Aleda or The Flight of the Suff Birdwomen
A one-act chamber opera in three scenes
Music and libretto by Max Caplan; commissioned and produced by Musicians of Ma’alwyck, Ann-Marie Barker Schwartz, Director
Auditions will be held in 107 Foy Hall at Siena College on September 11th and 18th from 7 PM to 9 PM.
Music Direction by Dr. Timothy Reno and Stage Direction by Dr. Krysta Dennis.
Soprano: Please prepare a 20th century vocal selection that showcases your
higher range and rhythmic abilities, suggestions include Magda’s aria from
The Consul and The Saga of Jenny by Kurt Weill. Also prepare the short
excerpt from Aleda HERE.
Contralto: Please prepare an English-language selection that showcases your
range, particularly lower, and your theatrical/comic skills. Buttercup’s
aria from H.M.S. Pinafore is a good example. Also prepare the short excerpt
from Aleda HERE.
Both: You will be singing with the already cast singers to hear your blend.
Ida Blair – head of the N.A.W.S.A. publicity committee. Age 42; tall, slim. Elegant, articulate, and refined, but with an iron will and singleness of purpose. Also a businesswoman, her chief concern is to “sell” suffrage by any means possible. The quintessential diplomat.
Voice type: Soprano
Mary Otis Willcox – leader of the N.A.W.S.A.’s Staten Island branch. Age 54; short, broad. Strong-willed and plain-speaking. Unlike Blair, she never minces words to make her views more palatable, but relies entirely upon the strength of her convictions to promote her cause.
Voice type: Contralto
Set in Staten Island in 1916, the opera tells the true story of a unique
women’s suffrage demonstration attempted by early female pilot Leda
Richberg-Hornsby and the National American Woman Suffrage Association
(N.A.W.S.A.). Equipped with a bi-plane, a cargo of votes-for-women
petitions, and a huge banner reading “Women want liberty too,” the
suffragists endeavored to fly over New York Harbor during a national
celebration at the Statue of Liberty in order to “bomb” President Woodrow
Wilson with petitions. The elaborate plan ended in something of a fiasco as
a gale of wind forced a premature crash-landing in a Staten Island swamp
(luckily no one was hurt) – yet the attempt stands as a testimony to the
courage and inventiveness (not to mention dramatic flare) of these women in
their struggle for the right to vote.
Leda Richberg-Hornsby – “aviatrix” from Chicago
Mezzo-soprano (already cast)
Ida Blair – N.A.W.S.A. publicity leader
Mary Otis Willcox – N.A.W.S.A. Staten Island leader
A Reporter for the New York Sun
Baritone (already cast)
All action takes place on an airfield at Midland Beach, Staten Island.
Prologue: The Reporter introduces the story.
Scene 1: Leda is returning, exhilarated, from one of her regular exhibition
flights. She carries a letter that she has just received from the French
government – a response to her request for appointment to the Lafayette
Flying Corps (a group of American pilots fighting in the French Air Force
during WWI). Opening the letter, she is crushed to learn that the Corps
does not accept women. Vowing to give up flying, she laments bitterly the
double-standards that women face.
Blair and Willcox arrive opportunely to enlist Leda’s services in the
N.A.W.S.A.’s plan to “bomb” President Wilson. Leda is revitalized at this
unexpected chance for action and eagerly accepts the assignment.
Scene 2: The day of the ceremony. As Leda and the others prepare for the
flight, they clash ideologically with the (male) Reporter, who has been
assigned to cover their story. Tensions rise further as increased winds
threaten the mission. At last, scorning the hazardous conditions, the
suffragists choose to take off anyhow. All march off to a suffrage song,
even as celebrations at the Statue of Liberty in the distance reach a
climax of patriotic frenzy.
Between scenes, the Reporter relates the outcome of the flight.
Scene 3: Some time later. Leda has decided to leave New York in search of
better opportunities. The Reporter arrives unexpectedly, and, seeing her
luggage, assumes that she is giving up flying. Leda dispels this fear,
outlining the many ambitious aviation projects that she has planned for the
future. The Reporter, forced to admire her tenacity, begrudgingly revises
his views on women’s suffrage, and the two sing a duet in praise of
The musical style is postmodern classical infused with elements of “period”
idioms (e.g., ragtime, marches, music hall songs). Scoring will be for a
chamber ensemble of about 8 players (flute/piccolo, clarinet/saxophone,
trumpet, violin, cello, guitar, percussion, and keyboard). Total duration,
30-40 min. Music Director is Dr. Timothy Reno.
The opera will be acted out with vocal parts memorized. Set design will be
minimal, but there will be full costuming and a substantial video
projection component. Stage Director is Dr. Krysta Dennis.
The performances are scheduled for June 8-10, 2018. Rehearsals will begin
around February for singers with piano and will be scheduled for weekends.
Blocking rehearsals will start in May. Rehearsals with orchestra will begin
around May 30th and will require daytime availability. There will be a
preview at Siena College June 5th or 6th.
There will also be a performance of excerpts from the opera (about fifteen
minutes’ worth) on November 17th as part of this year’s Researching New
York conference (hosted by the University at Albany, SUNY). This will
require weekend availability in the weeks leading up the conference.