UNC Opera Theatre brings performance on women’s suffrage to the Wheeler for centennial celebration
On Tuesday, the University of Northern Colorado Opera Theatre will bring “Songs of Suffrage: the Music of a Movement,” to the Wheeler Opera House for a one-night performance in honor of 2020 as the 100th anniversary year of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote in the U.S.
Hosted as the Aspen Historical Society’s final “Time Travel Tuesday” for the winter season, the performance is an amended version of the historical opera “Mother of Us All,” a political fantasy centered on scenes from the life of Susan B. Anthony and her fight for women’s suffrage, which the UNC Opera Theatre is taking on tour to a handful of Colorado communities, including Aspen.
“This is a part of a nationwide celebration of the largest voting expansion in history,” said Nina Gabianelli, vice president of education and programming for the Aspen Historical Society, of “Songs of Suffrage.”
“In the heat of the #MeToo movement and women running for president, it fits historically and currently to present this.”
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The UNC Opera Theatre performance is the first of a host of Aspen Historical Society events and programming that will recognize the women’s vote centennial and honor women leaders in the Aspen area, along with Colorado’s progressive women’s suffrage journey, Gabianelli said.
According to an Aspen Historical Society timeline, national suffrage campaigner Carrie Lane Chapman, or Carrie Chapman Catt, gave a speech at the Wheeler Opera House in September 1893 just two months before men granted women the right to vote in Colorado — the second state to recognize women’s suffrage in the U.S. and 27 years before the 19th amendment was ratified.
And although Lisa Hancock, vice president and curator of collections for the Aspen Historical Society, said Aspen wasn’t the most progressive city when it came to women’s rights, many local organizations like the Pitkin County Library, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, The Thrift Shop, the Aspen Historical Society, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and more were in large part started and led by local women.
“It’s easy to fall back on male-based history, but we’re really focusing on women and all of the things they’ve done for the area this year,” Hancock said.
“Aspen is a resort town and did put many women in a situation where they were (objectified), but it also did allow some women to think they can escape traditional family structures and realize they didn’t have to have traditional women’s roles.”
Celebrating the women’s suffrage and early women’s rights movement and helping people better understand its impact is exactly why the UNC Opera Theatre is partnering with organizations like the Aspen Historical Society to bring its “Songs of Suffrage” performance beyond Greeley.
The full “Mother of Us All” will be the theatre’s main spring opera this year, but Brian Clay Luedloff, director of the UNC Opera Theatre, also felt it was important to take a condensed version on tour with the addition of songs from the suffrage movement to create more of an educational experience.
“You can go to the library and learn a lot, but you learn differently through music and theatre, which provides a visceral experience,” Luedloff said.
“These experiences where you’re surrounded by the music and you see historical characters like Susan B. Anthony played using their own words are at least as important as dry, factual information.”
Luedloff also said he hopes the tour will promote engagement in conversation around women’s rights, historically and today, and in democratic participation in general. Since the UNC performance falls on Super Tuesday, locals will be able to purchase two tickets for $10 the day of the opera with their “I Voted” sticker.
Grace Peck, a UNC graduate assistant and student who will be playing the role of Anne in “Songs of Suffrage” — a role she described as Susan B. Anthony’s hype woman — expressed similar thoughts to Luedloff about the UNC Opera Theatre’s tour and its importance.
After two months of research for and rehearsal of the performance, she hopes the UNC Opera Theatre tour will help people better appreciate and reflect on the rights they have today through music.
“It’s good to remember it was not so long ago that women couldn’t vote. It’s a history that’s not so far away,” Peck said.
“I hope people come to enjoy the singing and beautiful music, but also to take the opportunity to re-educate and educate themselves on suffrage and realize how long and hard the fight was.”
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