As the entire country goes to the polls to choose who will face Donald Trump next November, few people remember the struggle and sacrifice of dozens of women to obtain our right to vote.
However, a production by Limor Tomer (MetLiveArts), the New York Philharmonic, and the Juilliard School has decided to bring back Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s opera The Mother of Us All to the stage to remind those distracted from the story of Susan B. Anthony, the leader of the fight for women’s suffrage in the United States.
“The score is a cunning blend of folk-inspired tunes and fractured avant-garde storytelling, with fictionalized historical characters blending with outright fictions into a panoply of 19th-century Americana,” writes John Rockwell in his review for The Financial Times. “Its oddities seem nicely adaptable beyond proscenium stages.”
The work presented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York features Thomson’s composition, Stein’s libretto, and a trio of women at the head: Daniela Candillari as conductor, Louisa Proske as director, and Felicia Moore as the soprano who plays Anthony. The final performance of the play takes place this Friday, February 14th, so get your tickets while you still can.
The story of the social reformer and activist is now more important than ever.
Born in 1820, Anthony joined the anti-slavery struggle at the age of 17. A decade later, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, they founded the Women’s State Temperance Society, followed by the Women’s Loyal National League, which would collect 400,000 signatures for the abolition of slavery.
But it was from 1866 onwards that these women initiated the movement for equal rights for women and African Americans, which included the publication of The Revolution newspaper, the founding of the National Woman Suffrage Association, and eventually the National American Woman Suffrage Association that would unify the struggle for women’s voting rights across the country.
A rebel for a just cause, Anthony was arrested for voting in Rochester, New York, in 1872, and six years later, thanks to the support of Senator Aaron A. Sargent of California, she succeeded in getting an amendment introduced in Congress that would allow women to vote legally.
Today it is known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, and was ratified in 1920 as the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
That her history was brought to the theater by Gertrude Stein’s pen is no accident either.
Born in Pittsburgh but raised in California, Stein made a name for herself in Paris in 1903 at the age of 29, and pioneered the model we know today as the art exhibit.
By organizing artists’ meetings and displaying their paintings on the walls of her home at 27 rue de Fleurus, Stein introduced key historical figures such as Picasso, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Henri Matisse.
Thanks to her book The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, her autobiographical account written in the voice of her life partner, Stein became famous in literary circles and was able to publish three more works.
Her text The Mother of Us All was taken to the theater in conjunction with Virgil’s composition on May 7, 1947 at Columbia University’s Branders Matthews Hall, and has since gone around the country — and around the world — becoming a national cultural heritage.