By E. Loren Meeker
nother warm summer day of Show Boat rehearsal at The Glimmerglass Festival in New York is over. As I sit gazing at the sparkling waters of the lake that gave this company its name, I am struck by the explosive trajectory my career has taken thanks to this company?s Artistic Director, my mentor Francesca Zambello.
While my accomplishments are of course the result of my talent and my work ethic, I would not have had my earliest opportunities to direct around the world without Francesca’s faith in me. My success is directly attributable to the importance of female mentorship and community in the arts. At a pivotal time in my career, she invited me to join the global community of artists making opera worldwide.
Photo courtesy of Seattle Opera
Working hard has paid off and I now find myself enjoying a busy international career. This has sometimes meant squeezing in family vacations to Machu Picchu and Paris between back to back shows in South America, Europe and the United States. As I explore the opera community around the world, I notice that there are more and more women pursuing careers in this great, collaborative art form.
People think of opera as being male-centric and yes, until recently, opera was written, composed, conducted and directed by men. Yet opera is full of amazing female characters with exciting and relevant stories. I think that women, both onstage and off, want to see stories told with a modern, feminine perspective–or at the very least, with a balanced perspective. Women are now actively telling these great operatic stories in communities across the globe.
Photo by Karli Cadel for The Glimmerglass Festival
Photo by Ken Howard for the Los Angeles Opera
Photos by Karli Cadel for The Glimmerglass Festival
After all of my travels, I have a new opera home as co-artistic advisor of Opera San Antonio. I am excited to build a new community in San Antonio and to introduce my collaborators from all over the world to this thriving, creative city.
This season Opera San Antonio will open with a production of Puccini’s Tosca, which I will direct. Tosca is a sweeping, gorgeous, romantic opera with a fascinating female lead. Tosca is a celebrated, sophisticated opera singer in Italy. She is at the height of her fame and deeply in love with the painter Cavaradossi. They are a perfect pair of passionate artists, but they are living in a dangerous political moment. Tosca is a woman alone among male revolutionaries and the officers of a totalitarian, corrupt police state. She is forced to make a life or death decision to protect herself and her love.
Technical rehearsals for The Barber of Seville at Opera San Antonio. Photo courtesy of E. Loren Meeker.
This is exciting stuff. This opera is a timeless classic. Female roles like this in classic operas are truly still relevant. So why is it important that women’s voices are included in telling the story of Tosca? Tosca is often portrayed as being motivated only by her emotions (love and fear) and having no thoughts or political convictions of her own. This reduces Tosca to a trope and diminishes the complexity and agency of a woman who is relatable and whose story is still resonant.
Photo by Karli Cadel for The Glimmerglass Festival
It is a gift to be in a position as both stage director and artistic advisor at Opera San Antonio, as this allows me to include more women in the arts, tell these important human stories to the audiences of today, and become a mentor to the generation of tomorrow. I can’t wait to explore Tosca’s story with wonderful female collaborators: Ellen Jackson, a brilliant, young stage director will be the assistant director on Tosca. We also have a growing community of women who make Opera San Antonio successful behind the scenes, including the industrious Veronica Lopez and Mercy Polinati in our office, chorus master Dottie Randall, Madeline Elizondo in Education and Outreach, Stefanie Williams our hair and make-up designer, Megan Bennett our stage manager, and Mandi Wood our assistant lighting designer.
Just today in rehearsal, my mentor Francesca Zambello said, “great art is a bridge”. We craft stories that explore intrinsic, human truths and share those stories with our audiences. As women, when we build community, mentor the next generation and tell our stories, we build a better future for everyone. It’s a thrilling time to be a female artist.
E. Loren Meeker
E. Loren Meeker is a stage director whose work has been seen at leading companies across the United States, South America, Asia, and Europe. A diverse artist whose background in dance and theatre allows her to bring a unique vision to her work. Her most recent credits include ‘Show Boat’ (The Glimmerglass Festival),’The Cunning Little Vixen’ (The Glimmerglass Festival, Boston University Opera Institute), ‘Lohengrin’ (Opera Southwest),’Susannah’ (Rice University), ‘Les pêcheurs de perles’ (Houston Grand Opera), ‘Turandot’ (New Orleans Opera) and ‘Rigoletto’ (Lyric Opera of Chicago). Loren has been the recipient of numerous awards for her work. Two of Loren’s productions for the New Orleans Opera Association have won the Gambit “Best of Opera” award ‘Faust’ (2017) and ‘Die Fledermaus’ (2015). Amongst Loren’s many exciting upcoming opportunities are directing ‘Tosca’ at Opera San Antonio where she is also co artistic advisor. Connect with Loren on Facebook and on Instagram @elorenmeeker. Headshot by Dirty Sugar Photography.