A teenage girl rebels against her parents’ political ideology in 2015, and no one blinks.
Place that same rebel in 1915, and get ready for the fireworks. That was a time when women throughout the world were fighting for their right to vote.
And it’s where Louisiana native composer Kate Waring has set the conversation in her one-act opera, “Are Women People?” which makes its United States premiere on Tuesday in the LSU School of Music Recital Hall.
The Louisiana Sinfonietta is collaborating with the LSU Composers Forum on this production directed by LSU Professor of Voice Sandra Moon.
The set will be minimal — a table and chairs — where the cast of Cara Waring as the daughter, Lauren Honea as the mother and Sean Matassa as the father gathers for the Webb family’s often comedic argument about women’s suffrage. A silent character, the young suffragette, played by Ashley Murray, has been added to this show.
“The daughter is a big women’s libber in her day,” Moon says. “Her mother agrees with her to a certain point, but her father doesn’t agree with her at all.”
Moon also is bringing other parts of the university into this production. Before the opera, Associate Professor of History Marilyn Veldman will talk about the suffrage movement, and the LSU Textile and Costume Museum is providing World War I-era American military uniforms for display. Students in the LSU School of Art have designed suffrage posters for the production.
“Though the opera is set in 1915, some of the posters are modern,” Moon says. “We wanted to put a modern taste in the production.”
The reason, says Moon, is because protests for social justice didn’t stop when American women won the right to vote in 1920; it continues today.
“The opera really is timely,” Moon says. “And there is also the movie, ‘Suffragette’ with Meryl Streep, which opens this fall, So, for us, the timing is perfect.”
“Suffragette” is set in England, where the movement was bigger than in the United States. Women there won the right to vote in 1918, though they had to be age 30 to exercise that right. So, England was an appropriate place for the opera’s world premiere.
“The opera is set in the United States, so they changed some of the working in the songs to set it in England,” Moon says. “Here, it’s not set in any specific town, though the father is reading a New York Times at the table.”
Composer Waring, who based her work on New York suffragette poet and novelist Alice Duer Miller’s writings, died in August, but did get to see the world premier of her opera at Cambridge University in England in 2014.
“Kate was a student of Dinos Constantinides when he taught at LSU,” Moon says. “She had bouts with cancer 20 years ago, and Dinos kept in touch with her. He wanted to do this piece, and he asked if I would do the direction.”
Constantinides also is founder, music director and conductor of the Sinfonietta, which has included the opera in its 2015-16 season. Constantinides won’t be conducting, but Sinfonietta musicians will be providing accompaniment.
“The opera is accompanied by three instruments — a cello, a clarinet and a piano,” Moon says. “It was performed without a conductor in England, and that’s how we’re performing it here. It’s a little tricky for the singers, but we’re making it work.”
The production marks Moon’s directorial debut, though she’s not new to the stage. She came to LSU after a 30-year opera and soloist career in Germany. She also played opera legend Maria Callas last May in Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of “Master Class.”
“I’ve learned new things about the suffrage movement through this production,” Moon says. “It’s why I thought I needed to get other disciplines in the university involved. It’s a one-act opera, but I thought it needed more. And that’s why this collaborative effort is so important.”
And in the midst of this, a wish by the late composer also has been granted.
“Kate wanted her niece, Cara, an LSU graduate, to sing the soprano part,” Moon says. “We’re making that happen.”