THIS BE HER VERSE by librettist Lila Palmer arrives in Edinburgh in August


Three poems set to music by Kathleen Tagg and sung at the Edinburgh International Festival by Golda Schultz will mark the latest success in librettist Lila Palmer’s mission to bring women’s stories to the forefront of song and opera.

Her song cycle This be her Verse is both a celebration of the female experience and a response to centuries where the male voice and perspective have been overwhelmingly dominant.

He not only attacks the male poets of the art song repertoire, who often wrote from the perspective of an assumed woman, but responds to poets such as Philip Larkin and John Donne who may have written about the love and family without being defined by it.

The songs were commissioned by Schultz and conclude his new album, for which they also provided the title.

The South African soprano, accompanied by pianist Jonathan Ware, will perform This be her Verse at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh on August 17.

Palmer knew that the options available to singers seeking female poets were limited. Of the few female composers who had written surviving art songs, few works were written by female writers.

In this case, the focus is on defining moments in the life of a contemporary woman, including relationships and motherhood.

Palmer says, “Some people might say ‘you have this opportunity to talk about the female experience and you talk about marriage and babies?’

“Yes. Because even the basic works about women’s experiences that already exist in this space have always been written by men. A story about the abandonment of a young woman? Written by a man. A story about marriage and the experience of becoming a mother? Written by a man. It’s about speaking for ourselves.

In the first of the Single Bed songs, she addresses female independence and talks about the fear and consequences of choosing the wrong mate.

Palmer said: “For centuries, the perspective of women in classical song was determined by the men who dominated the field – even when they spoke of our intimate lives.

“When Golda and Jonathan commissioned This be her Verse, I saw it as a fabulous opportunity to offer audiences a body of new stories, perspectives and ideas relevant to the lived experience of women.

“It’s not about throwing the form away, but a dialogue with it that expands it. And the response from other artists has been crazy. My Instagram DMs have been full of sheet music requests from singers. They’re so hungry for it because it’s right. The industry needs to catch up on that hunger because the appetite is there.

“I absolutely believe it is the responsibility of librettists to tell a different kind of story, inspiring composers and performers to express the breadth and range of perspectives that exist in the past and present. The world has always been complex, diverse and beautiful, but the repertoire reflects a very narrow slice of experience.Now our vision is broader.

Palmer’s work in This be her Verse has received much international critical acclaim, including:

  • “A cycle of three poems marked by skillful vocal writing…and poetry reflecting lived contemporary female experience…” Opera News.
  • “A Brutal and Honest Sample of a Woman’s Perspective on Married Life and Motherhood”, Washington Classical Review.
  • “Clever, optimistic, sharp and true, a celebration of the single bed and clean sheets. The Guardian.
  • “The finale, Single Bed, declaims an anthem for a provocative, intentionally single woman”, Seen and Heard International.

Palmer has a strong background in Edinburgh with Dead Equal, his opera with Rose Hall about women in combat and the story of Flora Sandes, the British woman who became an officer in the Royal Serbian Army and fought the Germans during the First World War, was presented at [email protected] in 2019.

The all-female company starred Nikkei-Canadian non-binary opera singer Teiya Kasahara as Sandes.

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