Women in the arts industry can sometimes be required to write, produce, or star in works that undermine or outright insult their gender just to stay in the business. Opera, in particular, can be a very conflicting field for women to work in.
Miren de Miguel is an experienced soprano who has chosen to leave Italy’s opera scene to produce her own works in her native Spain. Tired of playing women who suffer and often die for the sake of the men in their stories, Miren has put together “Tutte Contro Verdi” to call out the misogyny which is endemic to opera, through the use of poetry, movement pieces, and seven arias from operas in which women meet with tragic fates. She combines her obvious passion for the genre with her feminism to make a powerful statement about the treatment of women both in opera and in our society.
Miren is an impressive stage presence and delivers each performance with as much power, precision, and emotion as you would expect from a seasoned soprano. Her monologues are as beautiful and moving as her arias, all delivered in Spanish with translations provided on a screen by the stage. This production also introduces something relatively new to opera – movement. Not dance, so much as interpretive interactions with the set, itself a simple but versatile affair. The entire effect is far removed from the traditional atmosphere of the opera, whilst retaining its emotion and intrigue.
“Tutte Contro Verdi” focuses on some of the strongest female characters of opera, such as Violetta, Tosca, and Carmen, and highlights the tropes that are habitually used against them, specifically humiliation, illness, and death. One of the issues Merin raises with the work of the operatic masters is their tendency to put “music before the word”. The great composers have produced some of the most beautiful music in the world, full of power and passion, which has then been set to words that take away a female character’s power over herself. Merin’s love for the music is evident in her delivery of the arias, but her disgust with the words is clear from her spoken pieces.
In her work all men are jealous and evil, and it is stated that we, as women will die by one of them. This is an extreme judgement if taken literally, however, in the context of opera it is certainly the case. In operatic works, even the most upstanding, heroic and honourable of men will turn jealous or mistreat the women in their lives at the slightest hint of disobedience or infidelity. And women never die in opera except at the hands of, or for the sake of, a man. For Merin opera is an expression of the misogyny that occurs in the real world every day: women are abused and killed by the men who control them. She uses her critique of the mistreatment of women in opera to condemn the mistreatment of women in real life.
I will admit to not always being able to follow her stream of consciousness or understand the meaning behind some of the poetry in this work. The messages can sometimes seem contradictory and confusing, and it wasn’t until a few hours after I left the theatre that I understood why: this is one woman’s personal experience with feminism. Everyone who embraces a new ideal will face a certain amount of conflict, not just from others but within themselves, and the resolution of that conflict can be lengthy, confusing, and very different for different people. This show is Merin’s interpretation of her own struggle, and is therefore particular to her. Each of us has their own experiences and their own story.
“Tutte Contro Verdi” is a striking case of embracing your art in order to criticise and improve it. I would recommend it to anyone facing similar conflict, and to anyone who would appreciate an hour with a talented and experienced soprano singing some of opera’s greatest arias.
“Tutte Contro Verdi” is part of the Universal Arts Festival, and is playing at the New Town Theatre (Venue 7) every day at 15:45 until 17th August.