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LA Opera Blog / Women’s History Month

March 21

Blog post banner with title Choose to Challenge and multi-colored faces in profile

For Women’s History Month this year, the LA Opera’s community engagement theme is “Choose to Challenge.” I am honored to announce LA Opera invited me to this important discussion a guest contributor. This link will take you to the full article I wrote but here’s a preview of how I started the piece:

“The theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is “Choose to Challenge,” a reminder to everyone to “challenge inequality, call out bias, question stereotypes, and help forge an inclusive world.”

Many opera companies and artists have already begun the difficult but necessary work of reassessing the status quo, pushing for diversity and positive representation in the repertoire as well as in creative personnel and leadership. But even today, women are woefully underrepresented in key roles, including composers, stage directors, conductors, artistic directors, and general directors. 

Consider the nine opera companies in OPERA America’s “budget 1” tier: Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Michigan, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Seattle. (With an annual budget of over $300,000,000, the Metropolitan Opera occupies its own category.) Among these companies, only Seattle has a female general manager, Christina Scheppelmann, appointed in 2019. The only female music director among these companies, Eun Sun Kim, officially starts her tenure in San Francisco this year.

Onstage, of course, there are plenty of female-identifying vocalists and dancers, but the statistics for composers, conductors, and stage directors are pretty disheartening. During the 2018/19 season—the last full season before Covid-19 closed houses—the nine “budget 1” companies staged 63 works. Only two of these operas were by women: Ellen Reid’s Pulitzer-winning “prism” (premiering at LA Opera and co-produced by Beth Morrison Productions) and Rene Orth’s Empty the House (Opera Philadelphia). The numbers are only a little better for conductors; women led the music of seven productions (11%). Stage direction is more encouraging, with women directing 17 productions (27%).

Historically, the culture of Western classical music has traded heavily in traditional ideas of (white) male genius, and—as the above statistics show—this patriarchal legacy still resonates strongly in today’s opera world. And, yet, there are also hundreds of women pushing back these old-school systems, bringing fierce creative energy and new vision to the world of opera. We wanted to spotlight at least a few of these amazing women who are “choosing to challenge” the world of opera and beyond…” (Read more to learn about three important women in opera the article highlights.)

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March 21
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