Iain Bell: An Introduction to the Operas

Iain Bell: An Introduction to the Operas
The Harlot's Progress at Theater an der Wien in 2013. © Werner Kmetitsch

Iain Bell is best known for his vocal music (opera and song) with characterisation at the heart of his music. Take a look through his five operas composed over the last nine years.

A Harlot’s Progress (2011) 2hr 10' – an opera in four acts

Libretto Peter Ackroyd
Commissioner Theater an der Wien
Orchestration 2+pic.2.2.2+cbn/2222/timp.2perc/hp/str

Faithfully adhering to Hogarth’s six 1732 etchings of the same name, this opera in six scenes tells the story of the precipitous downfall of Moll Hackabout. The title role was created by renowned coloratura soprano Diana Damrau in a tour-de-force role that calls upon the full vocal and dramatic resources of this astonishingly gifted performer portraying Moll’s journey from naïve to courtesan to syphilitic Drury Lane prostitute. Moll Hackabout, the titular Harlot, arrives as an innocent in London and is taken into the ‘care’ of Mother Needham. A loathsome and sly character, Needham beguiles Moll with tales of rich gentlemen and a luxurious lifestyle. Moll falls for highwayman James Dalton whilst working as mistress to the lascivious Mr Lovelace and whore for Needham. The duality of her existence leads to heartbreak and ruin when she contracts syphilis, is imprisoned in Bridewell House of Correction, descends into madness and loses everything she ever loved apart from her daughter, then dies alone. It was never going to end well. Her final moments are captured through a formidable fifteen minute aria, Moll’s a’Cold; a remarkable technical and physical undertaking for the singer.

A Christmas Carol (2013)
2hr 10' – a chamber opera in five staves for solo tenor

Libretto Simon Callow
Commissioner Houston Grand Opera
Orchestration Solo tenor; 1(pic).1(ca).1(bcl).1+cbn/0110/2perc/str(11211)

In Parenthesis (2016) 1hr 50'

Libretto E. Jenkins and D. Antrobus, after David Jones
Commissioner Nicholas John Trust With 14-18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Art Commissions, supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Premiered by Welsh National Opera
Orchestration 2(afl)+pic.2(ca).2(bcl).2+cbn/2221/timp.2perc/hp/str

The action homes in on John Ball, a young Private in the Royal Welch Fusiliers; a clumsy, hapless soldier also possessed of moments of hallucinatory vision in which Celtic and mythical imagery consumes him. As his platoon marches toward the front line, his visions intensify until they take over the entire action of the opera at Mametz Wood, where he sees the Queen of the Woods and her Dryads bring death and destruction in their wake. By the end he is the sole survivor, Mametz is destroyed. In the spirit of the eternal cycle of destruction and regeneration, by dawn Ball sees the woodland beautifully regenerate and the fallen are garlanded with flowers by the Dryads.

Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechape (2019) 2hr 15'

Libretto Emma Jenkins
Commissioner English National Opera and Opera North
Orchestration 2+pic.2(ca).2(bcl).2+cbn/2221/timp.perc+cimb/hp/str

Mary and her grandmother Maud run a doss house in Whitechapel in London’s East End, where the poor gather for rest. Mary and doss house regulars Annie (wished-for mother to Mary), Catherine and Liz (who have been earning substantial money posing for a photographer) befriend Polly, recently thrown out by her husband. Following the murder and autopsy identification of one of their own, the women seek solace and distraction in the local pub. At closing, Polly wanders off into the street by herself looking for a customer. She is consumed by the darkness of the street, prey to an unknown killer. With a faceless, depraved murderer on the loose and an apathetic, corrupt police force indifferent to the women’s’ plight, hysteria, fear and speculation grip the streets of the East End. Our band of working friends start to suspect every man they meet as they struggle to survive in this forgotten corner of industrial London.

Stonewall (2019) 1hr 30'

Libretto Mark Campbell
Commissioner New York City Opera
Orchestration 1+pic.1+ca.2(bcl).1/2.2.1+btbn.0/timp.perc/str(86442)

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Iain Bell and Mark Campbell bring STONEWALL to the City Opera stage in this moving and explosive new American opera that captures the rage, grit, humor and, finally, hope of the LGBTQ community’s uprising in a Greenwich Village dance club on one hot night in June 1969. The work follows a diverse group of characters whose lives collide at that pivotal moment in history when the police push them too far and they find the courage to fight back.

Read Iain Bell's opera catalogue below.

(March 2020)