As many of you know, I spent a good portion of my life researching operas composed by women. As a singer knowing how competitive the field of music is, part of my reason for going into a doctoral program was that I wanted a niche that no one else had. While this might be a good strategy for finding a dissertation topic, it turned out to be a poor way to make a living. This is the first of three posts in which I will share a few things I learned from researching operas composed by women.
Thing Number One: No one cares.
Now, this is a bit of an exaggeration; after all, I care and my guess is that, because you’re reading this blog post, you care, too. Yes, there was some interest from libraries, and as a Speaker in the Humanities for the NY Council for the Humanities, I was able to bring my talk, “In Her Own Hand: Operas Composed by Women 1625-1913” to them and to other non-profit venues (including the Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum). I did also did win some grants for my company, The Maria Antonia Project, whose aim was to bring these works out of the archives and onto the stage.
However, that’s about as far as it went. The people I initially thought would be interested in my research—university hiring committees, managing directors of opera companies, opera singers—could have cared less. My article on the topic was accepted for publication by a magazine for classically trained singers, and then unceremoniously dropped without explanation shortly before that issue went to press. This disinterest struck me as odd because these were the same people who complained that no one cared about classical music, who were seeking new and innovative programming, and who were trying to reach untapped markets.
Furthermore, because it’s not taught in schools and does not feature prominently on TV or elsewhere in the US, classical music, especially opera, is far removed from most people’s everyday lives. This meant that most conversations with non-musicians about the subject went something like this:
“I research operas composed by women.”
“Wow! I don’t know any women composers.”
“Well, there were Francesca Caccini, Maria Antonia, Electress of Saxony; Maria Theresa Agnesi; Julie Candeille, Louise Bertin, and Gabrielle Ferrari, to name just a few.”
“Oh, that’s nice.”
And then said person would return to reading about the things that people really care about: how to make more money, how to improve their relationships or how to get rid of excess belly fat.
Thing Number Two next week.