The movement for women’s suffrage, which culminated in the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, forms the backdrop for And Still We Dream. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a gifted writer, joined forces with the political organizer Susan B. Anthony to lead a national debate about “a woman’s place.”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton chose to marry and have children (seven in all); her life was superficially more traditional than Anthony’s, but her ideas were more radical, and were brilliantly argued in her prolific writings.
Stanton found a perfect partner in Susan B. Anthony, a single woman who had the temperament – and freedom from domestic responsibilities – to organize a national movement. While the two did not always share the same priorities, Stanton wrote of their relationship, “no power in heaven, hell or earth can separate us, for our hearts are eternally wedded together.”
In And Still We Dream, the individuality of the two characters is expressed in both text and music, but their united heart will be indicated by the fact that a single performer assumes the voices of both women. Anthony’s “rapid and vehement” manner of speaking is expressed with brilliant coloratura outbursts, while Stanton’s carefully constructed rhetoric finds more measured expression.
Near the end of her life, Susan B. Anthony wrote an extraordinary letter to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, reflecting on their lifelong struggle. Although their work had done much to advance women’s rights, the Nineteenth Amendment would not be passed in their lifetimes.
“We little dreamed, when we began… that we would be compelled to leave the finish to another generation of women,” wrote Anthony. Our first and last song of And Still We Dream take this letter as a jumping-off point, framing the song cycle with the idea of a dream – that of full equality – that continues to be “in progress,” even today.
I chose and organized texts with the intent of inviting varied, expressive music from Laura Karpman, my wonderful collaborator. Her responses – brilliant, witty, soulful –take the texts to a new level. Anthony’s passion and urgency is illustrated in wide leaps and breathless repetition. Cady Stanton’s maternal side comes through in her warm, soothing responses, in which she acknowledges the importance of their shared cause and affirms her devotion, but at the same time counsels patience. An over-the-top waltz for Anthony slyly challenges the critics who accuse her of immodesty for public speaking: “Our conventions are not so public as the ballroom where you danced last night … bare-armed, in the embraces of strangers.”
Together, the songs offer a whirlwind journey that juxtaposes hope, frustration, determination and humor.
And Still We Dream receives its world premiere on Saturday, January 18 as part of the concert “…When there are nine”. Tickets are $30, available here.
Kelley Rourke is a librettist, translator, and dramaturg. Her work has been commissioned and performed by Washington National Opera, English National Opera, Welsh National Opera, Carnegie Hall, Glimmerglass Festival, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Boston Lyric Opera, Young People’s Chorus of NYC, Seattle Opera, Minnesota Opera, Carnegie Hall, Met LiveArts, Houston Grand Opera’s HGOco, San Francisco Conservatory, Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Atlanta Opera, Walnut Hill School for the Arts, and Nautilus Music-Theater, among others. Kelley is resident dramaturg for Glimmerglass Festival and Washington National Opera. Upcoming premieres include The Jungle Book (Kamala Sankaram) for Glimmerglass and Stay (John Glover) for NYC’s On Site Opera.
At top: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, about 1891. Public domain.
Middle: Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Photographer unknown; public domain.
Bottom: Portrait of Susan B. Anthony, taken in 1900, when she was 80 years old. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnson. Public domain.