This weekend (Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 28-29), Mission Opera presents Girondines at the Canyon High Performing Arts Center in Santa Clarita, California. CalArts alum Sarah Melnick née Van Sciver (Music BFA 16) composed the music and also serves as the production’s music director, technical director, and pianist-conductor. Kirsten Kunkle, the opera’s librettist, joins Melnick as stage director and also performs in the production.
The chamber opera’s title refers to the Girondins, a loosely affiliated political group formed during the French Revolution. The Girondins stood in opposition to the Montagnards, the radical group responsible for violent massacres and public executions during the Reign of Terror.
Melnick and Kunkle’s opera centers around the tragedies and triumphs of six feminist and revolutionary figures affiliated with the Girondins: the murderess Charlotte Corday (played by Kunkle), writer Madame Manon, playwright Olympe de Gouge, painter Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, political theorist Madame Germaine de Staël, and inventive chemist Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze.
The duo created Girondines as a way to showcase a range of women’s voices and to push back against traditional stereotypes that characterize women’s roles in opera. Central to this opera’s story is Charlotte Corday’s assassination of the revolutionary journalist Jean-Paul Marat. Corday murdered Marat to avenge the innocent victims of a massacre she blamed him for and also hoped to prevent further violence during the revolution. Corday was found guilty of murder and executed by guillotine.
In an interview with Classical Singer Magazine, Melnick says that Corday’s story was a philosophical catalyst for the opera. “Her behavior and her opinions inspire lots of great dialogue, and in some cases, disagreement among these women. Also, what befalls her starts the domino chain that leads to many of the events that impact these other women.”
The West Coast premiere of Girondines features six voices, dance, film, harp, piano, cello, and violin. Several CalArts alums are involved in the production, including harpist Leila Jay Bishop (Music MFA 19), Mission Opera board member and singer Constanze Bonelli (Music BFA 92), dancer Maiko Okajima (Dance BFA 23), and flutist Juan Antonio Rivera (Music MFA 16).
Performances are sung in English. Due to mature themes and content, this opera is recommended for ages 13 and older.