Monday, 3 July 2017

How an Opera reminded me of the importance of the small gestures in Gender Equality

On Saturday night I went to see Olivia Fuch's production of the opera Der Rosenkavalier by Strauss.

To be honest I've never been a fan of Opera.  I like it but haven't loved it, as I love the theatre.  I can count on both my hands the number of times I've been to the Opera.

All this has now have changed.

Why?  Because I saw an opera directed by a woman and her version of the story spoke directly to me - like none of the others.

Der Rosenkavalier is about an Marschellin around her 40s who has a young lover, Octavian.  She realises her young lover will leave her and rather than wait for that time, she encourages him to leave and find new love.  Meanwhile a hideous buffoon and noble called, Baron Ochs is planning on marrying a young girl to secure her money and rid her of her virginity.

The small things spoke the loudest
During the production I kept on checking myself. There were small changes in the way I'm used to seeing things in this medium.  In the world of unconscious bias and gender equality they're called micro-inequities.

These small details are the  subtle ways men put down women with a condescending tone, a patronising patting gesture  or the way they give credit to a man over you.  If you're watching the Handmaid's Tale on Channel 4 - it's the subtle change of Ralph Fiennes character from (almost) loving equal with his wife to controlling superiority in Gilead.

These small details in the Opera were different in this production - the defiance of Sophie (the young girl) was not a churlish childish defiance but a strong, determined defiance.  The way the chorus run away from the leching advances of Ochs's men - was not giggly and fun, it was menacing and frightening.  Octavian who goes on to outwit Baron Ochs, is portrayed as a feminist who respects women, not wins them.

The imagery was powerful
Olivia used the presence of an older woman with such beauty.  It really touched me.  I realised that we, as women, can hold that older woman, that mother in our sights as we age.  We see how they lived their life and if we have lost them, how they died and we compare our selves to them. It also had the power of another technique used in facilitation "Imagine you are 80".  This is when you ask the delegates, if you were 80 what would you tell your present self. It can be a very powerful exercise.  Seeing our life from the end can help us make braver choices now.

We were shown time is passing with sand falling from the flies, as if an hourglass was always reminding us of our time.   As Dylan Thomas said in his beautiful poem, UnderMilk Wood "Time passes.  Listen.  Time passes."  This production helped us tune in and listen.

The hourglass dripping time away one grain of sand or one moment in time after another, reminds us of our time left and if we listen closely enough we can learn to be brave.  Rebecca Evan's Marschallin showed us a woman that was powerful, compassionate and brave. She also gave us the complex subtleties of the role not the cardboard cutout version of that type of character I've seen so many times before.  

The hourglass, the mother and the leader.
I'm left with a feeling.  The hourglass of time is ticking and we need to be brave as women.  We need to be willing to speak out the truth of how we see the world.  We need to have more female leaders changing these small micro inequities.  We need to be brave and lead as women, with all the subtleties and complexities we have.