Women opera composers: 10 of the greatest women in classical music
Gender equality among the opera composers has been unbalanced. This is a fact that can be demonstrated on a purely numerical basis.
A number of reasons have been suggested to explain the relatively few women who have been composers of opera. Problems of access to musical education and to the male hierarchy of the musical establishment, denial of female creativity in the arts even by some philosophers, restrictions against women's advancement in cultural, economic and political spheres over a long historical period could be mentioned amongst the reasons for historical under-representation of women composers. Many musicologists and critics have come to incorporate gender studies in assessing the history and practice of the art.
However, the quality of the works composed by women have nothing to envy (if not fame) to the works of the male counterpart.
Francesca Caccini was an Italian composer, singer, lutenist, poet, and music teacher of the early Baroque era, daughter of Giulio Caccini. Her only surviving stage work, La liberazione di Ruggiero, which was performed in Florence in 1625, is widely considered the oldest opera by a woman composer.
Ethel Smyth (1858–1944) is perhaps most famous for her work for the suffragettes; however, she also wrote several operas of note, including The Wreckers.
And the list can go on with Judith Weir and her A Night at the Chinese Opera (1987), Svitlana Azarova and her Momo and the Time Thieves, which premiered in 2017, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Lori Laitman, Rachel Portman, Olga Neuwirth, Pauline Viardot, Unsuk Chin, just to name a few.
In recent years New York’s Metropolitan Opera has staged, Kaija Saariaho’s L’amour de Loin, its first opera by a woman since 1903 (Ethel Smyth’s The Forest was the last).
In the words of journalist Elizabeth Davis: “We can’t do anything to change the dominance of male composers on the opera stages of the past, but we’re lucky enough to live in a time when women are writing some of the most exciting music around. Let’s give their work the space – and attention – it deserves.”
Meanwhile, the youngest opera composer ever is a girl, Alma Deutscher.