In almost every industry, women often find themselves at a disadvantage professionally, whether they face less growth opportunities or overall decreased incomes compared to their male equivalents. And although the debate is hot at the moment, especially in the classical music industry, we can only notice a few minor improvements backstage or on stage.
In opera, this discrepancy is not as noticeable on stage. The common gender bending roles aside, a role for a high voice requires a high voice, which is more often than not, performed by a woman. But what if we look to composers, conductors and instrumentalists? The Metropolitan Opera 2018-2019 season showcases absolutely no female composer or conductor, same goes for Opera de Montreal and Houston Grand Opera (who received funding in 2017 from Opera America for their support for female composers!?!). It's not that women artists should be prioritized over men regardless of quality requirements or that we can't appreciate the numerous talented male musicians, past and present; it's simply that still today, we must give more these women more opportunities to create and perform in order to expose their talent and create role models for the next generation.
The 4th Edition of Festival Stella Musica
I had the pleasure recently of attending a concert at Theatre Outremont in Montreal where women were celebrated for their artistic achievements. Led by its artistic director Katarzyna Musial, Festival Stella Musica brought together on stage larger-than-life soprano Nathalie Choquette, composer and musician Barbara Croall, and choreographer Jane Mappin. Nathalie Choquette humoured the audience with revamped famous works from the operatic repertoire, among which Casta Diva from Bellini's Norma, and Largo al factotum, Figaro's iconic aria from Il barbiere di Siviglia. With a costume for every excerpt, Nathalie Choquette brought to life her characters as rarely seen before. For her aria My Man's Gone Now from the opera Porgy and Bess, she wore a 10-feet long stretchy pink dress, because George Gershwin-gum. #cuelaughs
Nathalie Choquette's humoristic appearances were contrasted by the introspection in psychological distress in Jane Mappin's choreography Ils m'ont dit, and Barbara Croall's compositions for solo pipigwan, which she also performed. Lullaby was particularly transcending as she sung for the Aboriginal mothers who lost their children to residential schools.
The Stella Musica Festival is particularly important for me. As a classical pianist from a very young age, I rarely encountered works by women composers. Likewise, women conductors were until recently a rather rare sight on international stages. If things have somewhat improved today, much of women's creative efforts too often remain hidden from earshot. Stella Musica aims to make these works and performers better known. This is at once long overdue, and a breath of fresh air.
-Katarzyna Musial, Artistic director of Stella Musica Festival
I can only hope that this festival will grow in events, such as concerts, panels, and workshops, in order to reach an even broader audience, women and men combined. The 5th edition will take place in March 2019, be sure to follow Stella Musica on Facebook for upcoming announcements!