Оперный феминизм: такое возможно? Статья о женском сочинительстве Александра Матусевича

Opera Feminism: Is It Possible?

Women's creativity in various fields, including music and opera, has evolved over centuries under the unfavorable conditions of a patriarchal society. It's not uncommon to hear the perplexed question from the public – why are there so few women composers in the history of music? And the hasty, thoughtless assumption in response is that women are generally less talented, less inclined to creativity and abstract thinking, leading to their underrepresentation not only as composers but also in intellectual fields such as scientists, thinkers, writers, and artists – far less than men. And it seems that statistics throughout the history of civilization confirm this rushed conclusion.

Undoubtedly, there are psychological differences between men and women, as proven by science. There are nuances in thinking too - men are generally more logical and rational, while women are more sensual and emotional. However, these dichotomies hardly explain the comparatively low representation of women in creative fields - after all, sensuality and emotionality are especially important there. Moreover, among male artists, those with such a psychological profile - emotionally perceptive to the realities of the universe, or those with a stronger expression of the traditionally feminine principle - dominate.

It seems that the defining factor of centuries of creative inequality has primarily been the social conditions of women's existence - less favorable than men's. For centuries in many traditional societies, women were relegated to servile and reproductive roles, with little to no focus on their education or opportunities to explore various social roles, which remained exclusively the domain of men. Women were totally limited in various rights. Without proper education, there was no opportunity for development; without social elevators, there were no channels for self-realization, including in creativity.

In the narrower field of European music, women's musical education for a long time was limited only to vocal art, as there was a need for singers to perform opera parts. Even then, women's vocals only began to develop during the Renaissance, with the rapid secularization of public life and its emergence from under the strict control of the church, where women's vocals had long been fundamentally absent. Secular opera art, born in the Renaissance and flourishing in the Baroque era, demanded the presence of women on stage as virtuoso vocalists - thus, professional training of singers was pursued. But instrumental performance was almost entirely closed to women - they began to actively enter it only in the 19th century. This is why examples of women composers from the 17th to 19th centuries are rare - those representatives of the fair sex who, despite social restrictions and extremely unfavorable public conditions, still managed to embark on the path of professional music composition and achieved considerable success. Later, in the 20th century, as these restrictions increasingly became a thing of the past and women gained more rights and opportunities, it quickly became clear that women composers were no less talented and competitive than male composers. Today, they rightfully occupy new positions, on par with men in terms of education, mastery of professional secrets, and artistic results achieved.

Despite the difficulties faced by women's creativity in the past, history has preserved for us the names and, in some cases, samples of compositional achievements of women musicians. One of the earliest examples is the Constantinopolitan nun Kassia, who lived and worked in the Byzantine capital in the 9th century: her liturgical chants have survived to our days, transcribed in modern notation, and are performed both in Orthodox services and by secular ensembles specializing in ancient music. Another example from equally distant times is the 12th-century German nun Hildegard of Bingen: her more extensive legacy is actively studied, published, performed, and recorded by vocal ensembles of ancient music. From Hildegard, in addition to numerous church chants richly adorned with exquisite melismatics, the liturgical drama "Ordo Virtutum" remains - an example of a medieval musical-theatrical act that can be considered one of the sources of the formation of European opera centuries later.

In the late Renaissance and early Baroque era, from the end of the 16th century, opera became the main genre for the development of secular music - primarily Italian. And women composers, albeit very sparingly, were present in this genre almost from its inception. The first name is Francesca Caccini, the daughter of the famous composer Giulio Caccini, a member of the Florentine Camerata - a creative association of Italian composers at the court of the Medici dukes, who actually created the new musical-theatrical genre - opera, at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries. Francesca was her father's talented daughter, a singer and lutenist, author of numerous vocal opuses, as well as the first opera in history written by a woman composer - the comedic opera "La liberazione di Ruggiero," which Caccini timed to the visit to Italy of Polish prince Władysław Vasa (1625), the future Polish-Lithuanian king and former unsuccessful claimant to the Moscow throne. This opera has survived to our times, and since the end of the last century, it has been staged again on European stages. In addition, Francesca Caccini was effectively a court composer at the Medici court, holding a very high status and enjoying respect and honor. Her example is one of the brightest and most famous female figures in music history.

Unfortunately, examples of women's opera compositions after Francesca Caccini are not as abundant, although there were women composers in the 17th and 18th centuries - it is worth remembering Antonio Vivaldi's student Lavinia Fugitta, as well as other Italians - Barbara Strozzi and Francesca Lebrun. But they did not write operas, or at least none have survived to us, and nothing is known about them. Women of that era were not forbidden to engage in music, but only as a hobby - for example, for home music-making, for their own pleasure. Public performance of music, its publication - this was more of an exception to the rules of the patriarchal, hierarchical society. Moreover, such views prevailed for a very long time - even in the first third of the 19th century, Felix Mendelssohn published under his own name the compositions of his talented sister-composer Fanny. Women composers of these centuries are not only relatively few in number but are mostly represented by names that mean little to us today.

Nevertheless, operas composed by women were created during this period, some of which were staged and have even survived to this day. Known only to a narrow circle of musicologists, their authors and works are nonetheless worth mentioning. From this list, it becomes evident that women's opera composition was not a singular phenomenon. The Frenchwoman Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (1665 – 1729) wrote the opera "Céphale et Procris" (1694). Queen of Prussia Sophie Charlotte (1668 – 1705) authored two operas – "Atys" (1700) and "The Triumph of Parnassus" (1702), both staged in Charlottenburg. Venetian Antonia Bembo composed the opera "The Lovesick Hercules" (1707) for Louis XIV's Versailles theatre. In 1731, Dionisia Zamparelli's opera "Artaxerxes" premiered in Livorno. She later wrote three more operas, all staged – "Zoya" in 1746 again in Livorno, "Tezon" in 1753, and "Rome, Liberated from the Rule of Kings" in 1760. In 1736, the Parisian opera-ballet "The Genii, or The Characters of Love" by Mademoiselle Duval was staged. Around the same time, the ballad opera "Don Sancho" by Elizabeth Boyd appeared in England. Italian Maria Teresa d'Agnese-Pinottini (1720 – 1795) composed four operas – "Cyrus in Armenia," "Sophonisba," "The Consoler from Lombardy," and "Nikotri": all staged in Milan, Naples, Venice, and Dresden. The Margravine of Bayreuth Wilhelmina Sophia Frederica (1709 – 1758) composed the opera "Argenore." Electress of Saxony Maria Antonia Walpurgis (1724 – 1780) wrote three operas – "The Triumph of Loyalty," "Lavinia and Turnus," and "Talestri, Queen of the Amazons" – in all three, the august lady-composer performed the main parts. Duchess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach Anna Amalia (1739 – 1807) wrote three comic operas – "Erwin and Elmira," "The Fair on the Flea Market," and "The Gypsies." Viennese composer Maria Theresia von Paradis (1759 – 1824) also composed three operas – "Ariadne and Bacchus," "The Candidate at School," and "Rinaldo and Alcina." French singer and composer Henriette Adélaïde Villard de Bomenil (1748 – 1813) was the author of six comic operas: "Anacreon," "The Israelites of Pharaoh," "Tibullus and Delia," "Greek and Roman Feasts," "Lawgivers," "To Please Is to Command." Angelique Dorothy Lucy, daughter of the famous 18th-century Belgian composer Grétry (in Russia, he is best remembered for the Countess's Song in Tchaikovsky's "The Queen of Spades," which used an aria from one of the Belgian's operas), like Caccini's daughter, was also a composer and wrote four comic operas: "Antoine's Marriage," "The First Days of Spring," "The Volunteer's Mistake," and "Antoinette and Louis." Frenchwoman Amélie Julie Candeille (1767 – 1834) authored three operas: "Catherine, or The Beautiful Farmer," "Ida," and "Bathilde." French Marquise de la Misangère (1693 – 1779) wrote the opera "The Secret Alliance." An opera with the same title was composed by Austrian Joanna Müllner of the same period.

In 19th century Russia, several women composers known for their work in the opera genre emerged. The first is the renowned Princess Zinaida Volkonskaya, who in 1821 composed the opera "Joan of Arc" on her own libretto: it was staged in Italy, Paris, and Moscow. Other female authors are also mentioned in musicological literature. Yelizaveta Schultz-Adaevskaya (1848 – 1926) authored two operas – "The Ugly One, or Solomonida Saburova" and "Dawn of Freedom," both of which did not have a stage fate. M. Vokhina in 1882 presented the opera "Undine," and M.A. Danilevskaya in 1912 – the opera "The Ghost": both were staged in St. Petersburg. Before the revolution, premieres of children's operas by female authors also took place in the then-capital: "The Magic Dream" by Lydia Fetisova, "Spring Garden" and "The Little White Mouse" by A.S. Loginova. The most famous Russian woman composer working in the opera genre is undoubtedly Valentina Serova: she wrote five operas ("Uriel Acosta," "Ilya Muromets," "Maria d'Orval," "The Eater," "Stirred Up") and completed "The Fiendish Power" for her deceased husband Alexander Serov. "Uriel Acosta" was staged at the Bolshoi Theatre (1885), and "Ilya Muromets" at Mamontov's Opera (1899, with Shalyapin in the lead role).

At the end of the 19th century, European countries finally removed restrictions on women's musical education – women began to study at conservatories on par with men, including in theoretical-compositional departments. The result was swift: in the 20th century, many professional women composers emerged, many of whom gained great fame both in their homelands and internationally. However, among the most famous women composers of the 20th – 21st centuries, such as Consuelo Velázquez or Alexandra Pakhmutova, Lili Boulanger or Sofia Gubaidulina, Lyudmila Lyadova or Laura Karpman, very few significantly dedicated and dedicate their work specifically to the opera genre. Among the most prominent names worth mentioning are Gaziza Zhubanova, Kaija Saariaho, Rezeda Akhiyarova, Iraida Yusupova. And yes – gender inequality and remnants of a patriarchal, hierarchical society still affect women's composition – as a result, and despite the spirit of the times, men still dominate the art of composition. No work written by a woman has taken root in the modern repertoire of concert halls or opera theaters as firmly as the compositions of men, although, judging by some signs, the situation is slowly but surely changing — women composers are increasingly and impressively making their mark.

The "Muffled Voices" contemporary opera festival aims to draw modern audiences' attention to women's opera creativity. This season, ten operas were selected for this purpose. From the not-so-distant past – the aforementioned opera "Cabildo" by American Amy Beach: the inimitable charm of Louisiana's color and a suspenseful detective libretto turned a forty-minute work into a fascinating story.

The rest of the music is contemporary. Besides Amy Beach's composition, the program includes two Western operas – "Proving Up" by Missy Mazzoli and "Blue Calls Set You Free" by Ann LeBaron, three Russian operas by young women composers – "Zhdana" by Alina Nebykova, "Dreams and Not Dreams" by Anna Kuzmina, and "The Periodic Table" by Alina Podzorova, as well as four operas by Russian-Soviet classic Tatiana Chudova, in memory of whom the entire festival is dedicated – "Russian Women," "Tatiana's Dream," "The Head of Professor Dowell," and "Von Meck – Tchaikovsky." All presented operas are absolute innovations for the Russian stage: the festival will feature either world, continental, or Russian stage premieres of the indicated works.

Alexander Matusevich, music critic OPERA +

Moscow, January 2024

Фестиваль "Приглушённые голоса"

Сезон 2023-2024