Women in Opera – Study Day with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Perhaps the best way to describe an OAE Study Day is that it’s like a television documentary, only live.

Taking place on Sunday 2 December in the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, this year’s Study Day centres around the OAE’s 2012-2013 series ‘Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers’, taking an in-depth look at women’s roles in music over the last 400 years.

There’ll be discussions about a range of different characters in opera, the women (and men) that played them and a look at some of the often little-known works by female composers.  The day will conclude with a performance by Robyn Allegra Parton.  While the term ‘Study Day’ might evoke a certain feeling of academia, fear not.  No exam is given at the end of the day and no prior research necessary.

The day will be hosted by presenter Rachel Leach and split into two halves, with tickets sold separately for each so you can pick and choose which sessions to attend (and you’ll have time for a nice bit of lunch in between).

Here’s a bit about how the day will unfold:

Session 1 – 10.30am-1pm:

Women in Cultural History
Deborah Leigh Simonton, of the University of Denmark, has a look at how women are portrayed in history, literature & musicals.

Women in Opera
Professor Rachel Cowgill, of Cardiff University, discusses female performers in Opera.  In this section, Rachel will address issues such as why men took on women’s roles in early opera and when women emerged to take on these roles as themselves, before going on to look at the rise of female performers as international stars.

Session 2 – 2pm-4.30pm.

A Look at Characters
Dr F. Jane Schopf, Programme Director of Opera Studies at Rose Bruford College.  In this session we’ll take a look at strong female characters from Operatic history, comparing and contrasting different composers takes on these characters.

Performance & Analysis
The day will conclude with a performance of Dido’s Lament by up and coming star Robyn Allegra Parton, as well as a guided tour through of another piece led by presenter Rachel Leach.

A nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon we think!

Full details and booking can be found here.

The OAE’s Guide to Feisty Females

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s guide to female opera characters returns, with a look at Phaedra…

The fabulous Sarah Connolly will be taking on the role next Thursday at the next Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall, in Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie.

Who was she?

Phaedra was the wife of Theseus, king of Athens. Her mother was Pasiphae, mother of the monstrous Minotaur (so yes, she had a bull-man hybrid for a half-brother).

What was she famous for?

Phaedra was most famous for continuing her family’s lack of luck in love- she fell in love with her stepson, Hippolytus. In some versions of the myth, she nobly tries to resist her feelings for him and in others she attempts to seduce him – both with disastrous consequences.

Phaedra’s reaction to her feelings for Hippolytus and the tragic fallout inspired a number of playwrights such as Euripides, Racine (famously portrayed by Helen Mirren at the National Theatre) and the controversial Sarah Kane.

Was she a queen, heroine or ladykiller?

As the wife of Theseus, Phaedra was the first queen of Athens. In the most famous version of the myth, she commits suicide whilst accusing Hippolytus of assaulting her which leads to his death (as Hippolytus’ dad curses him and asks his dad (who happens to be Poseidon) to punish him so a giant bull is sent from the sea to cause a fatal accident with the chariot Hippolytus is riding in. Got that?)

Who will be singing Phaedra and when?

Sarah Connolly will be singing Phaedra from Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie on 8 November in French Exchange at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Find out more / book tickets

You can listen to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sing Phèdre’s aria Cruelle mere des amours here.


Hannah Conway will be presenting the first The Works concert of the 2012-2013 Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment season on 6 November at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.  The OAE chatted to her in their latest speed interview…

What/when was your big breakthrough?
I’m not sure I ever had one! I have had wonderful opportunities with many fantastic orchestras and opera houses. I suppose my first job, working for two years with the London Symphony Orchestra was instrumental in launching me into the business.

What do you fear the most?
The crazy speed of life – and not being able to slow down.

Which mobile number do you call the most?
My husband’s!

What – or where – is perfection?
Any empty beach on the north Norfolk coast.

Who is your favourite hero from fiction (book/comic/film/opera) – and why?
Definitely Wonderwoman! I love the boots, the spin and the gold bangles.

What’s your favourite ritual?
A hot bath after a long commute.

Which living person do you most admire (and why)?
I admire many people in my life, but mostly – friends and family who I see giving huge amounts to others.

What other talent or skill would you like to possess?
I would love to be able to draw or paint really brilliantly – I am still at the ‘stick man’ phase!

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Ah ha! There are so many aren’t there! – A good work-life balance is invaluable.

What is the most played piece of music on your MP3 player or in your CD collection?
A real mixture always depending on my work – at the moment it is a Tinie Tempah track for a gig that I am conducting at the O2 Arena and also Steve Reich’s Desert Music for an LSO composition project. I don’t listen to much music outside of work. I need my silence!

What’s the best thing about working with the OAE?
The musicians are such lovely, vibrant people who are constantly curious about life and passionate about music.

Hannah Conway presents the Orchestra of the Age of Enligtenment with a programme of Mozart on Tuesday 6 November at Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Find out more / book tickets

Watch exclusive footage with Sir Simon Rattle rehearsing the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Debussy’s La mer

London’s ground-breaking classical night, The Night Shift, returns to Royal Festival Hall on Sunday 10 June, 10pm for its last appearance at Southbank Centre until the autumn.

One of the most famous conductors on the planet, Sir Simon Rattle conducts the 80-piece Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in two pieces by Claude Debussy.

Advance tickets are just £9

Book now / more info

Watch the OAE’s teaser film on the photoshoot for their 2012/13 brochure

Listen to our Classical music blog for May Highlights

In this month’s podcast members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment discuss working with Sir Simon Rattle, and Vladimir Ashkenazy gives his personal perspective on Shostakovich’s Babi Yar Symphony. Plus a member of Spira mirabilis talks about the ensemble’s unique approach to Beethoven’s music.

Listen to our classical music podcast for April highlights

Colin Currie premieres a powerful and imaginative new Percussion Concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, John Wilson conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in a performance Gilbert & Sulivan’s finest operetta The Yeomen of the Guard, and meet a player-piano who is the star of this year’s Nancarrow festival.