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'Lessons in Love and Violence' arrives at the Liceu conducted by Josep Pons

  • The Gran Teatre del Liceu is hosting the Spanish premiere of the contemporary opera Lessons in Love and Violence, with music by George Benjamin and libretto by Martin Crimp. Katie Mitchell’s staging places a play based on medieval backgrounds in a current day setting that explains the relationship between King Edward II and his lover Piers Gaveston.
  • The play premiered in 2018 in London and is co-produced by the Liceu with the Royal Opera House, the Teatro Real in Madrid, the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam, the Staatsoper in Hamburg, the Opera de Lyon and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
  • Maestro Josep Pons conducts an extraordinary score and is accompanied by the Symphony Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu. To ensure minimum safety distances between the musicians, the pit has been extended to the first four rows of the auditorium.
  • An unbeatable cast will bring to life an opera full of vocal tension: Stéphane Degout as king, Georgia Jarman playing Isabel, Daniel Okulitch as Gaveston and Peter Hoare playing Mortimer. Most of the vocal cast of the play will be performing for the first time at the Liceu.
  • Following the success of Written on Skin by the same composer and librettist, a work that was presented at the Teatre in 2016, the Liceu’s audiences are now highly anticipating this event.
  • With the exclusive sponsorship of Fundación BBVA

Barcelona, 16 February 2021. The public of the Gran Teatre del Liceu will be able to enjoy the Spanish premiere from 26 February to 11 March of the opera Lessons in Love and Violence by the composer George Benjamin, one of the great figures of British contemporary music, and the text by Martin Crimp, inspired by the literary work Edward II by Christopher Marlowe. Katie Mitchell’s staging exposes how the ruler devoted himself to enjoying himself and abandoned his responsibilities, a type of behaviour that continues to be prevalent in these times of disaffection with politics.

This new co-production of the Liceu with the Royal Opera House, the Teatro Real de Madrid, the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam, the Staatsoper in Hamburg, the Opera de Lyon and the Lyric Opera of Chicago will arrive on the Theatre’s stage after premiering in London in 2018 and after having been successfully performed in various theatres across Europe. After the performances at the Liceu, Lessons in Love and Violence will journey to the Teatro Real de Madrid.

George Benjamin’s internationally known music was introduced to Spain in the nineties thanks to the director, Josep Pons, who at the time was the head of the now defunct Teatre Lliure Chamber Orchestra. After earlier collaborations on several projects, they are now reunited to bring to the Liceu’s stage an extraordinary score full of effects and colours that will be conducted by Maestro Josep Pons conducting the Gran Teatre del Liceu Symphony Orchestra. Because the work requires great orchestral richness, the pit is being extended out into the first four rows of the auditorium. This will ensure the minimum safety distances between the musicians. Ensuring safety on and below the stage is a way to meet the requirements that safe cultural events require.

Following the success at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in 2016 of the work Written on Skin, by the same composer and librettist, the premiere of Lessons in Love and Violence is one of the season’s mostly highly anticipated events. In the words of Josep Pons, the work, “Shows the way forward for 21st century opera. It dovetails with the great titles of the past and, based on a great text, is open to new aesthetic proposals, just as Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, Debussy and Britten once did.”

A work like Lessons in Love and Violence calls for exceptional singers, as Benjamin’s vocal music demands a well-crafted dramatic dimension and firm breath control. Several of the same voices that will take part in the Liceu took part in the London premiere in 2018 and are now debuting at the Gran Teatre: baritone Stéphane Degout will once again take on the role of the king - while countertenor Samuel Boden will again play the son-, and tenor Peter Hoare will return to the role of Mortimer. The cast will also include the role (the most demanding one) of Isabel, who this time will be played by soprano Georgia Jarman, while Daniel Okulitch the Canadian bass will play Gaveston, the king’s lover. The vocal cast is completed by Isabella Gaudí, Gemma Coma-Alabert and Toni Marsol, the only three singers in the cast who have already performed at the Teatre. Actress Ocean Barrington-Cook, who already played the monarch’s daughter in Covent Garden, will reprise that role here, which despite being silent is of crucial importance - as you’ll see - at the end of the story.

This contemporary work is inspired by a true story from fourteenth-century England: Edward II Plantagenet (1308-1327), who had just been crowned king, became involved with the plebeian schemer Piers Gaveston - some theories suggest that they were lovers, and his favouritism in attributing to him an important share of power helped to destabilize the kingdom, and turned the military aristocracy against him. In the end, the nobles conspired to banish Gaveston from the kingdom and forced the king to abdicate in favour of his son, the future Edward III, who during the process of humiliating and overthrowing his father learned several valuable lessons about love and violence.

George Benjamin’s opera, and Martin Crimp’s libretto is a new revision of the same drama, ignoring historical references and focusing on the characters’ deeper psychological traits. In addition to offering a high-quality contemporary text, Lessons in Love and Violence is a moral warning about the dark underside of ambition for power, and how this obsession leads men to madness, disloyalty, and loneliness. Katie Mitchell offers contemporary staging accompanied by resources that are sure to have an impact on the audience. She also uses slow motion, a technique that powerfully emphasizes the drama.

The opera is divided into seven scenes and the music progresses smoothly and uninterruptedly, while the orchestra is tinged with a contrast of sounds on behalf of the story’s impetuousness and cruelty. But there are also moments for reflection, beauty and calm, which Benjamin reserves, especially for the transitions between scenes and in which he exhibits his talent as a craftsman of instrumental miniatures. The score is filled with great musical moments such as the one Gaveston plays in the first scene of the first act when he confesses his attraction to the king. Its warm vocal style is highly reminiscent of the English religious vocal tradition. In the third scene of the first part, a lyrical dialogue takes place between the king and the lover that ends with a highly intense expressionist crescendo. But one of the work’s musical climaxes takes place in the final dialogue between Isabel and her son, in Benjamin’s exploration of the highest vocal range, for both soprano and countertenor. A play of contrasts between demanding treble and orchestral bursts that are reminiscent of the visceral moments of masterpieces, such as Lulu by Alban Berg.

With the exclusive sponsorship of