The Silence of the Bees
A New Opera
Inspired by the work of bees expert and RHUL scientist Mark Brown, composer Kelvin Thomson asked Benet to collaborate with him and others in creating a new science opera about the bees crisis. After many months of work, Silence - which Benet also directed - premiered on the campus of Royal Holloway University (which were funding it and at which Mark Brown works) in March 2013.
The new opera was commissioned partly to communicate the science of bumblebee decline and to suggest possible ways in which the general public could contribute to addressing it. As the writing process developed, though, it became clear that a more interesting path would be to use the bees crisis to explore a wider theme: the challenges of communication and the importance of collaboration in dealing with problems.
At this point, Benet conceived the idea of a Scientist trying to persuade a sceptical audience. When this doesn't work, his character splits into four different parts: his scientific expertise, his intellectual side, his communicator role and his artistic self. These four sides of him become conflicted, mirroring the conflicts that exist in the science community about the causes of the issue and the solutions to it.
The "audience" became two distinct characters, a student and his older Intern girlfriend who find themselves gradually reunited by their sharing of a passion for a subject outside of their own personal problems.
The libretto also included interludes of bees poetry set to music, including a ravishing poem by Jo Shapcott.
Composer Kelvin Thomson's score responded to the many different dimensions of the material and treatment with an extraordinarily varied mixture of musical styles and tones including citations of famous operatic arias and Gilbert and Sullivan, amongst others, scored for an ensemble of eight professional musicians.
The concert staging included extensive use of audio-visual ingredients - Benet's first use of these since his production of Making History in 2008 and his productions of SIkhs in the City and SoulSikher which toured extensively here and abroad some years ago.
Following many months of work, the production - for which everyone involved accepted fractions of their commercial rates - played to an enthusiastic audience at Royal Holloway in March 2013.
Following interest from several places at home and abroad, THE BEES are unlikely to remain silent for too long.