Opera Scotland

Richard Rodney Bennett Suggest updates

Sir Richard Rodney Bennett

Born Broadstairs, 29 March 1936.

Died New York, 24 December 2012.

English composer and pianist.

Richard Rodney Bennett enjoyed a period of early success as an opera composer in the sixties, particularly with works performed at Sadler's Wells Theatre. The Ledge, in one act, was first conducted by Alexander Gibson, and well received. Its follow-up, The Mines of Sulphur, a highly theatrical drama conducted first by Colin Davis, was an immediate success, with performances at La Scala as well as in France and Germany. This was followed by a light comedy, then a piece for children. His final opera, Victory, based on the Joseph Conrad novel, was commissioned by the Royal Opera and premiered at Covent Garden, with a cast led by Donald McIntyre and Anne Howells. It is dramatically effective, but had a cool reception from some critics, both in London and on tour in Berlin, who found its style old-fashioned. This grudging reception, combined with the time required to create an opera, seems to have been what discouraged him from further operatic ventures, and apart from recent stagings of The Mines of Sulphur at Glimmerglass and Wexford, the works have not been revived. The Mines of Sulphur is the only one to have been recorded.

Bennett studied in London with Lennox Berkeley and Howard Ferguson, and in Paris with Boulez. His early works were seen as modernist in style, with influences absorbed from Berg, Britten and others into a style characteristically his own. His later operas showed a return towards tonality. Of his large body of orchestral and chamber compositions, a Piano Concerto was premiered at the 1969 Edinburgh Festival by Stephen Bishop (now Kovacevich) with the SNO under Alexander Gibson, and he was Artist-in-Residence at the 1979 Festival (though sadly no opera was given). His most popular output is undoubtedly his long series of scores for the cinema, perhaps most memorably those for Billy Liar (1963) and Murder on the Orient Express (1974).

After his move to New York in 1979, he developed a long and successful career as a jazz pianist and cabaret singer, particularly in partnership with Marian Montgomery. Following her death, he teamed up with the jazz singer Claire Martin, and in Scotland they gave a memorable joint recital on 28 May 2008 as part of the Perth Festival.

Operas performed in Scotland are shown in bold:

The Ledge (London 1961) (Mitchell)

The Mines of Sulphur (London 1965, rev London 1973) (Cross)

A Penny for a Song (London 1967) (Graham)

All the King’s Men (Coventry 1969) (Cross)

Victory (London 1970) (Cross)

Roles in Scotland

Mines of Sulphur

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