Opera world premiere will tell Emily’s story

Rebecca Lea in Emily, the opera launched at Todmorden's Hippodrome Theatre
Rebecca Lea in Emily, the opera launched at Todmorden's Hippodrome Theatre

The world premiere of an opera about one of the defining moments of women’s suffrage will debut next month in the composer’s home town.

A major award-winner whose work has been broadcast and performed at concert halls and festivals around the world, often by well-known performers including the London Sinfonietta and the BBC Philharmonic orchestras, Tim Benjamin’s first full-length opera Emily will debut at the Hippodrome Theatre, Halifax Road, Todmorden, from July 4 to 6, 2013 (7.30pm).

One of the defining moments of the women’s suffrage campaign came a century ago when campaigner Emily Wilding Davison was fatally injured in June 1913 when she fell under the hooves of the King’s horse while protesting at the Epsom Derby.

The dramatic event was witnessed by a crowd of 300,000 racegoers, including the King and Queen Mary.

Inspired by her story, composer Tim’s new opera recounts Emily Davison’s actions as a suffragette and the way in which the establishment tried to quell the movement.

“At times harrowing and always moving, Emily is a powerful drama and brings home the great struggle and personal sacrifice for ‘Votes for Women’ undertaken by suffragettes like Emily Davison,” he said.

Tim, who has won several major awards including the BBC Young Musician of the Year when he was 16, has composed several one-act operas, most recently for Marseille Opera/CNIPAL (The Birthday Cake), but Emily is his first full-length opera.

The Edwardian Hippodrome is a fitting venue for the first performance of the work, in the town in which Tim has made his home since 2009.

Emily stars Rebecca Lea in the title role and comprises two acts, each containing a prologue and three scenes.

The first act is set in the years before Davison’s death and recounts some of her many protests and time in Holloway Prison, culminating in a re-enactment of the “Black Friday” protests outside Parliament which ended in violence and many suffragettes being beaten by the police and local ruffians.

The second act is concerned with the aftermath of Emily’s fatal protest, immediately at the Epsom Derby and then in later days and years.

Tim says he has constructed the opera’s text entirely from historical sources dating from the time of the suffragette movement including personal correspondence, newspapers, medical records, census documents, police reports and more. The language, he says, is highly evocative of the era while remaining easy to understand for modern ears.

“The music is composed using a leitmotif technique and blends various early 20th Century influences with my own musical style, which is neither a completely familiar tonal language nor a difficult, unfamiliar modernist language.

“I seek to engage the listener, support the drama and explore new musical territory,” he said.

The production is supported by the Performing Rights Society (PRS) Foundation, the RVW Trust, Todmorden Town Council, several local businesses and a number of private sponsors.

Rebecca Lea takes on the challenging title role, with other parts being filled by Marc Callahan (The Doctor), Chris Jacklin (The Politician), Sebastian Charlesworth (The Judge), Meinir Wyn Roberts (The Woman), Louis Hurst (The Policeman) and the chorus taking the role of policement, suffragettes and the public.

Also under Tim’s directorship are musical director Antony Brannick, designer Lara Booth and dramaturg - research and development of the opera - Antony Peter.

Tim studied at the Royal Northern College of Music with Anthony Gilbert, graduating with a first class degree, and received a doctorate at Oxford University, where he studied with Robert Saxton.

Tickets, at £12, can be bought online at www.emilyopera.co.uk - where you can also find out more about the production - or at Todmorden Information Centre, Burnley Road, Todmorden (www.visittodmorden.co.uk)