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Making their voices heard? Women, War, and the Arts

September 22, 2023 - Trinity Long Room Hub partnered with Wexford Festival Opera to discuss ‘Women and War’– the theme of the upcoming 72nd Wexford Festival Opera.

A panel discussion entitled ‘Women and War: Representations in the Creative Arts’, held on September 19th in Trinity’s Davis Theatre addressed some of the challenging questions posed by this year’s Wexford Festival Opera programme.

Wexford’s celebrated Artistic Director Rosetta Cucchi joined the distinguished Irish Times foreign correspondent Lara Marlowe and Trinity Long Room Hub Director Eve Patten to reflect on depictions of women in wartime, in literature, film, theatre, music and the visual arts.  


The three main-stage operas to be staged at the Wexford Festival Opera, which takes place from Oct 24, 2023 – Sun, Nov 5, are Zoraida di Granata (1822) by Gaetano Donizetti; L’Aube Rouge (1911) by Camille Erlanger; and La Ciociara (Two Women) (2015) by Marco Tutino, based on the novel by Alberto Moravia. These three operas shed varied and sometimes controversial light on the ways that war is experienced, endured, and articulated by women. They reflect a topic that spans ancient Greek drama to contemporary cinema, and touch on recurrent themes of female resilience, resistance, activism and suffering in wartime.

Left to Right: Rosetta Cucchi, Eve Patten and Lara Marlowe.

The operas have added poignancy against the backdrop of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. For reporter Lara Marlowe, recently returned from Ukraine, the Festival theme recalls scenes that she has witnessed first-hand in her work: "I first wrote about the toll that war takes on women in the last years of the Lebanese civil war. I interviewed Muslim women victims of Serb rape camps in Bosnia, and most recently met Ukrainian women who are fighting the Russian forces in Ukraine”, she said. In her talk with Eve Patten and Rosetta Cucchi she spoke about how the real-life experiences of women in war are reflected - or not - in the arts, and why we shy away from the uncomfortable truths about women’s experiences of war in the media.

For Rosetta Cucchi, meanwhile, this year’s programme fulfils a long-term ambition to stage pieces that will move, and sometimes trouble, the Festival audience: “Intrepid lovers, queens, mothers and warriors who challenge sovereigns, parents and morals, but also armed ladies, leaders and empresses in male roles entrusted to female voices, in a game of mirrors (man-woman, woman-woman) that gives us absolute protagonists in the history of opera.” At Tuesday’s panel discussion, she spoke about the staging for the opera La Ciociara (Two Women) and how she approaches these difficult themes through this artistic form.  

This is the first time since the 1950s that the Wexford Opera House has included a ‘festival forum’ to highlight the themes of the programme alongside the performances.

Eve Patten, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub, said she hoped that Trinity’s partnership with this year’s Festival would bring added focus to the subject of women and war, both on and off stage. Noting that she had taught war writing by women authors to her students for many years, she added that she was delighted to have this opportunity to bring the subject to a general audience and ‘to think about what happens when women are given voice, music, and meaning’ in wartime situations more often only perceived through male experience.


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