Penelope and the Geese
Penelope and the Geese is an opera that is a feminist retelling of the Penelope story from The Odyssey. Our jumping off point is the issue of faithfulness, which has two different metrics in The Odyssey, one for Odysseus and one–with barely any room to breathe–for Penelope. With this opera, we level that playing field.
All the musicians in Penelope and the Geese are women; the chorus is made up of sopranos and Penelope is a mezzo. Odysseus does not speak, though he is present (and asleep) during the whole opera. With the opera, my collaborators and I give voice to dimensions of the female characters in The Odyssey that have not been explored in the original. And we’re doing this will all women creators and performers.
The opera is scored for Harp, Flute and Cello and those instruments’ ancient twins: Greek Lyre and Aulos, and Serbian Gusle. (I am Serbian and there is a close connection between ancient Serbian epic storytelling and Greek. I also spent my childhood memorizing Serbian epic poems and then changing the parts I felt weren’t right—something that continues with Penelope today.)
For the Saugerties workshop of the second draft of the opera, I have gathered a group of fierce female collaborators who are dedicated to bringing a new fully rounded Penelope to life. Cheri Magid is a playwright who has focused her work on female desire. Our work together feels like natural synergy; I have found a lifelong collaborator in her. Our harpist Mia Theodoratus, upon being approached for the project, promptly commissioned a copy of an ancient lyre from Crete. Our flutist Margaret Lancaster has helped to create a musical birdlike vocabulary for the piece. Hai Ting Chinn and I have worked on two projects together and our shared collaborative practice along with her ability to transform makes her an ideal Penelope.
This is my first full opera, and it has opened new doors for me. To date we have been supported by Sewanee University of the South, University of Delaware, NYU, UC Irvine, The Society for Classical Studies and UNAM’s El Aleph Festival in Mexico City. From a creative standpoint, I’ve enjoyed the enabling constraint of using only female voices and trying to figure out how to create a varied and full sound. I’ve been challenged too by the use of ancient instruments, This has been an incredibly rewarding collaborative project, and I feel going forward it will have me finding new ways to use my collaborators as creative resources.
Our producer, Shout Out Saugerties, now in its third year, has been drawing larger and larger audiences for its programming. Based on prior events, we expect to draw an audience of 75-100 for each of our two workshop performances. In addition, 11 Jane Street Gallery in Saugerties will play video of the performance post the show, thus increasing our reach. We will also involve the community by using an all-female community chorus to enlarge our sound and scope.
Penelope and the Geese,
concert reading, SUT Theater Sewanee: The University of the South/Sewanee Music Festival
July 12 2019
Throughout the opera, Penelope considers where she should weave Odysseus’ hair into the blanket, which in turn makes her remember her other lovers. In this sample, she remembers two of them—before her female slaves (played by the chorus) sharply interrupt her, and lambast her for her hypocrisy. This clip shows my work with a solo singer and with full company.
This sample illustrates the sound and look of the ancient Lyre, played by aour Harpist/Lyre player, Mia Theodoratus. The later part of the sample is a live recording of a song, to provide an idea of how the sounds blend. We have not yet had a public peformance with ancient instuments, which is one of the goals of the next stage – set of performances.
Concert Reading of 1/3 of the first draft of the opera
Opera Now, March 15, 2019, University of Delaware
Circe song shows more of a recitativo-style writing or a solo voice, accompanied by a very minimal underscoring by the ensemble (mostly a drone on a Gusle, though since we didn’t use ancient instruments here the part is played by Cello.)
The song assumes a more lyrical expression towards the middle to be joined by Penelope in a duet, pondering on a ubiquitous ‘female’ question, ‘have I done something wrong?’
Start and End Dates
08/10/2020 — 08/17/2020
Saugerties, New York