Two years after his debut opera was enthusiastically received, composer Tim Benjamin is spreading his wings with a tour for his second production, starting this month.
But like Emily, which told the story of Suffragette Emily Davison, the world premiere of Madame X, also boosted by some Arts Council funding, will again be in his home town of Todmorden on Thursday, August 21, using the beautifully restored Edwardian era Hippodrome Theatre on Halifax Road, which is owned by Todmorden Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society.
After that, the production goes on tour with dates at Halifax, London and Manchester.
It will play two dates at Square Chapel, Halifax, on August 22 and 23, before making its London premiere at the Grimeborn Festival of New Opera at the Arcola Theatre from Monday, August 25, to Wednesday, August 27.
Finally, the season closes at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) Opera Theatre with a date on Thursday, September 25.
Tim said the Hippodrome was the perfect venue to premiere his new productions, with Emily doing very well there two years ago, although he did not know how well an opera would go down with the Calder Valley audience beforehand.
“I like doing it there because it is a great theatre, really good to work in with friendly people who run it and know what they are doing.
“I wanted to support my local theatre and I am definitely keen to do more things there.
“It’s a great team,” he said.
The Hippodrome team have worked with Tim on the stage design, which is crucially important for Madame X as the designs also have to be usable at the other venues when it goes on tour.
“The set has to be portable as all the other venues are very different. Whatever works on the Todmorden stage has to work on the other stages too,” he said.
Tim acknowledges that opera is not for everybody, but he aims to make his work accessible, a technique which certainly paid off with the well-receieved Emily.
“It’s not for everybody, but my brand of opera is quite acceptable,” he said.
“It is nice to do a top quality production and bring it to a local audience. ‘Emily’ went down so well.
“Also, people came from quite long distances to see it, though that might not happen this time because it is on elsewhere, in Halifax too, for example.”
Madame X has happened because word of Emily’s quality spread and the festival was keen to book Tim’s next production, having initially wanted his first opera but agreeing with Tim it wouldn’t work on that stage, though that is something he later intends to remedy.
Tim says Madame X explores the darker side of the art world, following the young lovers Masetto and Zerlina as their lives and dreams are manipulated by Masetto’s corrupt agent Botney and the wealthy, powerful collectors.
Masetto and Zerlina, a young immigrant couple, are impoverished, cold, and starving.
Masetto, a brilliant portrait artist, is being ripped off by his unscrupulous agent, and circling art collectors will not take ”no” for an answer.
Shivering in a shabby loft, struggling to make ends meet, and exploited by the wealthy collectors Lady Brannoch and Mr Wilmore, Masetto lives for his art, protected only by his muse and love, Zerlina.
But their plight becomes increasingly perilous, desperate, and deadly, until - at last - revenge...
“The Madame X story is an original one but is similar to a lot of revenge tragedies from the Jacobean era,” said Tim.
“They had a certain formula, Hamlet’s one of those for example.
“I have adapted that for the modern era.
“The story features all the plotting, ghostliness, madness and catastrophe expected from the Jacobean influence.
“It is full of both dark and light, tragedy and comedy, with a strong set of intriguing characters.
“I started it pretty much straight after Emily and in terms of writing it, that took about four or five months.
“I wanted to take longer on the project but with the commission to produce it for the festival, it gave me focus and a deadline. It’s going really well, with the initial rehersals in Manchester, then at Todmorden,” he said.
There is a difference in musical style, which was quite modern for Emily, whereas Madame X is inspired quite a lot by the composer Handel.
Starring Tom Morss as Masetto, Laura Sheerin as Zerlina, Jon Stainsby as agent Botney, Taylor Wilson as aristocrat Lady Brannoch and Marc Callahan as capitalist Mr Wilmore, Rebecca Moon, Sophie Dicks, Edwin Pitt Mansfield and Owain Browne also feature.
As well as Tim fulfilling the roles of composer, librettist and director, there is strong Calder Valley based support from music director Antony Brannick and designer Lara Booth. Jenny Sheldon, James Claxton and Anthony Peter have also provided key support.
Financially, that support from Arts Council England, together with corporate and private sponsors and a grant from the RVW Trust, has helped Tim realise the production as he wants it.
More details, including ticket prices and booking information for each venue, can be found online at http://madame-x.co.uk and http://timbenjamin.com.
At the Todmorden and Halifax dates any unsold seats will also be available on the door, on the night