In this week's episode, Alice and Nicolas interview librettist Susan Werbe and composer Kirsten Volness about musical representations of war. In particular, Susan and Kirsten discuss the opera they created with colleague Kate Holland, Letters That You Will Not Get: Women's Voices from the Great War. As Susan explains, most representations of WW1 have been white, male and Eurocentric - but this was a global conflict which impacted many different people in many different ways. Letters uses the words of real women to create archetypes that represent women’s war experiences from countries on both sides of the conflict, diverse ethnicities and social classes, and quite different views on the war. It features mothers, daughters, wives, lovers, friends and sisters; women full of pride and hope, and women full of anger and fear; nurses and munitions workers; women who could do nothing but bear witness to the war; and women who fought other battles along the way, against the racists policies and ongoing discrimination faced by Black Americans.
In the podcast, Susan discusses traditional habits of visualising the First World War and how recent research and commemorations have contributed new angles and stories. Kirsten explains some of the musical influences behind the songs she wrote and we talk about the power of music to add layers of meaning and emotional impact, deepening our understanding of individual and collective experiences of conflict. We listen to some extracts from the opera, and Susan and Kirsten explain how the different songs come together to ask big questions about war, its causes and consequences. The First World War is a story many of us are familiar with, but Letters That You Will Not Get invites us to look at it with new eyes, from a range of viewpoints, and in the process it prompts us to consider how we look at, imagine and narrate other wars.
We hope you enjoy the episode!
For a version of our podcast with close captions, please use this link. You can read more about Letters That You Will Not Get in a blog by Susan Werbe on our project website and you can listen to other extracts from the opera here.
For more information about individuals and their projects, access to resources and more, please have a look on the University of St Andrews Visualising War website.
Music composed by Jonathan Young
Sound mixing by Zofia Guertin