Here’s our list of the top five reasons to come and see woman.life.song, performed by Chineke! Orchestra and Andrea Baker.
‘Almost any time that women do something that’s really extravagant – big – like this, it’s historic’.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés
1. The powerful women behind the piece
At its heart, woman.life.song is a collaboration between five enormously talented women, telling the story of a woman’s life from youth to old age. The original idea came from the American soprano Jessye Norman, who approached best-selling authors Maya Angelou, Clarissa Pinkola Estés and Toni Morrison to write the lyrics. British composer Judith Weir then created the music, having always been interested in writing for opera ‘in new ways’ that move the genre away from its typical subject matter. The powerful impact of such a collaboration is summed up by Estés in an interview at the time: ‘Almost any time that women do something that’s really extravagant – big – like this, it’s historic.’
2. Andrea Baker
British-American opera singer Andrea Baker is at home performing anywhere from the Sydney Opera House to community centres around Scotland. She is known for her magnetic presence and enthusiastic personality, lighting up the stage wherever she goes. If you’ve ever thought opera was stuffy and boring, this video of her performance at Glasgow’s Refuweegee charity will change your mind.
‘Breasts!! Song of the innocent wild-child’
3. The poignant and funny lyrics
Maya Angelou’s words begin the performance rhapsodising over the joy brought from ‘the friendly aroma of roasting nuts’ and ‘a glass of cold milk’. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, writer and psychoanalyst, wrote the memorably titled section, ‘Breasts!! Song of the innocent wild-child’ and Toni Morrison rewrites the story of Eve, who delights in eating from the Tree of Knowledge and declares she ‘would do it all over again’.
4. The groundbreaking Chineke! Orchestra
Chineke!’s motto is ‘championing change and celebrating diversity in classical music’ and since the orchestra’s creation in 2015, it’s become known as a game changer in the classical music world. Chineke! is Europe’s first majority-Black and ethnically diverse orchestra, dedicated to transforming classical music by opening doors to performers who have historically been shut out. They are joined by renowned American conductor William Eddins, who previously conducted 2010's Porgy and Bess. Check out this interview with Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE, the incredible founder of Chineke!
5. The journey through every emotion
Ahead of woman.life.song’s premiere in 2000, Jessye Norman declared “If I can get through it without crying, I shall be doing quite something!” Yet the piece also includes the line, ‘with breasts, I am certain that I will rule the world!’ This is a performance that takes you through humour, desire, grief and joy, encompassing contemporary classical music, blues, folk and many spoken sections alongside an extremely impressive singing range. It’s an understatement to say it’s a unique piece of music.
Chineke! Orchestra & William Eddins perform woman.life.song at Edinburgh Academy Junior School on 17 August 2021.