Updated: Jul 18
Hi there. Welcome. Thanks for coming to our first blog.
We’d like to tell you a bit about why we’ve decided to be HERA.
2019 is an exciting time to be in the arts. Things that haven’t shifted very much in a long while are moving quickly. People are starting to expect to see all of our society reflected in the film, TV and theatre they watch. The arts world is starting to realise that there’s an opportunity for creative renewal in letting more people in. When they don’t, people are not waiting for permission to express themselves. Opera shouldn’t be immune to this change. As three women working in opera, including a disabled woman and a woman of colour, we have skin in the game. We’ve all come up against gendered hostility or condescension in our careers – and in Linda’s case it’s already been a long career. Rather than carry on feeling frustrated, we’ve decided to support each other in making art that represents people like us from a place of joy and love. If we’re going to make opera that welcomes everyone in (and we really want to do that!), we’re going to need to start by making ourselves at home.
But it’s not just about us. Right now, opera is telling the same stories again and again: sometimes badly, sometimes well, sometimes from a feminist perspective, but the same stories nevertheless. Even when there’s the chance to do something new only 1 in 5 opera commissions goes to a woman composer. Worse than that, new commissions aside, no existing works by women composers are being staged at all (1).
So, even where there are good intentions, it can seem a bit like women just got invented. ‘Look!’ someone says, ‘we’re making a start.’ But we know of about 200 surviving operas by women written before 1900 (2). Many of them were successful in their own time. We don’t need to start. We don’t need to discover women’s creativity, we need to value it, and we need to share it. So, we’re going to be touring the UK with music and stories you haven’t heard before, new and old, by women composers living and dead. We hope you’ll come along.
We’re not the first to want to make opera more diverse and more open, and we’re not alone. We have forerunners and we have friends. We want to be a part of a change that is coming. Just in our associate team, there’s an amazing wealth of female expertise. Running an intersectional feminist opera company will sometimes be hard, but the Hyers Sisters Combination toured black opera across the United States a decade after emancipation (3), so we’ll try to keep things in perspective. This is our idea of a good time.
While we’re working towards our first show, we’ll each be sharing some of our thoughts, discoveries and enthusiasms here (and on twitter @wearehera). We’d love for you to join us.
Toria, Linda and Simone. x
(1) We’ve gathered data for all opera productions by companies in Arts Council England’s National Portfolio from 2015/16 to 2017/18.
(2) We’re very proud of our enormous, growing spreadsheet of women’s opera.
(3) Read more about this amazing company in ‘A History of African American Theatre’ by Errol Hill and Hatch (Cambridge, 2003) and on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyers_Sisters)