A Prayer for my Daughter from “Why Women Went West”


Program Note

(With texts by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mary Hunter Austin and W.B. Yeats.)

Why Women Went West is a multi-media chamber opera in which two voices—I, Mary (soprano) and Mary by Herself, (recorded voice of soprano/spoken voice/electronics/voices of the choir) tells the unfolding narrative of a sole woman protagonist and her journey west. Why Women Went West explores controversies over human rights, water wars, early 20th-century feminist artist communities through the life of Mary Hunter Austin. Writer, feminist, conservationist, and defender of Native American and Spanish-American rights, Austin’s quest, trauma, and journey uncovered dark mysticism in the American Southwest. During her journey west, Mary encounters marriage, child birth, abuse and abandonment. She struggles with her dual existence as a kept woman (I, Mary), and her self-reliance (Mary by herself). Act II sets the scene of her heroic journey west by train, across the plains and through hostile territories of the desert southwest. She encounters the desolation and dangerous challenges of nature that inspires her artistic vision. Prayer for My Daughter reveals Mary’s difficult decision to leave her absent husband and give up her disabled daughter and place her in an institution, showing Mary’s growing distance from her family and her past–to press on, survive, on her own.

Commissioned and funded in part by National Endowment for the Arts and Opera America Discovery Award for concert premiere of Act I and II by Brightwork New Music, Stacey Fraser, soprano; concert premiere of Act III HEX Ensemble (SSATTB) and full two-act version for Operation Opera Festival, Sacramento.

About Pamela Madsen

Pamela Madsen is a composer, sound artist, performer, and curator of new music. From her massive landscape inspired projects and intimate chamber music creations to her multi-media collaborations, and organization…