Three poems set to music by Kathleen Tagg, and sung at the Edinburgh International Festival by Golda Schultz, will mark the latest success in librettist Lila Palmer’s mission to put women’s stories at the forefront of art song and opera.
Her song cycle This be her Verse is both a celebration of feminine experience and a riposte to centuries where the male voice and perspective have been overwhelmingly dominant.
It takes on not just the male poets of the art song repertoire, who often wrote from an assumed woman’s viewpoint, but responds to poets such as Philip Larkin and John Donne who were able to write about love and family without being defined by it.
The songs were commissioned by Schultz and conclude her new album, for which they have also provided the title.
The South African soprano, accompanied by pianist Jonathan Ware, will perform This be her Verse at The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on 17 August.
Palmer knew the options available to singers looking for female poets were limited. Of the few female composers who had written surviving art song, few set works by female writers.
In this case the focus is on watershed moments in a contemporary woman’s life including relationships and motherhood.
Palmer says: “Some people might say ‘you have this opportunity to talk about female experience and you’re talking about marriage and babies?’
“Yes. Because even core works about female experiences that already exist in this space have always been written by men. A story about the abandonment of a young woman? Written by a man. A story about getting married and the experience of becoming a mother? Written by a man. This is about speaking for ourselves.”
In the first of the songs Single Bed, she addresses female independence and speaks to the fear and consequences of choosing the wrong mate.
Palmer said: “For centuries the perspective of women in classical song has been determined by the men who dominated the field – even when they’re speaking about our intimate life.
“When Golda and Jonathan commissioned This be her Verse I saw it as a fabulous opportunity to offer audiences a set of new stories, perspectives and ideas attuned to the lived experience of women.
“This is not about throwing away the form, but a dialogue with it that expands it. And the response from other performers has been insane. My Instagram DMs have been full of score requests from singers. They are so hungry for this because it’s just absent. The industry needs to catch up with this hunger because the appetite is there.
“I absolutely believe that it’s the responsibility of librettists to tell a different type of story, inspiring composers and performers to voice the breadth and range of perspectives that exist in the past and the present. The world has always been complex and diverse and beautiful, but the repertoire reflects a very narrow slice of experience. Now our vision is wider.”
Palmer’s work in This be her Verse has received extensive international critical praise including:
- “A three-poem cycle marked by skillful vocal writing … and poetry reflecting lived contemporary female experience …” Opera News.
- “A brutal, honest sampling of a woman’s perspective on married life and motherhood,” Washington Classical Review.
- “Deft, upbeat, sharp and true, a celebration of the single bed and clean sheets. The Guardian.
- “The finale, Single Bed, declaims an anthem for a defiant, intentionally unmarried woman,” Seen and Heard International.
Palmer has a strong track record in Edinburgh with Dead Equal, her opera with Rose Hall about women in combat and the story of Flora Sandes, the British woman who became an officer in the Royal Serbian Army, and fought against the Germans in WWI, was presented at Army@TheFringe in 2019.
The all-female company featured Nikkei-Canadian, gender non-binary opera singer Teiya Kasahara, in the role of Sandes.
The show earned excellent reviews including: “a resplendent feminist perspective on female involvement in combat,” ★★★★ Broadway Baby, “ true feminism,” ★★★★ Diva, “powerful,” ★★★★ The List and “highly-charged,” ★★★★ EdFestMag.
For media information contact Matthew Shelley Matthew@ScottishFestivalsPR.Org.
- Venue: The Queen’s Hall, Clerk Street, Edinburgh
- Time: 11:00
- Duration: 1hr 45 mins
- Date: 17 August
- Prices: £13 to £37
- Booking and information https://www.eif.co.uk/events/golda-schultz-jonathan-ware
About Lila Palmer
- Lila Palmer is a librettist. Upcoming performances in 2022 include The Fox Sisters, with Marc Migo for Theatre Liceu; the pandemic rescheduled In Her Own Valley, with Grace Mason (Liverpool Philharmonic); and Holy Ground with Damien Geter for Glimmerglass Opera.
- Lila’s song cycle for soprano Golda Schultz, This Be Her Verse is out on Alpha Classics. Lila will attend the 2022 Aix-En-Provence Women’s Opera Lab. Future works coming in 2023 and 2024 include her children’s opera with Clarice Assad, The Selfish Giant (Opera Saratoga); Shell Shaker with Jerod Impichchaachaaha Tate; Splintered with Jorge Sosa & Justine Chen and American Apollo with Geter for Des Moines Metro Opera.
- Lila is an alumna of ALT’s CLDP, where she is Associate Director for Partnerships and Promotions following a year as Interim Managing Director.
- An accomplished producer, Lila has led expanded arts programming in non-traditional and heritage spaces, producing and co-producing operas and enrichment and activation events with The Museum of London, The London Transport Museum, Trebah Gardens and the Bethlem Gallery and Trust.
- Lila’s career has taken her from children’s book and storyline editor to cultural commentator: her blogs, programme notes and essays have been featured by the Carl Nielsen Competition, English National Opera, Leeds Piano competition and other leading arts programmers.
- As a presenter she has interviewed opera stars including Susan Graham, Feruccio Furlanetto, Edita Gruberova, and many others. Most recently she co-hosted the International Tchaikovsky awards with Alexander Malich in St. Petersburg for Medici TV.
- Lila is a graduate of Cambridge University (BA History 1:1), New England Conservatory, Guildhall School of Music and Drama of which is also a Fellow, and an alumnus of American Lyric Theater’s Composer Librettist Development Program and Tapestry Opera’s LIBLAB.
- An accomplished lyric mezzo-soprano, she trained at ENO and began a performing career before committing to making opera in 2014 in order to expand the perspective of stories on opera stages.
- For more see https://www.lilapalmer.com