(born London )
Not yet 40, Iain Bell has forged an enviable reputation as one of the most gifted British composers of his generation, with an output that is predominantly vocal and to date includes three operas. A fourth, Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel was ENO in 2019.
Bell 's Musical Style
Bell’s first opera, The Harlot’s Progress (2013), is based on Hogarth’s series of etchings, and has a libretto by novelist and biographer Peter Ackroyd. It was critically acclaimed at its premiere, receiving much praise for the power of Bell’s orchestral and vocal writing.
His second opera is A Christmas Carol (2014), a tour-de-force based on Dickens’s own one-man adaptation of his perennially popular novel about the miser Scrooge and his ghostly encounters on Christmas Eve that lead to his becoming a reformed character. The premiere of Bell’s opera was directed by Simon Callow, who has been closely associated with his own versions of Dickens’s one-man recitals.
Bell’s third opera is In Parenthesis (2016), based on Welsh writer David Jones’s epic First World War poem of the same title. Staged by Welsh National Opera (in Wales and at the Royal Opera House), this work is a powerful act of remembrance in music that is technically and emotionally exceptional. It was In Parenthesis that secured Bell’s reputation as a leading figure in contemporary opera.
Outside the opera house, Bell has collaborated with many of the leading song recitalists and accompanists of our time, producing several notable song-cycles. These include These Motley Fools (2014), a Shakespearean-fool themed cycle, and Away (2017), a cycle setting poems by Rabindranath Tagore.
Inevitably for a composer so closely involved with the voice, Bell’s musical language, while always individually modern, possesses a strong lyrical vein that suggests the importance of figures such as Berg and Britten in his musical hinterland. His operas reveal an ability to fashion long-range structures that can unite musical and emotional climaxes to stunning effect. In short, his vocal and orchestral writing never fails to pack an emotional punch.
Bell 's Music: Where to Start
- A Harlot’s Progress (2013), opera after Hogarth’s etchings
- A Christmas Carol (2014), opera after Dickens’s novel
- In Parenthesis (2016), opera after David Jones’s epic poem