Fiona Shaw Hosted a Gala and Hermione Would Be Proud

On July 31, while Potterheads across the world were celebrating the Chosen One’s birthday, Fiona Shaw (Petunia Dursley) hosted the inaugural gala concert for SWAP’ra.

SWAP’ra (Supporting Women and Parents in Opera) was launched this year, on International Women’s Day, by a group of female opera professionals, with the aim of enacting positive change for women and all parents working in their industry.

The ultimate aim is to foster an environment in which a female CEO, [m]usic [d]irector, [a]rtistic [d]irector, [c]onductor, [c]omposer or [l]ibrettist is no longer noteworthy.

Though she describes herself as predominantly a fan of the art, Shaw herself is a “woman in opera”; she started directing opera in 2014. Her next project is a production of Cendrillon – the operatic version of Cinderella – which will be performed at various locations later this year.

In the United Kingdom, only 26% of opera directors are women, and even this is a large percentage compared to the 4% of conductors and 2% of composers who are female.

It is particularly special, then, that, from the orchestra to the stage directors, the concert was wholly composed of women, all of whom had donated their time and talent for the benefit of SWAP’ra’s cause. Together they performed a selection of semi-staged opera scenes, chosen because they showcase strong female characters. These ranged from classics like Puccini’s Madama Butterfly to more modern operas such as Silver Birch by Roxanna Panufnik.

The concert was held in London, at Opera Holland Park – an early supporter of SWAP’ra that has already adopted its suggested approach to rehearsal scheduling, in order to make finding childcare solutions simpler for artists in its companies. This has been a success and Scottish Opera will be following suit next season.

SWAP’ra’s cofounders (directors Ella Marchment and Sophie Gilpin, and singers Madeleine Pierard, Kitty Whately, and Anna Patalong) described their charity as “From the community, for the community.” The next big step for them is a concert in December that will launch their mentorship scheme. Female librettists and composers can now apply to join this program.

The evening was a lovely celebration of women in opera and a great chance to see some of the talent that SWAP’ra aims to support within its industry, as well as the loss that leaving women and parents out of opera is. Fiona Shaw, hosting with a brilliantly dry wit, reflected on it in her opening speech:

[It’s] a reminder that, as a gender, we have plenty more where that came from!

For more information about SWAP’ra and its work, please visit its website.