An experimental world-premiere opera by Josh Hartman (composer) and Brenna Geffers (librettist) gives voice to the unsung female astrophysicists of Harvard in the 1890s. When opportunities for educated ladies were restricted to menial clerical positions in the service of men, the intelligence, dreams, and discoveries of a group of trailblazing women were limitless. Working under the demeaning Professor Pickering (portrayed with commanding presence by tenor Michael Lienhard) and known by the degrading sobriquet “Pickering’s Harem,” Annie Jump Cannon (Kirsten Kunkle), Antonia Maury (Kristy Joe Slough), Williamina Paton Fleming (Crystal Charles), Henrietta Swan Leavitt (Isadora Nah), and Cecelia Payne (Kayla Grasser) contributed immeasurably to their field, unacknowledged, for 25¢/hour (half a man’s salary).
A minimalist black-box design and edgy expressionist style break the boundaries of linear time and space, melding the abstractions of scientific calculations with stylized movement that conveys the feelings of the real-life characters, the patterns and orbits of celestial bodies (featuring Anthony Crosby as the ethereal Star), and a momentous feminist message. Singers not only appear on stage, but are heard from behind the curtains, with the multitude of voices inspired by contemporary choral music (piano accompaniment by Gabriel Rebolla), evoking the lofty expansiveness of the universe and the presence of unseen and uncatalogued celestial phenomena. This original piece will inspire you to learn more about the women who were trivialized–with unwelcome advances (William McGlone as graduate student Mr. Donahue) and disparagements still sadly heard today–but are now getting the attention and credit they earned. [Skybox at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St., 3rd fl.] September 16-19, 2015; fringearts.com/jump-the-moon.
Read another Phindie review of JUMP THE MOON