Stéphane Degout / Barbara Hannigan / George Benjamin / Samuel Boden

George Benjamin: Lessons in Love and Violence

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Composer George Benjamin says that he wouldn't have written operas without the inspiration of librettist Martin Crimp, and here it's easy to understand why. Crimp has a real knack for writing listener-friendly lines whose ideas are easily grasped, and although the Chandos booklet does not include a libretto, it doesn't seem likely that you'll need one. More than that, he seems to get what opera is about in a way that so many contemporary librettists don't. Across the stage, in compact fashion, flow passionate love, marital discord, court intrigue: all great operatic themes. Crimp's libretto for Lessons in Love and Violence is based on the life of English King Edward II, although he is referred to only as "The King." He actually follows a play by Shakespeare's contemporary Christopher Marlowe, which joins the story of Edward's relationship with the nobleman Piers Gavestan to its dire aftermath. The Edward-Gaveston link is presented as a gay love affair, an idea that goes back to medieval times (accepted by Marlowe), but that is far from a done deal historically. However, it does allow for some exciting duo writing; executed at peak fever pitch by baritone Stéphane Degout (singing in clear, unaccented English) as the king and Gyula Orendt. The complex figure of Queen Isabella, here simply Isabel, is sung by soprano Barbara Hannigan; there couldn't have been a more psychologically penetrating choice. Sample the climax of the first part, where action unrolls at a party at the King's house and Gaveston is arrested. This is operatic high drama. Like other operas in both Europe and the U.S. these days, this one was the result of a joint commission by six opera companies. The opera had its premiere in Britain, but this recording was taken from a performance in Amsterdam and the live-performance sound is impressive. Recommended not only for recorded listening, but to see in the flesh if the opera comes to your town.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Lessons in Love and Violence
1 05:21
2 04:41
3 03:00
4 02:51
5 02:29
6 04:29
7 03:09
8 03:23
9 05:00
10 05:57
11 02:54
12 03:37
13 03:03
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