Women Making History in Opera by Julia Benzinger

From a woman, about other women, for everyone

Storytelling is a way our species has explained events, explored meaning and purpose, and examined common values. Women have always created and they have always led but their contributions have either been simply erased or relegated to token status, and their works dismissed as somehow less genius than their male counterparts’. In 2019, only 2% of commissioned composers were women, 20% of choreographers, 24% of playwrights, and 31% of stage directors are women. Today, through a series of short profiles curated by performer and creator, Julia Benzinger, we celebrate some of the women who are rewriting the script and taking their seat at the table of leadership in the opera industry.
Co-Director of Seattle Art Song Society, Julia is an educator, arts advocate, and award-winning opera singer who champions inclusion and innovation in the performing arts. She weaves storytelling, activism, and advocacy through music and theatre as a means of celebrating historically excluded voices and themes in opera. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest of the United States she has a deep-seated passion for the arts, nature, science and technology. Her goal is bridging the four through collaboration to cultivate interdisciplinary works and realize a brighter, more sustainable future for all life.

Art & Culture Inside is delighted to distribute Julia Benzinger’s wonderful initiative of sharing stories of empowered women in Opera and Classical Music. Let’s get to know and be inspired by our beautiful heroes!

Kamala Sankaram

“Before I write any notes down,” the composer/performer says, “the questions I ask myself are ‘Why are these people singing?’ ‘Why music?’ ‘Why can’t this just be a play?’ ‘Does it need to be a theatrical piece at all?’ And if there are no good answers to those questions, then ‘Why are you doing it?’” (@opera.news )

Experience Sankaram’s powerful new piece Taking up Serpents through TODAY by buying your tickets here: https://chicagooperatheater.org/
(Seriously, this show is gooooood!)

Portrait: @darioshoots

Glass Marcano

A finalist in the 2020 inaugural La Maestra Competition, the Venezuelan conductor demonstrated through her musical sensitivity and clarity of expression why she was selected to receive the special Orchestra Prize.

Last month, Marcano became the first woman of color to ever lead a major orchestra in Europe.

“Nunca pasó por mi mente que quería representar a las mujeres. Yo quería ser directora para volverme loca en el podio. La mujer en la música se inclina más a ser instrumentista de orquesta que directora, pero quien quiera ser directora debe trabajar para hacerlo. Yo desde que quise serlo nunca se me salió eso de la cabeza” (bbc news mundo, December 2020)

Beth Morrison

Beth Morrison, President & Creative Producer of Beth Morrison Projects (BMP)

This woman and her company are completely resetting the opera industry with their production and incubation of new works of opera. Their piece
P R I S M by composer Ellen Reid won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Music. BMP productions can be seen in opera houses and venues around the globe.

“I wanted to shake up the opera industry, to create a new type of opera product that spoke to a younger generation. Something more relevant to a contemporary audience that utilized all kinds of media to tell 21st century stories- stories of our time. It’s all about new music, with mostly younger, still living composers.”
(@officialbroadwayworld , 2020)

Raquel García-Tomás

Spanish composer Raquel García-Tomás’s music and operas have been performed all over the world including Teatro Real de Madrid, Neuköllner Oper, Teatre Lliure de Barcelona, St. Martin in the Fields, and English National Ballet. Her 2019 opera buffa, Je Suis Narcissiste, was nominated for Best World Premiere at the International Opera Awards. She received her Doctorate from the Royal College of Music.

“El mayor obstáculo que tenemos tanto las mujeres como los hombres en el mundo de la composición es la precariedad en la que está sumida la música contemporánea en nuestro país. Desde la crisis de 2008, nuestros cachés han llegado a reducirse a la mitad y los músicos que interpretan nuestras obras se hallan en una situación similar. Poco importa que seas joven o mujer. Es difícil para todos y todas, ya que hay muy pocas oportunidades para tanto talento.” (@el_pais October 2020)

I first came across García-Tomás’s music when I was given a recording of her opera disPLACE II. To say it was an awakening in me would be a gross understatement. Its minimalism in musical composition makes the subject matter of loss, grief, and the impact of gentrification, all the more striking.

Lucia Lucas

When she took the title role in Mozart’s Don Giovanni with Tulsa Opera in 2018, Lucia Lucas became the first female baritone to perform a lead role on an American opera stage.”My deep voice often has me playing angry characters, so the screaming that I hold back in response to intolerant people on the street can be released upon the audience. I enjoy playing the villain, because there is a stillness and elegance to them. I recently sang the 12-minute aria of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, completely naked, at The Glory, Muse and the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London. The Dutchman is an outcast and misunderstood; I can very strongly relate to his journey. I made the performance a story about my transition. It wasn’t fetishised, it was about me and my body and getting comfortable. Afterwards, I got a letter from someone in the audience who is intersex, presenting as female. They assumed that I was like them — they saw my naked body and saw a woman’s body, not a trans woman’s. That was very gender confirming.” (@theaccentmagazine , 2017).

Karen Slack

On this International Women’s Day, I cannot think of anyone I’d rather be celebrating as part of
this Women Making History in Opera series than Karen Slack. A dynamic performer and a voice
of advocacy and inclusion, Ms. Slack’s brilliant Kiki Konversations has been a go-to virtual
interview series for many throughout the pandemic. Her conversations have been open, blunt, and vital, allowing artists and leaders to speak freely about an industry that has often thrived on secrecy and division. The importance of Black leadership and artistry in a white-dominated field is a primary focus of these conversations as well as the celebration of Black artists.
“I’m not asking for your seat. I’m asking that you move over so I can sit in mine, and you be OK
with that.” (NY Times / LA Opera, 2020).

Art & Culture Inside thanks Julia Benzinger for her expertise and the material for this blog post. Follow her on Instagram or/and Facebook and stay tuned for more herstories in Opera.

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