Camille Rogers, mezzo
Trevor Chartrand, piano
A cantata for voice and piano
Text by Camille Rogers
with poetry by Aphra Behn
Music by Colin McMahon
Lecture: Julie d'Aubigny Maupin (1670-1707)
by Camille Rogers
*Program contains simulated gunshot and mentions of homophobia, transphobia, self-harm, attempted suicide, memory loss, illness, death, and violence.
Julie d'Aubigny, more often known by her stage name "Mademoiselle Maupin," was a queer and gender-non-conforming opera singer who lived at the end of the 17th century into the beginning of the 18th century. She was a mezzo-soprano, and sang some of the first leading roles written specifically for the mezzo voice at the Paris Opéra. She was also highly skilled in swordplay, and defeated many men in duels throughout her life. Besides the dates of her performances at the Opéra, there's very little else we know for sure about Maupin's life- although there are many sensational stories, which may or may not be 100% true. . .
Left: photo by Lauren Halasz
La Maupin sang in French operas, both tragic and comedic. She most often played roles that reflected her real-life adventures and skills, like warrior princesses and goddesses such as Athena and Artemis. Follow the link below to hear what opera of that time period sounded like:
Because the words we use today to describe gender and sexuality weren't in use in the 18th century, we don't know exactly how Maupin would have identified if she had lived today. We do know that she often wore men's clothing, but did not attempt to live or "pass" as a man. For that reason I use she/her pronouns to refer to her- although it's entirely possible that if she had lived today she might have used gender neutral pronouns such as they/them.
She was romantically involved with both men and women throughout her life, and actively sought out lovers of all genders. Today we would probably describe her as "bisexual," but that label didn't exist when she was alive. I generally use the umbrella term "queer" as a shorthand to describe her sexuality, but it's not really historically accurate either. (One of the many challenges of talking about queer history!)
Most of the text of the cantata is based on my translations of biographies written about Maupin in the 18th and 19th centuries. I wanted to show how historians talked about her and projected all sorts of moral panic onto her life story. Because we don't have any primary documents written by Maupin herself, I also wanted to give Maupin a chance to comment on other peoples' gossip and opinions about her- and that's where the music comes in. The composer Colin McMahon and I worked to include a lot of tongue-in-cheek moments where Maupin playfully relates her story as it has been told by others- while giving us a little musical wink to let us know that might not be exactly how it happened.
The Epilogue and Prologue as well as a few aria-like sections in the middle movements draw from the poetry of Aphra Behn, a female poet who lived in England in the 17th century. She may also have been involved romantically with women, and many of her poems and plays include sapphic themes. I wanted to include at least some text from the 17th century to give a sense of historical context, specifically around how people talked about and viewed gender and sexuality at that time.
José Esteban Muñoz
The duration of the programme is approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes,
including a 10-minute intermission halfway through.
Content warnings: homophobia,* memory loss,** intimate partner violence***
“I Know it’s Today” from Shrek the Musical
“Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz
“Take Me to the World” from Evening Primrose
“Out There” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
“Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid
“Ring of Keys” from Fun Home
“Reflection” from Mulan
“Who You Think I Am” from Just a Note
“Gorgeous” from The Apple Tree
*“Just Breathe” from Prom
“On the Steps of the Palace” from Into the Woods
“Into the Unknown” from Frozen II
**"I Remember” from Evening Primrose
“Flowers” from Hadestown
“I Know Things Now” from Into the Woods
“Heaven’s Light” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
***“Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors
“I’m Not That Girl” from Wicked
“No More” from Into the Woods
“Somewhere” from West Side Story
“No One is Alone” from Into the Woods
In musicals there’s a specific kind of song called an “I Want” song that appears in almost every show, usually in the first act sung by a main character. (The term was likely coined by Lehman Engel, a Broadway composer and conductor.) An “I Want” song lets the audience see what’s in the character’s heart, their deepest and perhaps most secret longings. It’s that classic moment when a character gazes off into the middle distance, the music swells, and you know exactly what’s coming—as the cliché goes, words alone aren’t enough anymore, they just have to sing about it.
Sometimes a character expresses a longing for something specific—a house in the suburbs, a handsome prince, or even just one day spent in the sun. But sometimes the longing is more all-encompassing—the character is searching for something they can’t quite name, a life beyond the one they know, a place they can barely imagine, where they can feel like they truly belong.
This kind of longing feels deeply queer to me, a longing for a world that is not yet in existence: one that lives only in our imaginations, but is still worth searching for. In the words of José Esteban Muñoz, “Queerness is not yet here… We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality… Queerness is a… mode of desiring that allows us to see and feel beyond the quagmire of the present.” (Cruising Utopia 2009). It doesn’t feel like a coincidence that many of the most iconic “I Want” songs in the musical theatre canon were written by queer people, many of whom experienced, and in some cases did not survive, the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s.
I’ve collected here some of my favourite “I Want” songs, interpreting the genre generously. There are songs about wanting to be loved and seen by others, wanting your outside appearance to match how you feel inside, and even songs about disappointed desire and despair. What I find most interesting is how many of these songs reference some kind of "inside" or "outside"—either an entrance into another world, or an escape from the confines of a stifling situation. To me this speaks to the experience of "coming out," a term which now means declaring one’s identity to a possibly hostile society, but which in an earlier form meant being welcomed into a queer community with open arms.
Sometimes the freedom of "out there" turns out to be disappointing or even dangerous, as in Into the Woods or The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Other times the promised safe haven of "inside" proves to be restrictive and oppressive, as in Hadestown or Evening Primrose. Sometimes even the burden of wanting seems like too much, as in the Baker’s song “No More” or Elphaba’s “I’m Not That Girl.” And yet every time the curtain rises, the search continues: for love, for belonging, and for freedom.
Program Notes by Camille Rogers
Saturday, February 15 at 7:30 pm
Walter Hall, 80 Queens Park
The venue is wheelchair accessible by a ramp and elevator.
The performance will last approximately 1 hr and 15 minutes including a 10-minute intermission.
The music is unamplified so it won't be loud, but the range and tone of classical singing can be quite intense especially if you aren't familiar with it.
The venue is an ampitheatre-type space with raked seating. There is also some standing room at the back with a railing to lean on if you would prefer to be able to move around during the performance.
Implied violence (including use of a prop knife onstage)
Allusions to dysphoria, self-harm, and misgendering
Throughout history, women have been portrayed on the musical stage as one-dimensional or stereotypical characters. In this recital, I explore a few of these common archetypes of femininity.
Normally, a ‘good’ female character is portrayed as one of the male-centric roles of wife, daughter, or mother. In contrast, a woman who does not fit into one of these models is often cast as a villain, ostracized or mocked. One such stock character which appears throughout the history of opera is the Whore, represented in this recital program by Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre's Sémélé.
Operas and theatrical music of this era tended to echo sexual politics at the French court—in particular, fears that the King was being influenced by his mistresses. De la Guerre’s Sémélé can be interpreted as a meditation on these anxieties. In the first recitative, the narrator sets the scene: the Princess Semele has been enjoying a love affair with Jupiter, the King of the gods. The all-powerful Jupiter has promised to grant his lover one wish—anything in the world. But Semele, doubting his identity, has asked for him to reveal himself to her in his true form. What Semele doesn’t know is that, because she is mortal, the sheer brilliance of her lover’s divine form will be fatal to her. After the drama has played out, the narrator returns to deliver the moral of the story: mixing love and ambition will never end well. Such a message might easily be interpreted as a warning to the mistresses of Louis XIV.
Another female figure was feared at court during this time period: the Witch. Belief in witchcraft and in particular in the potential power of the devil was still widespread in the late seventeenth century. One particular scandal, known as l’Affaire des Poisons, brought to light the depth of superstition prevalent even in France’s upper classes. Lasting from approximately 1677 to 1682, the Affair involved several members of Louis XIV’s court. To the great discomfort of the king, it appeared that for many years, members of his court had been visiting fortune tellers—known as devineresses—for services ranging from romantic advice to purveying love potions and poisons. Several high-born ladies were tried and convicted of murder by poison, resulting in widespread paranoia about sorcery.
Like Semele, Jean-Baptiste Lully’s 1686 Armide plays on male anxieties about over-reaching women gaining sexual power over men. In Armide, a Saracen sorceress and warrior princess has seduced and enslaved all but one of the Christian knights who are her enemies—only Renaud has escaped her power. Waiting until her enemy is totally disarmed by his surroundings, Armide enchants Renaud to make him fall asleep, seizing the chance to take her revenge.
Although Armide seems to wield unlimited magical power, the ostensible moral of the opera is that her power—and in fact any woman’s power—is merely an illusion. At the time women were believed to lack rationality and self-control, and in particular, they were seen as having no restraint when it came to their sexuality. Armide’s second act monologue “Enfin il est en ma puissance” dramatizes the sorceress’s struggle against her own desires. While her rational mind tells her that Renaud is her enemy and must be destroyed, Armide’s heart is filled first with pity, and then with an attraction so strong she is unable to resist its pull.
Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729)
Other feminine archetypes, while existing outside of the normal constraints of male-centric society, have inspired less stigma and more fascination throughout history. These characters, the Widow, the Warrior, and the Writer, are the subject of the second half of this recital:
The Widow and Working Mother
German composer and pianist Clara Schumann (1819-1896) had a performing career that lasted for 61 years. Although she is now best known for being married to Robert Schumann, during her life she was in fact rather more famous and respected than her husband, who was well-known as a music critic but not as a composer. Through her husband’s many bouts of mental illness, Schumann managed to support her family, raise eight children, and write many compositions of the highest calibre. Later, after her husband’s death, she continued to provide for her family with extremely popular and successful concert tours.
Although Schumann no longer composed after the death of her husband, her lieder “Mein Stern” and “Ihr Bildnis” seem to speak to the emotional loss of her partner, whom she was not allowed to visit for over two years during his hospitalization for mental illness. For example, in “Mein Stern” the singer expresses a wish that the titular star might pass on love and comfort to a faraway loved one. In “Ihr Bildnis” the narrator stands transfixed by a portrait of a lost love, weeping while imagining the frozen face come to life.
Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
Gioachino Rossini’s Giovanna d’Arco depicts the very beginning of Joan of Arc’s story, just after she has been called by an angel to leave her countryside home and join the army dressed as a boy. Joan of Arc legendarily led French troops to victory during the Hundred Years War, when she was still only a teenager. She became a martyr when she was burned at the stake by her enemies, the English—ostensibly not for any crimes associated with warfare, but for her refusal to shed the men’s clothing she habitually wore. In many visual depictions, she is softened and feminized in order to appease the heterosexual male gaze—in others, however, her determination and virility shine through.
The female warrior, whether disguised as a young soldier or openly garbed as an amazon, has been a figure of fascination in many cultures and throughout many centuries. She brazenly contradicts the stereotype of female weakness, as well the ideal of feminine passivity. Her place among the masculine hierarchy of the battlefield shows her worth beyond the restrictive female hierarchy of exclusively sexual power.
Joan of Arc (c.1412-1431)
Nightsongs sets an English translation of fragments of poetry written by Sappho, one of few recorded female poets from ancient Greece. Although Sappho was a prolific writer, most of her poetry is now lost, surviving only in fragmentary form. This setting of Sappho by Maria Case, a twenty-first century Canadian, highlights the many difficulties in attempting to trace women’s history when many records have been lost—or simply never existed—due to women’s position outside of public life. Because of its incomplete nature, the text is sometimes disjointed. However, Case’s music deftly weaves an evocative sketch out of Sappho’s vivid poetry.
The last work on the program, What is it like?, is a creation of my own in consultation with Toronto composer Gavin Fraser. It explores my identity as a non-binary performer and questions assumptions about the nature of gender and performance itself.
Program notes by Camille Rogers
Sappho (d. 580 BCE)