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Northwestern alumnae direct, compose opera monodramas about female identity

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Northwestern alumnae direct, compose opera monodramas about female identity

Amanda DeBoer Bartlett rehearses on stage. She is set to star in two operatic monodramas featured in an upcoming fall production at Edge Theater.

Amanda DeBoer Bartlett rehearses on stage. She is set to star in two operatic monodramas featured in an upcoming fall production at Edge Theater.

Source: Ensemble Dal Niente

Amanda DeBoer Bartlett rehearses on stage. She is set to star in two operatic monodramas featured in an upcoming fall production at Edge Theater.

Source: Ensemble Dal Niente

Source: Ensemble Dal Niente

Amanda DeBoer Bartlett rehearses on stage. She is set to star in two operatic monodramas featured in an upcoming fall production at Edge Theater.

Jenny Kang, Reporter

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Three Northwestern alumnae are the creative stars of Ensemble Dal Niente’s Edge Theater’s first production of this season’s STAGED series, which features a musical act centered on women and their place in society.

A Chicago-based music collective, Ensemble Dal Niente, will present “Piece Her Together” on Friday. The show is a set of two operatic monodramas — dramatic pieces performed by a single actor or singer — directed by Emmi Hilger (Communication ’08). Northwestern alumnae Eliza Brown (Bienen ’15) and Katherine Young (Bienen ’17) composed the featured monodramas.

Young’s “When Stranger Things Happen” will succeed Brown’s “The Body of the State” in each performance after a brief intermission. Both shows engage with questions about female identity and the way society can complicate it, Young said.

“These are two incredibly different but equally powerful stories by two fantastic women composers in Chicago,” said Emma Hospelhorn, Ensemble Dal Niente’s publicity director and a flutist in the production. “These are two large works we have commissioned by women, about women and women’s identities.”

Brown said her piece focuses on the story of 16th-century Spanish princess Juana of Castile, whom historical texts often portray as a madwoman. Brown said she took interest in the story because Castile is a misunderstood character who acted in response to her oppressive family’s behavior.

Six women from the Indiana Women’s Prison’s education program helped Brown write “The Body of the State.” Brown said their contributions were crucial in the monodrama’s portrayal of incarceration and its psychological effects.

“It went beyond their personal experience and was an artistic collaboration,” Brown said. “They just were some really smart women who were great to bounce ideas with.”

Brown said she hopes the performance captures Castile’s tragic life through both the acting and the music. The interaction between the orchestra and the actress of the piece adds to the sense of “confinement” and “isolation” Brown said she wishes to convey.

Young’s monodrama was inspired by the novel “The Girl Detective” by Kelly Link. The book is about a young girl whose investigations lead her into various places — including the underworld — where lost items accumulate.

The key themes of Young’s monodrama resonate around Link’s ideas of loss. While everyone experiences loss in some form, it may serve as an opportunity for introspection, Young said.

“Perhaps you can say (the monodrama is) about someone searching for their creative voice, finding it perhaps, (but) looking for it in some ways,” Young said.

Young hopes the theme of loss is explicated through the production’s music, as the contrasts between loud moments and silences in the piece will expose listeners to musical motifs where sound is absent, she said.

Yet, Young said the message of her monodrama is open to interpretation and the audience should go into the show without a prescribed narrative.

Brown and Young said classes with Bienen Prof. Hans Thomalla influenced their careers in opera. Brown added that Thomalla and she worked together since she studied contemporary opera as a student.

Young, who also took contemporary opera classes with Thomalla, said working with him reignited her passion about opera as an art form that has a lot of potential for artistic expression.

“There are so many things I would have been doing different … if I hadn’t been (at Northwestern),” she said.

A previous version of this story inaccurately stated the prison’s name and Hans Thomalla’s involvement with Eliza Brown’s work. The prison is the Indiana Women’s Prison. The Daily regrets the errors.

This story was updated to clarify that “Piece Her Together” is an Ensemble Dal Niente production. 

Email: hanbyuljennykang2021@u.northwestern.edu

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