin, will again be in charge of the staging. Designer Vicki Mortimer will once more partner her in this production. 

For Lessons in Love and Violence Benjamin and Crimp have taken inspiration from the swift scene-changes and complex characterization of Elizabethan drama, a specifically British style of Renaissance theatre which attained great fame and influence thanks to the work of dramatists such as Shakespeare and Marlowe. In their new opera the composer and librettist probe the question of whether there is space for human love and affection at the heart of power. 

The story: a king is forced to choose between love and hard-headed political expediency, and makes a fatal choice. He allows his country to slide into civil war, thereby antagonizing his own wife and son and turning them irreconcilably against him. Once the son has also learned the painful lessons of realpolitiek, he commits a terrible act of violence in front of his mother, with the aim of restoring peace.

After her incredibly successful interpretation of Agnès in Benjamin’s second opera Written on Skin, the Dutch-Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan plays a central role in Lessons in Love and Violence. Her most important antagonist is the young French baritone Stéphane Degout, whose performance in the Dutch National Opera’s production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (2016) was widely praised, and who in 2017 also impressed critics with his performance of the title role in Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in the Dutch NTR Saturday Matinee series. British tenor Peter Hoare, who in 2017 played in the Dutch National Opera revival of Rastakov’s A Dog’s Heart, will also be performing.

Lessons in Love and Violence is a co-production of the Holland Festival with the Dutch National Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Hamburg State Opera, the Opéra de Lyon, the Lyric Opera, Chicago, the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona and the Teatro Real, Madrid. 

As this year’s Composer in Focus George Benjamin has a central place in the Holland Festival 2018. The programme includes a Proms concert featuring the range of his symphonic oeuvre, while in June there will be a semi-staged revival of his internationally acclaimed second opera Written on Skin. Benjamin’s chamber opera Into the Little Hill, with a libretto by Crimp, was performed at the 2007 Holland Festival.



The British composer George Benjamin (1960) was sixteen when he went to Paris to study with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire. After further studies with Alexander Goehr at King’s College, Cambridge, he made his debut in 1980 at the BBC Proms

with his orchestral piece Ringed by the Flat Horizon. This composition was followed by A Mind of Winter (1981) and At First Light (1982) works famous for their colourful orchestration and richly beautiful sound-worlds. In the 1990s the composer developed a more refined and formal style which led to Three Inventions for Chamber Orchestra (1995) and Palimpsests (2002). These were followed in 2006 by the chamber opera Into the Little Hill, Benjamin’s first piece for music theatre, performed at the Holland Festival in 2007. This work marked the start of his collaboration with dramatist Martin Crimp with whom he created Written on Skin which was premiered at the 2012 Aix-en-Provence festival. This full scale opera was performed in the same year at the Dutch National Opera in Katie Mitchell’s highly successful production, and since then the work has travelled to about 20 opera houses around the globe. Lessons in Love and Violence (2017) is the third opera Benjamin and Crimp have created together.


Benjamin’s work is performed worldwide, often under his own direction. In his role as conductor he regularly appears with internationally renowned orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the London Sinfonietta, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Ensemble Modern. In 2015 he conducted the world premiere of his own Dream of the Song with the Dutch Royal Concertgebouw, an orchestra with whom he maintains a particularly close relationship. George Benjamin has frequently returned to teach and perform at the Tanglewood Festival since 1999; he lives and works in London where since 2001 he has held the position of Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at King’s College London. In 2015 George Benjamin was made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and he was knighted in 2017; he is Composer in Focus during the 2018 Holland Festival. 

The English playwright Martin Crimp (1956) read English at Cambridge University and started to write stories while he was still a student. He made his professional debut in 1982 with the performance of his play Living Remains in the Orange Tree Theatre, London, where in the 1988-89 season he was also Writer in Residence. His career expanded further when the Royal Court Theatre staged his drama No One Sees The Video (1990). 

Crimp’s more recent work, including Cruel and Tender (2004), Fewer Emergencies (2005), The City (2008), Play House (2012) and The Rest Will Be Familiar to You from Cinema (2013), has ensured his position as one of the most important contemporary British dramatists. His work has been performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, the Almeida Theatre and the Young Vic, amongst others. Crimp’s work has been translated into many languages and is internationally performed. In New York his work has been staged by the Public Theatre, the Classic Stage Company and on Broadway, as well as at the Metropolitan Opera. Other important venues include the Piccolo Teatro, Milan, Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, Paris and the Schaubühne, Berlin. Crimp has won a number of important awards and prizes, including the Radio Times Drama Award (1986), the prestigious John Whiting Award (1993) and the Italian Premio Ubu (2005) for his Fewer Emergencies trilogy

The British director Katie Mitchell studied English at Magdalen College, Oxford and is known for her provocative style. Her work is often perceived as being polarizing and deliberately courts controversy. Her staging of Sarah Kane’s Cleansed for the National Theatre, London caused some members of the audience to leave the auditorium and others to faint at the hyper-realistic scenes of rape and torture. Mitchell’s productions deal with society’s most painful problems: war, abuse, violence and misogyny, always seen through the eyes of women, as well as contemporary environmental issues. In Atmen, her production for the Berlin Schaubühne of Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs, the two actors pedalled bikes on stage throughout to generate the electricity for the performance. In Mitchell’s staging of Beckett’s Happy Days the character Winnie is not embedded in a mound of earth but in slowly rising water.

Mitchell is active in the great European theatres and festivals. She was the first British director to be selected for the prestigious Theatertreffen, the Berlin drama festival, and has directed in many other international venues including the National Theatre, London (Cleansed, Hansel and Gretel, A Woman Killed with Kindness), the Berlin Schaubühne (Lungs, The Yellow Wallpaper and Ophelia’s Room), the Hamburg Schauspielhaus (Reisende auf einem Bein, Happy Days, Everything Else You Know from the Movies) and the Vienna Burgtheater (A Sorrow Beyond Dreams). In 2015 she was ‘Brandstichter’ (fire-raiser) at the Stadsschouwburg, Amsterdam, and returned there in 2016-17 to direct Jean Genet’s The Maids for the urban theatre company Toneelgroep Amsterdam. Mitchell is also an opera director. She has produced several successful shows for the Aix-en-Provence Festival, the English National Opera, the Berlin State Opera and the Salzburg Festival. During the 2011-12 season her productions of Manfred Trohjan’s Orest and George Benjamin’s Written on Skin were in performance at the Dutch National Opera.



music, musical direction
George Benjamin
Martin Crimp
stage director
Katie Mitchell
set and costumes
Vicki Mortimer
James Farncombe
director of movement
Joseph Alford
Radio Filharmonisch Orkest
Stéphane Degout, Barbara Hannigan, Gyula Orendt, Peter Hoare, Andri Björn Róbertsson, Jennifer France, Krisztina Szabo, Samuel Boden
De Nationale Opera
De Nationale Opera, Royal Opera House - Covent Garden (London), Hamburgische Staatsoper, Opera national de Lyon, Lyric Opera, (Chicago), Gran Teatre del Liceu (Barcelona), Teatro Real (Madrid)

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