The Royal Opera House’s (ROH) Engender Festival is an annual celebration of the work of women and non-binary people in opera. This year it takes place from 4-9 July. Women and minority genders are hugely underrepresented in opera, and the wider arts industries, and Engender aims to address this.
With events taking place both in person and online, the 2022 festival is centred on The Blue Woman, a new opera by composer Laura Bowler and librettist Laura Lomas tackling the psychological impact of violence against women. In addition, there will be opportunities to engage with new work in the early stages of development through Opera-in-progress commissions, Insights and conversations with leading opera makers and practitioners from the UK and around the world.
Engender opens with a special Insight into The Blue Woman on 4 July in the ROH’s Clore Studio. Facilitated by Lisa Peck, it brings together Laura Bowler, Laura Lomas, director Katie Mitchell and soprano Gweneth Ann Rand to discuss the making of the work.
It will open an important conversation about how opera deals with violence against women, and what our responsibility is to audiences today and in the future. The Insight will be available to watch online from 5-9 July.
The premiere of The Blue Woman takes place on 6 July in the Linbury Theatre. This hard-hitting opera explores the interior landscape of a woman who has experienced a post-traumatic shattering of self as a consequence of being raped.
The production continues on stage to 11 July. Music director Jessica Cottis conducts an all-female cast. Tickets cost £14-45.
Sarah Crabtree and Kate Wyatt, creative producers for the Royal Opera and co-founders of Engender commented: “This is a pivotal moment for Engender. The network is all about creating opportunities and spaces for women to make new work and tell different stories in different ways, from a range of perspectives.”
The second Insight, Investigating the gender authority gap, will be livestreamed on 8 July. The Independent’s arts editor, Jessie Thompson, will host an online conversation between journalist and author Mary Ann Sieghart and best-selling author and culture journalist Otegha Uwagba.
The event will look beyond opera to better understand the challenges and barriers that remain for women across the creative industries as a whole. It will build on conversations started by Engender about how to transform gender representation in the sector.
The Opera-in-progress series offers audiences a glimpse into the opera-making process and the opportunity to hear directly from artists. Presented in partnership with Shubbak Festival and The Centre for Less Good Ideas, South Africa – and supported by The British Council – this year’s offering comes as a result of 21 artists meeting online and fostering new, global relationships. Both events are online only.
In the first session, on 5 July, Bongile G Lecoge-Zulu, Clare Loveday and Amira Kheir will discuss Where does the air go? – a new work which unpacks the intricacies of breath, and the way it changes across a day in the life of one woman.
In the second session, on 7 July, interdisciplinary artists Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh, lisa luxx and Nancy Mounir will discuss TU’Q – a piece that deals with gaps in time, geographical distance, languages and borders, framed by a game of chess. Past, present and future play a game. Within the squares they speak a language. Together they ask: ‘where do we go from here?’
Sarah Crabtree and Kate Wyatt added: “The Engender Festival creates space for artists and audiences to come together for conversation and discovery. Audiences can join one of our Insight events, attend a brunch with librettists, or come to our Opera-in-progress sessions to see the embryonic beginnings of new work.”
Further online activities include a workshop led by intimacy co-ordinator Ita O’Brien. Working with intimacy co-ordination, taking place on 5 July, explores how best practice can be implemented when creating intimate scenes in opera and ballet, and highlights specific considerations for stage as opposed to film and TV.
This workshop is exclusively for Engender Network members. The network is free to join and is open to all women and non-binary people working in opera.
A second Engender Network-only event is an ‘online meet-up and think-in’ on 7 July. This will give members the opportunity to connect with each other for thoughtful discussion and peer support in an online drop-in forum.
The festival closes with two exciting in-person events. The first takes place on 8 July in the foyer of the Linbury Theatre. Sing at the opera house invites all ages and abilities to sing in an opera chorus performing some of the artform’s biggest tunes in a fun and lively atmosphere, conducted by Joanna Tomlinson.
Finally, on 9 July, a two-course brunch and informal conversation with novelist Nadifa Mohamed and children’s author Francesca Simon, hosted by writer and editor Holly Dawson, will look Inside the mind of the librettist. The event takes place in the ROH’s Piazza restaurant.
The Blue Woman, a new opera by composer Laura Bowler and librettist Laura Lomas, forms the central theme of this year’s Engender Festival at the Royal Opera House this month.