We are telling the story of a different Penelope.
A different Odyssey as we know it.
Wherein we investigate fidelity, love, sensuality, and desire from a female perspective.
Our jumping off point for Penelope and the Geese is the issue of faithfulness, which has two completely different metrics in The Odyssey, one for Odysseus and one--with barely any room to breathe--for Penelope. We're interested in leveling the playing field.
Thus in our opera, Odysseus has just returned home and he and Penelope have just made love for the first time. Odysseus falls asleep under a large and unusual blanket. This is what Penelope has been weaving while Odysseus has been gone, rather than the funeral shroud; and unbeknown to Odysseus, it is made from locks of hair from all of Penelope’s lovers. In a recurring motif, Penelope wonders, “Where should I weave his hair?”; where should she weave a lock of Odysseus’ hair into this narrative, in a way that fits her husband, who she loves more than anything, into her experience of those twenty years? How can she unite these two selves? Other female characters from the Odyssey-- goddesses, demi-goddesses and slaves—add their voice to the mix, bringing their own experience of sexual agency or the lack thereof. At the end of the opera, Penelope decides to wake Odysseus up, to tell him her experience, for better or for worse.
The opera is scored for harp, flute and cello and those instruments' ancient twins: ancient lyre, aulos and Serbian gusle (Paranosic is from Serbia and there is a connection between the ancient oral storytelling tradition in Serbia and in Greece). The chorus (which can be 3, 6, 9 or 12 people) are all sopranos, and Penelope is a mezzo-soprano.
Songs from the opera have been performed at New Dramatists, Composer's Concordance and Make Music Harlem in New York, University of Delaware (where Magid was the first Susan P. Stroman Playwright in Residence), and at Sewanee University of the South (where Paranosic and Magid were artists in residence for the summers of 2018 and 2019.)
After having received support from Opera America, New Music USA, and NUY (to name just a few sources) - we were happy to plan for our next production: we were invited to UNAM festival in Mexico City!
But then you know what happened:
Fast forward to Summer 2020:
Penelope was originally planned for a workshop at Newberry on Main Street in Saugerties last August. When the pandemic forced canceling the workshop, we devised another plan: three instrumentalists, conductor Mila Henry, and mezzo soprano, Hai-Ting Chinn, our Penelope, came to Saugerties for rehearsals outside, at Elvedal, in West Saugerties. After three days, a portion of the opera was recorded at Dave Cook’s Area 52 Studios and Lara St. John shot a video at various locations—Hudson Hall, a local Saugerties estate, and at sculptor Millicent Young’s studio (our scenic designer). Over the winter and spring, music tracks were laid in the city and a second session was held in Dave’s studio. The recording and editing were completed in May 2021.
I do not exaggerate when I say that the opera is in the tradition of and on par with the best
modern engagements of The Odyssey, especially its contemporary retellings by women, such as Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad and Madeline Miller’s Circe.
Stephanie McCarter, first female translator of Ovid's Metamorphoses
Here Penelope becomes Homer.
- Terry Papillon
Dean of College, Professor of Classical Languages
A powerful and provocative and sonically moving combination.
- Woody Register
Francis S. Houghteling Professor of American History
B.A., University of the South; A.M., Ph.D., Brown University