It is a story of love, dreams, corruption and the darker side of the art world.

Madame X, the new contemporary opera by 38-year-old Calderdale composer Tim Benjamin, has a distinctly baroque feel, taking its musical inspiration from the Italian operas of Handel and literary inspiration from the Jacobean ‘revenge plays’.

With a plot that revolves around a talented portrait painter, Masetto, and his muse, Zerlina, who become victims of exploitation, Tim says the work raises the question ‘What is art for?’ and why people commission portraits.

Madame X shares its title with that of a famous portrait by American artist John Singer Sargent, now hailed as a masterpiece but reviled by Parisian society at the time it was painted. The opera will premiere at the Hippodrome Theatre in Tim’s home town of Todmorden on August 21 before being seen in the Square Chapel Centre for the Arts in Halifax on August 22 and 23 and then embarking on a short UK tour. It is Tim’s eighth opera and follows his previously acclaimed work Emily, which was produced last year and focuses on the suffragette movement.

Tim, who is a regular contributor to the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, secured funding from The Arts Council England and other sponsors for his new work, which his company Radius is producing. He is a past winner of the BBC Young Composer of the Year and a former student of the Royal Northern College of Music.

Originally from London, Tim and his young family have made their home in Yorkshire, a county he came to know and love after studying in the north. As well as composing he makes a living from computer and software programming.

Tim’s new opera, which he is directing, is a clever marriage of artistic allusions – for example, Masetto only sings in titles of famous paintings - coupled with musical references to the Baroque and more modern music, including the avant-garde.

The small live orchestra accompanying the singers pays homage to the past by using a harpsichord, but brings the performance in the 21st century by using an electric harpsichord.

Madame X, the new opera by Tim Benjamin, Yorkshire composer

Although his work is clearly intellectual and layered with meaning, Tim doesn’t believe that audience members need to be knowledgeable about music, opera or art in order to enjoy and understand the opera.

He explained: “Someone who is into opera, for instance, might pick up on one or two things that someone who isn’t might miss, but I strongly believe that newcomers will still feel welcome. It will be entertaining for anyone and thought provoking. It’s all in English and we have worked very hard so that the audience will be able to hear every word. And, unlike some opera, the story is really very straightforward.”

After being seen in Yorkshire, Madame X is moving on to London’s Arcola Theatre and the Royal Northern College of Music Opera Theatre in Manchester.

For Yorkshire performance ticket details check out or