Many real-life women have inspired the characters and the imagery of “Opera for the Unknown Woman”. Here are a few whose actions and images have contributed to Will Duke‘s projection design and Melanie Wilson’s libretto.
Hildegarde of Bingen
Hildegard was born into a German noble family and became a nun at the age of 15. She went on to become a renowned mystic, writer and composer. Unlike many composers of her time, Hildegard wrote mainly for female voices.
Joan of Arc
One of the most famous warrior women, Joan of Arc claimed to have had many visions from God, which inspired her to lead an army against the occupying English army. She had several quick victories, but was then captured by French forces allied with England and was burnt at the stake, aged 19.
Kathleen Hanna was the lead singer of feminist punk band, Bikini Kill in the 1990s, before becoming fronting Le Tigre, a left-wing electroclash group. She is also a feminist activist and zine writer. She is one of the people credited with creating the riot grrrl punk movement, one of the movements which helped to inspire third-wave feminism.
Malala Yousafzai is one of the most famous campaigners for female education in the twenty-first century. In 2012 she was shot in her native Swat District in Pakistan for her activism. Since then she has moved to Birmingham, UK and continues to campaign.
Mary Seacole was born in Jamaica to a Scottish soldier and local Jamaica woman. She set up a hospital where she nursed wounded British soldiers during the Crimean War. She overcame the social expectations of her gender and race to travel, set up her own business, and help others.