For the First Time in More Than 100 Years, Met Performs Opera Written By a Woman

The themes of the latest Metropolitan Opera "L'Amour de Loin" ("Love From Afar") mirror much of what's happening in American politics today. The opera is a love story set during a time filled with wakeup calls for nationalism, and conflicts of race and immigration.

Aside from the story itself, there's one important fact that's not to be overlooked: "L'Amour de Loin" is only the second opera composed by a woman to be presented by the company.

Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho is the second woman to compose in opera at the Met. Ethel Smyth's "Der Wald" was the first — premiering in 1903.

This gap, according to The New York Times writer Alice Gregory, exists for reasons none other than sexism in this art form.

"He (it was almost always a he) needs to be capable of self-promotion, of fund-raising, of a kind of confidence that makes others follow instructions," she writes. "Arguably, it's these adjacent abilities that have been least encouraged in female composers."

Aside from Smyth, other composers who were anomalies of their time in the male-dominated profession include Louise Farrenc, Clara Schumann, and Marianna Martines.

In an interview with NPR, Saariaho says she's dreamed about having her work performed at the Met and is happy her opera is finally on its stage. But she's also wary of the problems women still face in classical music.

"I've seen it with young women who are battling with the same things I was battling ... 35 years ago," she said.

"Maybe we, then, should speak about it, even if it seems so unbelievable," she continued. "You know, half of humanity has something to say, also."

The two-and-a-half hour "L'Amour de Loin" premiered at the Met on Thursday, and will run through the end of December in a lavish, LED light-filled production.

NEXT: Julie Taymor talks about directing her first opera, "Oedipus Rex" »

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