Madame X by Tim Benjamin
Tim Benjamin is obviously a talented composer. In 1998 I admired his one-act opera The Bridge, composed when he was only 22. And now we have Madame X, performed in Halifax on its way to the festival of new opera at London’s Arcola Theatre. It is written to his own libretto, an ambitious full-length piece dealing with art, money and power, and love. The wealthy and superficial world around the artist Masetto and his lover Zerlina exploits them, but in the end the power of art has its revenge. The opera certainly made an impact, partly through its stylised libretto – the text for Masetto comprises only the title of paintings; his agent sings predominantly aphorisms – partly through the music which is attractive and easy on the ear. But the score, mainly pastiche, a collage of different musical styles from plainsong through to avant-garde, with a heavy emphasis on baroque, was also disconcerting because the composer’s own voice was not too apparent. This, for me, created an obstacle to appreciating what he claims in his programme note to be the deeper aspects of the work. The cleverness of the composition, combined with the caricatural libretto, became a distraction. Full marks, nevertheless, to the young singers who were most impressive, in particular the mezzo Taylor Wilson and the baritone Jon Stainsby, both of whom were strong vocally and dramatically.