Virtual Opera in Conversation: Gender in the Canon

Mar 26, 2020

Thank you to all our online viewers for the first virtual Opera in Conversation on Tuesday evening! ONE Festival Artistic Director James Darrah and Founder of Juno’s Swans Sarah Brown had a wide-ranging discussion on the role of and approaches to gender in the canons of both opera and Shakespeare. The conversation was moderated by Opera Omaha’s Director of Engagement Program Lauren Medici. If you were not able to join us for this discussion, it is still available on our Facebook page and is linked below on our YouTube channel. Read ahead for an overview of the discussion and be sure to also watch the full video linked below!

The conversation was centered around two events which were planned to take place as part of the ONE Festival in 2020. These are Darrah’s dark new production of Bellini’s The Capulets and the Montagues and the staged reading of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet by the Juno’s Swans all-female Shakespeare troupe. While the Festival has been postponed, we plan to bring these productions back in the future.

The conversation focused on how gender has been portrayed in both opera and Shakespeare. In opera, this question is largely around the concept of a ‘pants role’ or ‘trouser role’ – a male character performed by a female singer, such as the role of Romeo in The Capulets and the Montagues. In Darrah’s production, the role of Romeo is played by a female mezzo-soprano, but not portraying a male character. In Shakespeare, gender portrayal deals with the all-male casts that performed his plays during his lifetime, and the effect this historical reality has had both on his female characters, as well as how they are portrayed and understood both in the past and today.

For both Darrah and Brown, a key aim is to highlight and question our individual and societal assumptions around gender, while leaving room to feature and explore these stories’ multitude of other themes. How can one take an archetypal narrative known to all and use it to usurp the audience’s expectations? What can one reveal about the inherent gender dynamics of the characters, but also where can one see a genderless universality in them too? What can we come to appreciate about society’s understanding of gender today and how it has changed, but how can we also investigate how society might understand gender expression in the future? Can we envision a genderless society in which these questions themselves are made redundant? If these questions interest you, be sure to watch the full conversation above!

Opera Omaha has moved online as we adapt to the current time and encourage safe social distancing. Like our Facebook page and follow along at #VirtualOperaOmaha to see everything Opera Omaha has to offer in this digital realm.

You can watch the full conversation on YouTube here:

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