Lisa Bielawa: Centuries in the Hours

Thursday | May 27 2021 | 7 pm


Vocalists and instrumentalists from Kaufman Music Center’s Special Music School High School give an exclusive work-in-progress performance of Centuries in the Hours, an opera by composer and 2020-21 KMC Artist-in-Residence Lisa Bielawa. Based on women’s diaries spanning three centuries, discovered during Bielawa’s extensive research as a William Randolph Hearst Visiting Artist Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society in 2018, Bielawa and librettist Claire Solomon adapted to the global pandemic, using the isolation women have historically faced as a formal constraint.

This innovative film by acclaimed media artist Jess Medenbach features the student cast filmed at the historic Morris-Jumel Mansion and in Merkin Hall. The stories of the women represented include an isolated teen genius (1901), a missionary (1823), a college student (1860), a Revolutionary War evacuee (1778), a Colorado housekeeper (1890s), a Philadelphia abolitionist (1860s), and a depressed Southern woman (1861). We will also hear from the ghost of Eliza Jumel, former owner of the Morris-Jumel Mansion, played by renowned professional mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin.

KMC student performers include vocalists Julia Ching, Naveah Diaz, Lucie Freeman, Clara FrostIzabella Gozzo, Fay Levin, Ana Maria Griffin Morimoto, Cirene Mourad and Zelda Rosenbloom, and violist Oriana Hawley.

Might the lens of women’s diaries provide a “shelter-in-place” viewpoint of our shared history? Through the opera and its libretto by Claire Solomon, dozens of manuscripts rejoin the flow of public discourse. Centuries in the Hours asks: What if these women could be lifted out of their historical contexts and respective life circumstances to encounter one another? What can we learn from these women’s view of American history, seen largely from within the domestic sphere? In fact, women have always worked within cramped quarters and with insufficient resources. The women in Centuries all wrote from home, at times of great constraint. Paper was scarce, as was ink, time, peace, quiet and light.

Presented in collaboration with the Morris-Jumel Mansion, Manhattan’s oldest surviving residence and one of the nation's foremost historic houses.

The development of Centuries in the Hours received funding from OPERA America's Opera Grants for Female Composers program, supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.

Performances will be recorded and filmed by participants in their own homes.

Lisa Bielawa's Artist Residency is generously underwritten by Cathy White O'Rourke.

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