Doctor of Musical Arts Dissertations


Analyzing Gender Inequality in Contemporary Opera

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)


Contemporary Music

First Advisor

Jane Rodgers (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Kristen Rudisill (Other)

Third Advisor

Kevin Bylsma (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Ryan Ebright (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Emily Brown (Committee Member)


Gender inequality is pervasive in the world of performing arts. There are far more female dancers, actresses, and singers than there are male performers. This inequality is amplified by fewer numbers of roles for women. This document examines gender inequality in contemporary North American operas, including the various factors that can influence the gender balance of a cast, with focused studies on commissioning organizations and ten works that feature predominantly female casts.

Chapter 1 presents the analysis of all operas in OPERA America’s North American Works database written and premiered from 1995 to the present. Of the 4,216 roles in this data, 1,842 (43.6%) are for female singers. Operas written by a female composer or librettist have 48% roles for female singers, operas with a female lead character have 51%, and intentionally feminist or female-focused operas have 53% roles for female singers.

Chapter 2 considers ten companies devoted to the creation and production of contemporary opera in North America. Works premiered by these companies have an average of 47% roles for women, and companies with a female executive or founder are more likely to have a higher average. Companies that use language like “innovative” or “adventurous” in their mission statement are more likely to have greater female representation in the casts of their commissioned works.

Chapter 3 discusses ten contemporary operas that feature at least 50% female casts in a wide variety of stories, with multi-layered female characters and diverse musical styles. The works profiled are Hildegurls Electric Ordo Virtutum (1998) by Kitty Brazelton, Eve Beglarian, Elaine Kaplinsky, and Lisa Bielawa, Amy Beth Kirsten’s Ophelia Forever (2005), Catherine Reid and Judith Lane’s The Yellow Wallpaper (2008), Ana Sokolovic’s Svadba (2011), Errollyn Wallen’s ANON (2014), Kate Soper’s Here Be Sirens (2014), Kamala Sankaram and Susan Yankowitz’s Thumbprint (2014), Sean Ellis Hussey’s …for the sake of a narrative closure (2017), Ellen Reid and Roxie Perkins’s prism (2018), and Philip Venables and Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis (2018). These operas contain the kinds of female characters and female-focused stories missing from the traditional repertoire.