Opera has traditionally provided an epic context for the hysterical soprano. The Baroque and Romantic periods both favored the temperament and qualities of the intuitive, emotional, assymetrical, and individualistic. Norma, Tosca, and Lucia da Lamermoor embodied these tendencies in their masterfully virtuosic roles. The furthest of liberties were taken in their dazzling cadenzas to express these compelling cases of emotional living. The use of the hysterical in opera, as Helene Cixous defends in Opera and the Undoing of Women, has become a well-known convention. It unfortunately relegates and confines most heroines bearing these traits of pronounced emotionality to the description of hysterical. Howling is a postmodern rendition of this vocalization.

The “howl” is a further allusion to the moon, the menstrual cycle and the notion of the female psyche being, to some extent, governed by the forces of nature. A reference is made to the film “Antonia’s Line,” in which a tragic female character is compelled to howl uncontrollably at each full moon. Finally, there is an acknowledgement of Cassandra, the mythical Greek who voiced the future but was never heeded.

The latest incarnation of this piece is performed live with a 5.1 surround sound accompaniment.


© 2024 Kathy Kennedy