ROH Engender Festival returns for 2021 with a packed programme of events and an unmissable line-up of change-makers and creatives

The Royal Opera House is excited to announce the Engender Festival line-up for 2021. From Monday 12 -17 July 2021, join us at Covent Garden and online for a week of talks and debates, operas in progress, concerts and workshops with an unmissable line-up of artists, composers, change-makers and brilliant creatives.   

Engender is The Royal Opera’s initiative to change gender imbalance in opera and music theatre and drive towards gender equity in all areas of the opera field. The annual Engender Festival celebrates the work of women and gender minorities in opera and provides a platform for relevant discussions with audiences.  

Kate Wyatt, Creative Producer for The Royal Opera and Founder of Engender explains: “Engender has been a highlight for me over the past year and it’s been a pleasure to welcome members from further afield including South Africa, Egypt and the USA. Engender is a vital space for women and gender minorities in opera to connect, empower each other and identify practical ways to move the issue of gender equality forward, all the more essential with the ongoing impact of the pandemic. 18-months operating online has enabled the Network to grow in ways we had not imagined, both in number and ambition and now it’s brilliant to be able to come back together in person. The Festival will amplify our work, welcome more people to our discussions, present new work and ideas and share our future plans. Our ambition is to drive change in the sector and we encourage everyone to join us.” 

A series of three Opera-in-Progress sessions in Clore Studio will offer an insight into the very start of making an opera, hearing from the artists how their ideas have emerged. On Monday 12 July interdisciplinary writer Maria Fusco, will discuss History of the Present, a hybrid working-class opera that explores the resonances and legacies of the peacelines in Northern Ireland. With dramaturg Jude Christian, Maria will explore how socio-political issues can act as compelling subject matter, while shaping the creation process of the opera itself from its earliest stages. 

Writer Nadifa Mohamed and composer Nina Whiteman will present The Fortune Men on Wednesday 14 JulySet in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, in the 1950s, this is the true story of a mixed-race couple wrenched apart by unjust circumstances. A rich tapestry of musical influences (calypso, sea shanties, Jewish cantors, Welsh male voice choirs) articulates the unfolding of a narrative in a post-war, industrial setting. This opera in progress gives an opportunity to explore how to translate ideas from page to stage. 

Nadifa Mohamed, writer of The Fortune Men says: “Writing the lyrics to an opera was like leaping into fast flowing river; I’ve learned a lot, got overwhelmed a few times but have found myself, happily, in new territory. Allowing The Fortune Men to take on a new form has given it a renewed life and it has been wonderful taking such a solitary novel into the collaborative and noisy world of opera. I can’t wait to reveal what Nina and I have developed to the audience at the Engender Festival.” 

Director Daisy Evans and composer Laura Bowler are developing Lambs – an opera that takes the form of a podcast. On Friday 16 July through headphones audiences will listen to a host processing the lives of three fictional women incarcerated for the murder of their children. Combining live performance with pre-recorded soundscape and electronics, this is the first-time opera has been experienced or created in this way.  

Closing the Festival on Friday 16 and Saturday 17 July in the beautiful Linbury Theatre will be MAMI WATA – a programme curated for the Festival by Pegasus Opera, providing a powerful and stirring experienceConceived by Alison Buchanan, Artistic Director of Pegasus Opera, Mami Wata illuminates the rich and varied works from a range of established composers such as Bushra El-Turk and Errollyn Wallen, alongside music by Nkeiru OkoyeLettie Beckon AlstonDorothy Rudd Moore and Nahla Mattar, including UK premieres of unheard work. Presented by Pegasus Opera in association with the Royal Opera House, this concert continues Pegasus Opera’s work to champion diverse artists in opera, giving voice to a collection of work from trailblazing composers.  

Directed by TD. Moyo, the works are performed by sopranos Alison BuchananApril Koyejo-Audiger and Mezzo-sopranos Camille Maalawy and Simone Ibett-Brown. 

Alison Buchanan, Artistic Director of Pegasus Opera says: “MAMI WATA is monumental and groundbreaking, It brings together female artists to celebrate the vocal works of diverse female composers. It is an introduction to a rich, varied, yet often unheard-of body of work. It reflects the huge shift in consciousness when it comes to diversity and inclusion. To have MAMI WATA at ROH, world leaders in opera is significant. 30 years ago, I was the first Black British woman to give a solo recital in the ROH crush bar after winning the Maggie Teyte. This time I share the stage as I honour and celebrate amazing women composers.” 

The Festival presents a rich digital output throughout the week. There will be two Insights streamed on YouTube across the week – on Monday 12 July classical music journalist Alexandra Coghlan, Alison Buchanan and soprano Kate Royal will explore the themes of ‘gatekeeping’ in opera and how it manifests. The second will study gender barriers through a different lens, as part of the Shubbak Festival, supported by the British Council, chaired by Theresa Ruth Howard, we are joined by artistic leaders from South Africa and Egypt to discussion gender equality through a different lens.  

There will also be practical Zoom workshops on how to pitch yourself led by Ilene Bergelson, founder of Empower Speak and another on managing imposter syndrome led by Lyndsey Oliver, coach and author of Why all Fish are Biased.