Dead Equal – Opera Honours the Unsung Female Heroes of War
When you think of a soldier what do you see?
Women remain the unsung heroes of the British Army, and now Dead Equal, a new opera is giving them their voice.
This pioneering production is being brought to the Fringe by Palmer & Hall and is part of the Army @ The Fringe programme in association with Summerhall.
It weaves together gripping testimonies from contemporary servicewomen of the royal army medical corps with the largely untold story of Flora Sandes and Emily Simmonds; volunteer nurses who together saved thousands of lives on the Balkan Front in World War I.
When instructed to retreat with medical staff, Flora instead joined the Serbian Allied Army, becoming the only British woman who officially served as a soldier in World War I – rising to the rank of captain and being decorated seven times.
Dead Equal, which runs from 2 to 25 August, combines the voices of women across time to ask what it means to be a soldier, a medic, and a woman, celebrating the disruptive power of a female identity forged in blood and sweat.
Dead Equal is written by Lila Palmer with music by Rose Miranda Hall and directed by Miranda Cromwell. The production also features the Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
The timing of the piece is significant. The British Army began accepting women into full combat roles in 2016, a century after Flora Sandes won Serbia’s highest military decoration, The Order of the Karadorde’s Star, after being wounded in battle. And 2019 is the operational year in which employment across all branches of the military will be determined solely by ability.
“Women like Flora Sandes used their privilege and strength of character to challenge the rules society enforced.”
“Working class, queer and women of colour have different experiences in the same circumstances than affluent white women because of responses to their combined identities.”
“In the opera I wanted to explore how women negotiate those differences of experience in the extremity of a theatre of war and form relationships across them.”
“Knowing that others have changed the rules before gives successors strength to break down boundaries in the present. When the press went nuts on the Army gender issue in 2016, right when Rose had come to me with Flora’s biography, I just went, ‘How is this argument happening when she already existed?”
“But of course if no one knows she did… the more research I did the more I realised British women were already operating in combat situations as soldiers under other roles, and a lot of the tabloid rhetoric just didn’t reflect current reality, before the changes were even implemented.”
“We didn’t set out with an agenda to convince people gender equality in the army was a good idea. It just turns out that showing what already is and has been is a powerful argument.”
Flora will be played by gender queer feminist Canadian soprano Teiya Kasahara, who is delighted to be part of an opera that presents women in groundbreaking roles.
Teiya (who uses the them/they pronoun) said:
“One of the reasons Dead Equal is so exciting is that women are so often only portrayed as victims, and all the more so in war and especially in opera as a genre. But here we have a woman who was triumphant, who broke boundaries and was accepted in a highly unusual role in an era that was so restrictive.”
Female-led company Palmer & Hall create roles and stories that confound expectations of the opera genre, platforming concealed stories and expanding the vision of who opera is made by and for.
“We believe this piece and this team are what the future of opera should look like. Miranda Cromwell has led the way in British Theatre in directing the work of diverse female voices, from touring India with Half Breedto her sold out all-black Death of a Salesmanwith Marianne Elliot to her work with Talawa.”
“Simone Ibbet-Brown (Jo) co-founded Hera, which campaigns for greater diversity in opera, and Teiya is a one-person powerhouse creator-performer. We love the fact that every artist associated with this production has stood up and been counted in the fight to make their corner of the arts a truly representative space as well as being capable of delivering the highest standards of artistic excellence.”
Tickets include admission to Live Equal, a portrait exhibit by acclaimed photographer Wolf James. Design is by Anna Driftmier.
Dates: 2nd – 25th August 2019 (not 5th, 11th, 17th, 18th or 19th)
Duration: 60 minutes
Venue: Army@The Fringe (in association with Summerhall), Hepburn House, 89 East Claremont Street, EH7 4HU (Venue 210)
Tickets: £12 (£9.50)
Bookings: 0131 560 1581 | armyatthefringe.org/dead-equal
ABOUT TEIYA KASAHARA
Teiya Kasahara is a queer, Nikkei-Canadian, gender non-binary opera singer, multi-disciplinary creator, teacher, and producer. With Japanese and German heritage, Teiya comes from a background of over 12 years of professional stage experience as a coloratura soprano in various operas across North America and Europe including Rosina/The Barber of Seville(Teplice, CZ) and Olympia/The Tales of Hoffman(Edmonton Opera). Recently praised as “a force of nature” (Toronto Star), and as a “magnetic performer” singing with “a dynamic mix of sweetness undercut by strength” (Opera Canada) for their portrayal of Solana/When the Sun Comes Out, Canada’s first lesbian opera at the Queer Arts Festival in 2013, and Toronto’s World Pride in 2014. Their “impeccable and effortless” (Review Vancouver) Queen of the Night/The Magic Flutehas already been seen across Canada (Vancouver Opera, Edmonton Opera, Opera Kitchener & Highlands Music Festival) and in Europe (Prague, Teplice, Opéra de Toulon, & Essen). More recently they have moved into the dramatic coloratura soprano repertoire adding Lady Macbeth/Macbeth(Opera Niagara), Fata Morgana/The Love of Three Oranges (Aalto-Musiktheater Essen), and Donna Elvira/Don Giovanni(Westben & Music Niagara) to their repertoire.
In Toronto Teiya has worked extensively with the Canadian Opera Company as both an Ensemble Studio Artist from 2007-2010 and since then as a guest artist, including Echo/Ariadne auf Naxos, Frasquita/Carmen, and Lucy/The Telephone. They also performed with Theatre Gargantua (Raging Dreams: into the visceral; The Wager), National Ballet of Canada, Tapestry Opera (Opera Briefs; Tap This; Hope/Shelter), Opera 5 (Offenbach/Hahn), and with Against the Grain Theatre in their highly acclaimed portrayal as Bino/Figaro’s Wedding.
Alongside their life-long passion for the art of bel canto singing, Teiya’s new found desires are to revolutionize and queer the operatic form. Having premiered their first ever opera-inspired theatre piece entitled The Queen In Me (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre 2017) directed by Andrea Donaldson, and currently in development with the support of Theatre Gargantua’s SideStream Cycle and the new collective Amplified Opera, where Teiya shares the position of Co-Artistic Director with director/producer/writer Aria Umezawa. Recent performances of The Queen In Mehave included Tapestry Opera and SummerWorks Open Studio, Friday Night Live at the ROM, and most recently at Vancouver’s Queer Arts Festival. Their new work, YORU / The Queer of the Nightis also in development with both companies.
Exciting collaborations include Raging Asian Women (RAW) Taiko Drummers (Crooked Lines 2016), and Wolastoq composer/vocal artist Jeremy Dutcher on his debut album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (Polaris Prize 2018, Juno Award Winner 2019). Teiya also joins RAW as an apprentice since November 2017 and has already performed extensively in and around the Toronto area as a taiko drummer. From the new theatre collective Queer AF Collective, along with fellow artists Bilal Baig, François Macdonald and Sofía Rodríguez, their new work Undecidedis currently in development with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. This season Teiya takes part in Generator’s Artist-Producer Training Program. Other performances include collaborations with Soundstreams and FAWN Chamber Creative.
ABOUT LILA PALMER
Lila Palmer is an Anglo-American libettist and producer committed to equal or female positive gender ratios in new writing. She is committed to challenging narratives of violence towards women in opera. Recent commissions include These Wandering Stones for Barbican Centre; an electronic promenade opera about the ethnic and social history of Smithfield Market which played to over-capacity audiences in May & June. Commissions include a children’s cantata for Liverpool Philharmonic, an opera with Aleksandra Vrebalov for American Lyric Theatre and a new song cycle for star South African Soprano Golda Schultz. You can find her vlog series (T/R)ough guides to female characters in opera at www.lilapalmer.com under THE ARCHETYPES PROJECT. Follow @librettistatlarge.
Lila was a co-founding member of social justice arts collective The Sounding Board in 2011 (working with the UN on the Rio +20 Song initative); and has consulted for emerging arts organisations on diverse recruitment practices including Four Corners Ensemble; Arts for Change, Helios, Chicago Midsummer Opera, Fujit Productions, workshOpera, and top US & UK classical music institutions and individuals. She made her presenting debut (June 2019) as host for Medici TV at the International Tchaikovsky Voice Competition in St. Petersburg, Russia. As a writer and dramaturg she has worked with organisations including Helios Collective, Wigmore Hall, Boston Opera Collaborative, workshOpera, The Nielsen Competition, Roman River Festival, Bethlem Gallery, The Museum of London, New Camerata Opera, Trebah Gardens, GMSD, Tapestry Opera and others.