I Mary, Mary By Herself


Program Note

The Opera America and National Endowment for the Arts awarded Why Women Went West (2022-2023) 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. Resonating with concerns over marginalization of indigenous cultures, desecration of women, nature, and women’s escape from conventions through their artistic agency, this work reveals ongoing trauma of woman’s quest for autonomy. A complex, problematic story of coming to terms with one’s self as a woman in society, Why Women Went West chronicles Mary Austin’s escape from persecution to transformation of white woman’s privilege and passion for preservation of nature, history, and indigenous culture.
“I Mary, Mary by Herself” is an aria for soprano, cello and piano), a multi-media chamber opera in which two voices—I, Mary (soprano) and Mary by Herself, (recorded voice of soprano/spoken voice/electronics) tells the unfolding narrative of a sole woman protagonist and her journey west. Fourteen songs comprise the two-part narrative; with empathy, ritual, and passion they trace Mary’s experiences from her youth in a Midwest small town in late 19th century to her pioneer days in California, and finally to her wild west days in New Mexico where she eventually confronts death and overcomes the challenges that have plagued her throughout her life. Mary struggles with her decision to abandon her disabled daughter, her abusive and absent husband. She struggles with the conflicting voices in her head, she finally resolves to escape and find herself on her own, as a writer. (Pamela Madsen, Composer/Librettist)

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…