In 2020, Chautauqua Opera Company will tackle a new season with a new theme, complete with another three-day opera festival, celebrating the centenary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, granting and protecting women’s right to vote. Chautauqua Institution will particularly honor this centenary in Week Five, which is themed “The Women’s Vote Centennial and Beyond.”
In 2020, Chautauqua Opera will celebrate with three operas that each feature a strong female lead. The season will begin with Kamala Sankaram’s Thumbprint on July 3, 5, and 31. On July 10, 13 and 20, Chautauqua Opera will perform Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca. The last to be performed — on Aug. 1 — is Virgil Thomson’s The Mother of Us All.
This season, Chautauqua Opera undertook its first opera festival, honoring its 90th year. Audiences were able to see the three parts of Pierre Beaumarchais’ Figaro Trilogy in story order, to great success, according to Steve Osgood, Chautauqua Opera’s general and artistic director. Now, he said, “we’re fine-tuning the calendar for next year based on what we learned this year.”
In 2020, Chautauqua Opera will perform Thumbprint, Tosca and then The Mother of Us All for the second annual opera festival.
Composer Sankaram’s Thumbprint, written with librettist Susan Yankowitz, is inspired by the true story of Pakistani activist Mukhtar Mai. The victim of a gang rape by local tribesmen, Mai was expected to kill herself as a result. Instead, she brought her attackers to court and once she won her case, she created a school system for girls.
“It’s a really intense story — six singers, six players,” said Osgood, who conducted Thumbprint’s premiere four years ago. “It’s called ‘Thumbprint’ because she didn’t know how to read or write at the time of the court cases, so all of her court documents were signed by her thumbprint.”
For the standard repertoire opera, Osgood chose Puccini’s Tosca, with the libretto by Luigi Illica. It’s set in Rome during the 1800s, and follows Rome’s diva opera singer Floria Tosca, her lover Mario Cavaradossi and the ruthless Chief of Police Baron Scarpia.
Osgood said he wanted to find an opera in the standard repertoire where the female character doesn’t have to get married or die in order for the opera to end.
“My goal was to find a title that everybody would love,” Osgood said, “and yet still have at its core a powerful central female figure.”
The Amphitheater opera will be The Mother of Us All, composed by Thomson with the libretto by Gertrude Stein.
“It’s an abstract piece in many ways,” Osgood said. “But it’s about the suffrage movement in the United States.”
The Mother of Us All shows the struggles of the women’s suffrage movement through the lens of Susan B. Anthony. Stein and Thomson are also featured in the opera as the narrators, with Stein played by a soprano and Thomson played by a baritone.
Osgood said to perform The Mother of Us All in the Amp for the 2020 season was an opportunity he didn’t want to let slip away.
“I knew that I wanted it to be the opera that we get in the Amphitheater in 2020,” Osgood said. “It’s the centenary of women’s suffrage, and Susan B. Anthony spoke from the Amphitheater stage.”
Osgood said the three operas for the 2020 season are “incredibly poignant” and speak to modern society just a bit more than the Figaro Trilogy.
Along with the three mainstage operas, the season will be filled with Opera Invasions and recitals that celebrate women. Osgood said Chautauqua Opera has a deep appreciation for the stories that the three operas share, and is looking forward to the busy season ahead.
“It’s just a sense of love that our entire company has for this art form,” Osgood said. “It’s the fact that we get to do it on a daily basis and, when given an opportunity, we will share with people as generously as possible.”