Twin operas by Tim Benjamin tell the stories of two different characters. Each singer is solo with the backing of a small music group – Charlotte Dowding (violin), Alistair Howes (cello), Simon Passmore (fortepiano), Chris Brannick (percussion), and Lynda Robertson (flutes and piccolo), conducted by Antony Brannick.
The first part is inspired by a Chekhov story (Life in Questions and Exclamations), but for this opera it is set in the future and titled ‘Rest in Peace’. We see a 2024 election poster for Putin, which is already as depressing as you can get. Then Ezdeyev (James Fisher, bass) emerges from a sleeping bag. He tells his life story in an impressionistic way, quoting rather than narrating, and acting out his bullying father’s interrogations of his younger self, reminding the audience that some homeless people may have similar tales of failure, drink and gambling. This story was brought to life by Fisher’s rich voice and expressive acting.
The next part, ‘Silent Jack’, set in 1724 and written by Anthony Peter and Tim Benjamin, has more plot to it. Amy Beddoes (Taylor Wilson, mezzo-soprano) has been deserted by her husband and left to cope with his debts. She survives by becoming Silent Jack, a highway robber whose pistol does the talking. Wilson gives a realistic, gripping portrayal of a woman on the edge, beautifully sung, as she tells us about Silent Jack’s last outing.
What is the connection between the two stories? There is one gesture that is common to them both. Ezdeyev scatters a pack of cards in disgust, Amy Beddoes tosses around her husband’s worthless share certificates. Both of them possibly link to the present day, when people mistake speculation for investment.
This performance was a one-off for Todmorden, but Tim Benjamin has produced an opera a year for three years running, so look out for one in 2016.