What’s the STory?
About the Project
What names come to mind when you think of German Romantic composers? Schumann? Mendelssohn? Schubert? If you mean Robert, Felix, and Franz, you may want to think again. The Pleiades Project is challenging how we define the “German Romantics” by insisting that we not forget the women.
In this work, The Pleiades Project has created three mini-series based on the lieder of three German Romantic composers: Clara Schumann, Louise Reichardt, and Fanny Mendelssohn. In the first installment, Clara, we follow the inner journey of one woman as she comes to terms with the end of a relationship. Then, in Louise, learn more about Louise Reichardt’s life through the lens of her own music. Lastly, Fanny takes you on a sweeping journey of self-discovery and enlightenment.
Now that the German Romantics series has reached its final chapter, we feel compelled to reflect on the process of creating this mini-series during the COVID-19 pandemic. By delving deeply into these lieder in this particularly difficult moment, we take inspiration from courage, artistry and forward thinking of these composers. Ultimately, we believe that the romantic in each of us need not be at odds with our modern aspirations.
This series is made possible by the generous support and in collaboration with IN Series. Founded by Carla Hübner in 1982 as a concert series of the former Mount Vernon College, The In Series became an independent nonprofit arts organization in 2000 and has been a resident company at Source Theater since 2008. Timothy Nelson assumed artistic directorship in 2018, quickly establishing the newly rebranded IN Series as DC’s home for “Thought, debate, history, and innovation” (DC Metro Theatre Arts) in opera.
German Romantics was concieved to be watched in IN Vision: The Logan Opera House Without Walls. Created in response to restrictions imposed by COVID-19 and embracing the opportunity to collaborate broadly and reach worldwide audiences, INvision is IN Series’s first-of-its kind multi-venue digital performing arts center dedicated to disseminating new, transformative works of operatic theater free of charge.
Director Statement: Caroline Miller
Composer Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel was discouraged from following her dreams, inhibited by family expectations and social mores. However, in her short, but brilliant 42 years, Fanny ultimately managed to defy these gendered biases and left us a piece of herself. German Romantics: Fanny is about what it looks like to break free: the joy, the fear, and the beauty of it. We encounter Fanny as she sets out into an unknown landscape, fighting through uncertainty and loss. For me, it was really important to connect our film to the lived experiences of modern women and the spaces that they inhabit. I tend to do my best thinking when walking through the streets and parks of Manhattan. In fleeting flash-forwards from her German Romantic wanderings, this urban landscape is precisely where we find our brilliant soprano, Kristin Young. In reflecting on Fanny’s life and her music, we ultimately realize that some of the challenges facing women today have not radically changed over the past 150 years. We are eager but anxious to strike out on our own, inspired by the potential of the world around us.
Director of Photography Statement: Elizabeth van Os
For this film, I was inspired by the sweeping vistas and moods of German Romantic painters like Caspar David Friedrich. In particular, his pieces Woman before the Rising Sun (1818) and The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818). I wanted to capture the depth of feeling, and the wordless emotion that Friedrich embodies. But here, instead of having a faceless wanderer, we explore the world of our wanderer. She might be Fanny, she might be any hopeless romantic that leans in to the dark and foggy uncertainty of the world. This uncertainty has it’s frightening moments, but it also is shot through with some magic and endless hope.
German Romantics: Fanny is based on Op. 10 by composer Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847). The poetry of Op. 10, written by Romantic-era poets Nikolaus Lenau, Emanuel Geibel, and Joseph von Eichendorff, describes a pastoral journey. As the protagonist pauses under the evening sky, birds begin their migration southward. The reflection of stars dot the stream’s surface, and the protagonist follows her path into the mountains. Our film tells the story of a wanderer, historically male, but here a woman. She sets out into the unknown to chart her own course, rejecting the anxieties and strictures that have held her back.
Starring NYC-based soprano Kristin Young, German Romantics: Fanny also features appearances by sopranos Noelle McMurtry and Hannah Alexandra. Additionally, this series features poetry by Atabey, a Dominicana Bronx-based poet.
For the setting of this pastoral journey, we also partner with the gorgeous Olana State Historic Site, home to painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900). This sprawling 250-acre estate was designed by Frederic Church with panoramic views of the Hudson River valley.
Meet the Star: Kristin Renee Young
In 2020-21, Kristin will appear as Queen of the Night in Black Flute, a reimaging of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, with In Series Opera. In the 2019-20 season, Kristin made her debut with Asolo Repertory Theatre as Sister Sophia in The Sound of Music, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes. In April 2020, Kristin was scheduled to appear in a reimagined version of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha with Volcano Productions at Stanford Live and Cal Performances, now postponed due to the pandemic.
In 2018-19, Kristin made her debut with New York City Opera as Williams in the premier of Stonewall by Iain Bell at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater. She also appeared as a soloist with Philadelphia Sinfonia Players and performed the role of Nora in a new opera based on Ibsen’s A Doll’s House by Grace Oberhofer at the Corkscrew Theater and Rites of Spring festivals.
Kristin was a 2018 recipient of The Marc and Eva Stern – Los Angeles Opera Fellowship at SongFest. She has also performed with American Lyric Theater, Ardea Arts, Beth Morrison Project, Center for Contemporary Arts, Encompass New Opera, Gotham Chamber Opera, Harlem Opera Theater, International Brazilian Opera Company, Juventas New Music Ensemble, Opera Company of Brooklyn, Orchestra of Indian Hill, Orquesta Brasileira de Arte, Cultura, e História, Philadelphia Sinfonia Players, and Symphony 21.
Roles performed include Adina (L’elisir d’amore), Belinda (Dido and Aeneas), Cleopatra (Giulio Cesare), Constance (Dialogues of the Carmelites), Despina (Così fan tutte), Maria (West Side Story), Monica (The Medium), Mrs. Julian (Owen Wingrave), Nanetta (Falstaff), Norina (Don Pasquale), Pamina (The Magic Flute), Tytania (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and Zerlina (Don Giovanni).
Kristin’s love for music began with the violin at age five and evolved into a passion for the vocal arts. She received a master’s degree from Boston University and graduated magna cum laude from Barnard College of Columbia University. Kristin hails from Philadelphia and currently resides in Brooklyn, where she is also a certified yoga instructor.
Meet The Poet: Atabey
Dominicana/ Latinx : Writer and Bilingual Therapist, LMSW
Based in The Bronx, New York City. Licensed Social Worker.
Writing to unearth the voice of a generation whose stories have been untold. uncared for. and ignored. through the telling and retelling of experiences that deserve to be heard. my work aims to make you feel something. to remember the very things that make us magical and powerful. to celebrate our messy, but beautiful lives.
from INvision & the pleiades project
German Romantics: Fanny
Director Statement: Caroline Miller
I was very excited to “break the rules” in German Romantics: Louise. By writing dialogue scenes to alternate with Reichardt’s songs, we converse more directly with our heroine, imagining what her inner life could have been like. After reading that, despite the deaths of two fiancé’s, Reichardt was always described as jovial and upbeat, I was especially intrigued by how she coped with unimaginable loss and grief. In a male-dominated society, nineteenth-century women were not permitted a vehicle to openly share their lived experiences. I wanted to imagine a space in which we hear Reichardt’s uncensored thoughts as informed by her biography. While I may take certain liberties, given her decision to flout convention and become a successful freelance musician, I feel that Louise would understand.
Director of Photography Statement: Elizabeth van Os
For our newest installment of German Romantics: Louise, I wanted to create something that was connected to German Romantics: Clara, our first installment in the series, but that also lived in its own world. In the midst of a pandemic, the nature of combining nineteenth-century Lieder with the contemporary medium of film means that we must accept certain anachronisms and limitations. I hoped that we could make a film that accepted these incongruities instead of running away from them out of fear. In terms of photography, we lean into bright colors, color on color, and contrast close, intimate shots with composed, full body pictures. German Romantics: Louise is centered on one very specific woman and her experiences; I wanted this interpretation to be true to both her and us.
The second installment of our German Romantics series features the Lieder of composer, pianist, teacher, and conductor Louise Reichardt (1779-1826). The well-educated daughter of professional musicians, Reichardt later crafted an independent lifestyle and freelance career for herself, not unlike what is required of musicians and performers in today’s classical music world.
Featuring Baltimore-based soprano Hannah Alexandra, pianists Marina Iwao and Eric Sedgwick, and director of photography Elizabeth Van Os, German Romantics: Louise tells the fascinating biographical tale of Reichardt’s life: how she overcame loss to successfully build a musical career supported by her many talents. Set to Reichardt’s poignant and sensitive songs and with original dialogue by director Caroline Miller, German Romantics: Louise brings an often overlooked and underappreciated composer and her music to life, inspiring a new generation to reimagine the creative contributions of yet another remarkable nineteenth-century woman composer.
Meet the Star: Hannah Alexandra
A versatile soprano performing opera, art song, and new music, this season Hannah Alexandra digitally premiered the song cycle Five Merwin Songs by Jacob Wilkinson. Last season, she performed Tatiana from Eugene Onegin and Lisette from La rondine with Peabody Opera Theatre and starred as Émilie in Peabody’s Now Here This presentation of Kaija Saariaho’s Émilie in February 2020. In 2019, she debuted as Mozart’s Donna Anna in the Estates Theatre in Prague, Czech Republic.
An advocate for contemporary classical music, Hannah has been a vocalist in numerous world premieres and recently created the role of the Younger Brother in A Madman’s Diary by Jun An Chew in April 2019. She was part of Peabody’s Opera Etudes program where she performed in previews for new vocal works, including a monodrama for soprano during the fall of 2018. She was also part of the premier of René Clausen’s Passion of Jesus Christ conducted by the composer at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN in April 2017.
Hannah received her Bachelor of Music degree, magna cum laude, from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, and her Masters in Vocal Performance at Johns Hopkins University-Peabody Institute where she received the George Castelle Memorial Award and was inducted into Pi Kappa Lambda Music Honor Society. Hannah lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her two cats and many plants, where she enjoys cooking and studying German.
About Louise Reichardt
“The recently deceased, truly respectable Louise R., who came from Hamburg, not only as a teacher of singing, but also as a guide to her students and to those who would otherwise want to join her in making music more noble and perfect, will certainly be missed – she leaves her friends with a precious souvenir in these six songs, and a treasured, pleasant gift to all who love simple, but expressive singing. The poems are very well chosen: of poetic value, true songs, therefore also eminently suitable for musical composition, not already been set to music several times over, and varied in content. The mood prevailing in each poem, and also the linguistic tone of every poem, are aptly placed in the music…”
from INvision & the pleiades project
German Romantics: Louise
Director of Photography Statement: Elizabeth van Os
Classic period drama meets classic German lieder, but with a modern twist. I’ve always been fascinated by period drama, and taking on the creative challenge of getting the right vibe with a micro-budget and extremely limited time really appealed to me. For me, this was something of an homage to the BBC miniseries that absolutely dominated my teenage years. Moving through the different time periods gave us a chance to let creativity run wild.
Clara Schumann was a virtuosic pianist, composer and piano pedagogue. From the age of eleven, she maintained a sixty-one year concert career, touring throughout Europe. Her success as a concert artist secured essential income for her family, including her husband, the renowned composer Robert Schumann, who suffered from mental illness, and their eight children. She began composing as a child, and her compositions later included solo piano pieces, chamber music, choral works and Lieder.
For German Romantics: Clara, The Pleiades Project re-conceptualizes the three Lieder of Clara Schumann’s Op. 12, which was originally part of a collection of twelve songs jointly published by Clara and Robert to poetry by Friedrich Rückert. In 1841, soon after their marriage, Robert urged Clara to collaborate on a project together. Clara began to work on the songs of Op. 12, although she found the compositional process challenging. As the set took shape, Clara was at the beginning stages of pregnancy, and was generally ambivalent about composing Lieder.
While these songs may have marked the beginning of Clara and Robert’s union, our protagonist navigates Op. 12 as she copes with the end of an important partnership. As she comes to terms with the conclusion of this cherished chapter of her life, her imagination travels to vibrant fantasy worlds of the past. In becoming the heroine of her own story, our protagonist reaches closure and enters a new world of possibilities.
Meet the Star: Noelle McMurtry
Noelle McMurtry, soprano, is interested in the intersection of music and theater, particularly through art song, new music, early music, and cabaret to explore diverse and underrepresented perspectives. An avid recitalist, Noelle is most interested in innovative, thematic programming to create new contexts in which to experience the “canon,” particularly highlighting feminist perspectives and the marginalized works of historic female composers. Examples of her original programs include Ophelia and Her Sisters, Femme en fleurs, and The Heavenly Banquet, performed at various concert venues throughout NYC. Through her affiliation with The Cantanti Project, a classical singer-lead collective in NYC, Noelle has also performed on The Little Ghost, Ophelia Transformed, and Her Story, all programs focusing on the perspectives of women through song. To further her programming methodology, Noelle is pursuing a Doctorate in Musical Arts at Peabody Institute with an expected graduation date of 2021. As part of her Doctoral studies, Noelle created Portraits, a chamber concert exploring projected portraiture with works by Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Barbara Strozzi, Francis Poulenc, and Lacy Rose.
A frequent collaborator in new music, Noelle performed at The New Music On The Point Festival, premiering works by composers Sarah Grace Graves and Aaron Wyanski. In 2017-2018, she performed with Peabody’s Now Hear This Ensemble, presenting works by Scott Ordway and Kate Soper, most notably on the Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center. In the 2019-2020 season, Noelle performed selections from Kaija Saariaho’s Émilie with Now Hear This!, as well as presented Kate Soper’s Here Be Sirens with IN Series (DC) at their inaugural Women Composers Festival. She also co-curated the Women Composers Festival Gala Concert, performing works by Louise Talma, Jessica Krash, and Caroline Shaw. In 2021, with New Alliance for Music Theatre and The Phillips Collection, Noelle will premiere a TBD-titled piece for soprano and alto saxophone, created by composer Jessica Krash and librettist Claudia Rosales, in conversation with the painting Canyon by Helen Frankenthaler.
Noelle currently serves as Director of Live Content at The Pleiades Project, a production platform for female-identifying artists through digital and live performance opportunities with a focus on vocal classical repertoire and opera. Through this collaboration, Noelle premiered as a soloist in Come down angels, a program exploring North and South American folk songs and spirituals from female perspectives, at the Multi- Cultural Sonic Evolution Festival (NYC) and the Alchemical Theatre Laboratory (NYC). In 2020, Noelle will make her film debut in German Romantics: Clara, interpreting Clara Schumann’s Op. 12 in collaboration with The Pleaides Project and IN Series.
In 2015, Noelle created an original cabaret show, Queen of Hearts, with comedian Emma Tattenbaum-Fine, exploring female perspectives on love through story and song. In 2016, Queen of Hearts was awarded a Career Development Grant from Peabody Institute to further develop its artistic and theatrical scope with subsequent performances at The Duplex Theater (NYC), with Inception to Exhibition (NYC), and Stillpointe Theater (Baltimore).
Highlights of her operatic credits also include Calisto in La Calisto, Drusilla in L’incoronazione di Poppea, Fairy in The Fairy Queen, Papagena in Die Zauberflöte and First Witch in Dido & Aeneas. In 2018, Noelle covered the title role of Krystyna Zywulska in the premiere of Jake Heggie’s Out of Darknesss: Two Remain with Peabody Chamber Opera. Noelle has also performed as a member of the Young Artist Program in Boston Early Music Festival’s production of Almira, shadowing the role of Edilia.
The breadth of Noelle’s artistic experience extends beyond her interests in performance and programming as well. She has a background in arts non-profit administration through her work as a grant writer and Interim Daily Manager at The Actors Theater Workshop (NYC) and Assistant to the Director of Manhattan Girls Chorus (NYC). In 2019, she was Assistant Director to Timothy Nelson in the IN Series production of Handel’s Serse. A student of Ah Young Hong, Noelle resides in Washington DC.
see more from Noelle at www.noellemcmurtry.com
About Clara Schumann
Clara Schumann (1819-1896), a German Romantic-era pianist, composer and piano teacher, was a celebrated virtuoso. From the age of eleven, she managed a 61-year concert career, touring throughout Europe. Her success as a concert artist secured essential income for her family, including her husband, the renowned composer Robert Schumann, who suffered from mental illness, and their eight children. She began composing as a child, and her compositions later included solo piano pieces, chamber music, choral works and lieder.