Vienna Opera House makes history by staging opera by a woman for very first time – and it’s all about gender fluidity

Vic Parsons December 9, 2019
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Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth poses for a picture during the rehearsal of her piece 'Orlando', on December 3, 2019 at the State Opera in Vienna, Austria. (JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth is making history as the first-ever female composer to have her work put on by the Vienna State Opera.

It’s the first time in its 150-year history that the Vienna Opera House has put on an opera written by a woman.

Neuwirth’s new opera is an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel, Orlando, which deals with themes of gender fluidity, transgender identity and duality.

“One hundred and fifty years is a long time,” Neuwirth told the BBC. “But I’ve always said it’s never too late. So it’s good that they finally have thought about it. And at least if you’re the first, there has to be a second and a third and so on. So it’s always good to have a starting point.”

The title role is being played by singer Kate Lindsay, and a non-binary person called Justin Vivian Bond is playing the role of Orlando’s child.

Bond said: “Conceptually, I am the legacy of what the novel Orlando began to express about gender and transgression and about the difference between what it’s actually like to be a man or a woman, if indeed there is that much of a difference.

“And since I’m a non-binary person who’s trans-feminine, I guess you could say I am happily stepping into a moment and I’m the sort of representation of where we’ve come.”

Orlando follows the centuries-spanning story of a man in Elizabethan England who changes into a woman.

“Not only is it a journey through centuries, but it is a journey of constant questioning of imposed norms by society, and society is made by man,” Neuwirth said.

Each human being is allowed to choose what they feel is inside them,” she said. “There is no binary role model anymore.”

The costumes for the opera have been designed by Rei Kawakubo, a female designer at Commes des Garçons.





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