Born in London, Iain Bell is best known for his vocal music (opera and song) and has developed a close artistic relationship with Diana Damrau, for whom he has written various works including the opera A Harlot’s Progress (2013, Theater an der Wien). Other notable works include his second opera A Christmas Carol (2014, Houston Grand Opera, starring Jay Hunter Morris and directed by Simon Callow), the orchestral song cycle A Litany in Time of Plague and the chamber song cycles Day Turned into Night, The Undying Splendour and These Motley Fools. His concert works have been performed at venues including Wigmore Hall, Carnegie Hall and the Munich Opera Festival. Recent highlights include a new production of A Christmas Carol, the world premiere of his third opera In Parenthesis (with performances at the Royal Opera House) and the Carnegie Hall commissioned song cycle of you, a setting of e.e. cummings’ poetry written for US mezzo Jamie Barton. Recent premieres include Aurora: Concerto for Coloratura Soprano at the BBC Proms with Zaharia and the RLPO, the orchestral song cycle The Hidden Place with Damrau and the LSO conducted by Gianandrea Noseda at the Enescu Festival, his fourth opera Jack the Ripper:The Women of Whitechapel at ENO which included a cast with Dame Josephine Barstow, Susan Bullock, Lesley Garrett and Alan Opie, and his fifth opera, Stonewall, at New York City Opera, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.
Dear Iain, thank you very much for another positive, kind and very prompt answer to my invitation! You are a good old friend of OPERA Charm Magazine and this fact makes me very proud. We had the chance to chat a little also during the lockdown. How did you spend these hard times? What does a composer do in quarantine? It is a pleasure to be able to speak to you again. I felt very fortunate to go into lock-down with a commission already confirmed. Being able to bring routine to my day at a time of great uncertainty was a real blessing. It gave me hope that things will one day, eventually, return to a healthy normality for us all. I also felt I was able to create on behalf of all my co-artists and performers at a time where their regular platforms of expression were being silenced and it was an honour to be able to do so. In spite of this, there were times where it was difficult not to become overwhelmed by the pain and suffering, so it was very important for me to stay in touch online with as many of my friends as possible, to share fears, recipes and workout tips! With all that in mind, work-wise, I made a point to go easy on myself, not to drive myself too hard in terms of how many minutes and seconds I compose per day etc., as I often would, but just to let things flow as they need to. I can’t speak for other composers, but this one here, when not writing, found himself becoming obsessed with the TV show Desperate Housewives (10 years too late), listening to lots of cheesy 80s/90s pop and eating chocolate.
You pointed out musically an important historical moment of a very important community throughout your opera Stonewall, but I’d like to tell us more about it. What is the story of this piece? How did you feel to receive this invitation from the NY Opera House? In Stonewall I had the chance to represent the LGBTQ+ community in a portrayal of the events that led to the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. This was a really important milestone in human rights, and the Pride movement more specifically. It was an honour to be asked by New York City Opera to compose this as it felt I could give back to the community that had given me so much. To be given the opportunity to musically portray a truly diverse cast including a trans character, Drag Queens, a homeless prostitute, marginalised members of the Latinx community, an electro-shock therapy patient and countless more was a creative joy, but also the most life-affirming experience of my career. From the workshops to the final curtain, everyone was utterly dedicated and united in our dedication to do our LGBTQ+ forebears proud and it felt electric!
Read the entire interview here.0