Exciting programme announced for the 4th Engender Festival which runs at the Royal Opera House from 30 June-2 July
The Royal Opera House’s Engender Festival is back – bringing together today’s most exciting opera makers, writers, creatives and changemakers. The festival is situated in and around the Linbury Theatre The Royal Opera’s home for innovation – and this year takes its cue from the progressive thinking and ground-breaking productions found on the Linbury Theatre stage, which for the first-time features two new female-led operas.   Running from Friday 30 June–Sunday 2 July, the Engender festival features an inspiring lineup of events which includes collaborative conversations, events and performances with leading creatives, writers, and new and emerging voices from the world of opera and beyond.  Kicking off the festival on Friday 30 June will be an Insight with the team behind Woman at Point Zero (on stage from Wednesday 28 June) – conductor Kanako Abe, composer Bushra El-Turk, and Shubbak’s joint CEO Alia Alzougbi will be discussing the piece in a discussion chaired by writer and director Uzma Hameed.   This will be followed by the final performance of the opera, which is inspired by the seminal novel by Egyptian writer and feminist Nawal El Saadawi. The multimedia work tells a tale of abuse and emancipation and brings together a stellar creative team that includes composer Bushra El-Turk, director Laila Soliman, writer Stacy Hardy and scenographer and film designer Bissane Al Charif.  Conducted by Kanako Abe, the music blends Western and Middle Eastern traditions, and is performed on a unique mix of ancient folk instruments by musicians from all over the world.
 WOMAN AT POINT ZERO © Kurt Van der Elst

Also opening at the Engender Festival is History of the Present – a new experimental feminist opera-film about class and conflict. A collaboration between Maria Fusco and Margaret Salmon, the work premiered in Belfast in April 2023 as part of a series of events to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, and features new compositions by Annea Lockwood, libretto by Maria Fusco and improvisational vocal work by Héloïse Werner. The work is touring nationally and internationally, at Art Night Dundee 24 June, and Edinburgh Art Festival 11 August 2023.   Made on 35mm and video in the streets of Belfast, the Ulster Museum and backstage at ROH, History of the Present observes how defensive architecture defines movement to enforce intersectional histories and identities within daily experiences in conflict and post-conflict zones on an international level.  Early stages of the work were developed by Maria Fusco during the 2020 Engender Festival, as part of the Opera in Progress series, small commissions supporting the initiation of new ideas.  Maria Fusco, who grew up beside a peaceline in Belfast during The Troubles, explains: ‘The opera-film features archival recordings of women’s voices from my own family recordings, made when I was a child. I’m interested in how you learn accent through tone and range, how the environment seeps into you, how you try to assimilate. I was deeply honoured Annea agreed to compose new music for the work; her pioneering work in field-recordings has been an inspiration for a long time. We utilised other archival materials, which Héloïse, a trained opera singer, improvises with ‘emblematic’ Belfast military sounds: a helicopter, a Saracen, and a riot. We made the decision in the work not to include any visual archival material, but instead to focus on the sonic. When I was growing up, you would often hide when a riot was happening, not stand staring out at it. Your experience of violence is largely sonic: you’re a reluctant participant.’ 
 Production still from History of the Present, 2023. Courtesy of the artists.

The Festival is part of The Royal Opera’s Engender initiative, now in its 5th year led by creative producers Sarah Crabtree and Kate Wyatt, which aims to deliver transformational change, to amplify the work of women and non-binary individuals, to provide a space of support for those in the sector, and to drive gender equality both on stage and behind the scenes.   For the first time ever, the event this year includes network meetups in Birmingham and Leeds, delivered in partnership with Opera North and writer Vanessa Oakes, bringing together opera makers for creative exchanges and to build their networks.    Sarah Crabtree and Kate Wyatt, Creative Producers for The Royal Opera and cofounders of Engender said: ‘Over the last four years, Engender has grown in ways we never expected. Each year has new firsts. This year we are thrilled to have meetups outside of London – showing the strength of the network across the UK – and showcasing the need and impact of these conversations across the UK. We also host two operas within the festival this year – one, History of the Present, was developed through our ‘Opera-in-Progress’ initiative – and is the first production to be fully commissioned and premiered in this scheme.’  In addition to events in the Linbury Theatre, a programme of informal fringe events will be running throughout the festival, including a brunch in the ROH Piazza with poet, playwright, essayist and political activist lisa luxx.