Opera: The alternative queen’s speech

Aria: Asphodel



Synopsis of the Imagined Opera

Based on Margaret Atwood’s ​The Penelopiad​, this opera reverses the Homeric focus - the ​Odyssey​ in all its literary and operatic versions is about Ulysses’ journey back home, his desire to return, whilst Penelope, his faithful wife, is narrated in and as a vacuum, always in relation to her husband’s absence - and looks at the place Ulysses left: the interest is not on the one who journeys away from home and on his tribulations, but instead on the one who stays at home, in confinement. ​Penelope tells her story from the afterlife, from Hades, a space filled with asphodels, those little white flowers.

What does it feel like to be left alone at a new home for all these years (of youth)? Penelope had only just arrived in Ithaca with Ulysses after their marriage when he went to war). What (stories, events, situations, emotions) does one share with the ones confined with us like her 12 female companions are with Penelope? Our opera tells the stories of these hidden lives.

The Alternative Queen’s Speech e​xplores confinement through the legendary story of an ancient queen whose life is defined by social isolation: Penelope, Ulysses’ wife, is confined for 20 years in her home in Ithaca, waiting for her husband’s unpredictable return - waiting, as we all have been during this quarantine, for an uncertain return to a more familiar state of things. Despite the hardships, and against the odds, she finds a way to thrive through the uncertainty, the waiting, the staying at home. We have a lot to learn from this mythical queen: she’s been there! In this contemporary yet accessible work, she tells us her story in verse and song.



Samantha Oxborough - Mezzo-Soprano

Lancashire-born mezzo-soprano Samantha Oxborough is a recent graduate from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, gaining a Post-Graduate Certificate and a Bachelor of Music with First Class Honours under Christine Cairns and David Wilkinson. 

Her full roles include Métella La vie parisienneCherubino Le nozze di FigaroMaurya Riders to the Sea and Patricia in Michael Wolters’ world premiere of Ava's Wedding. 

Samantha won The St Clare Barfield Memorial Bowl for Operatic Distinction presented by Julian Lloyd Webber in June 2016.  Further first prizes include the Cecil Drew Oratorio Prize, the Edward Brooks Lieder Prize and the Conservatoire Singing Prize.  She came joint first in the Ashleyan Opera Prize and second in the Doris Newton Music Club.  She was also a finalist in the Leamington Prize and the Town Hall Symphony Hall Prize. 

In 2015, chosen by Head of Department Julian Pike, Samantha represented the Conservatoire at the Kathleen Ferrier Bursary. Competing against students from all the major UK Conservatoires, she was the only female finalist, and attained third place. 


Juliane Gallant - Repetiteur

Juliane Gallant is accomplished in both operatic and song repertoire, working as musical director, répétiteur, accompanist, coach and conductor. She studied Piano accompaniment with Pamela Lidiard at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In September 2018, Juliane was one of only 12 conductors selected for the Women Conductors Course: Conducting for Opera, run by the Royal Opera House, the National Opera Studio and the Royal Philharmonic Society. During lockdown, she participated in a Royal Opera House online women conductors course, led by Sian Edwards and Jessica Cottis. She is a bursary recipient from the Opera Awards Foundation. 

Juliane worked as musical director for Hampstead Garden Opera (La bohème), King’s Head Theatre (Carmen), Opera on Location (La Traviata, Don Giovanni, Carmen), St Paul’s Opera (Così fan tutte, Orphée aux enfers), Opera Up Close (Carmen, Music oft hath such a charm, Ulla’s Odyssey), Opera Mio (A Fantastic Bohemian: The Tales of Hoffmann revisited), and the Clapham Opera Festival (La Bohème). As a song recitalist, Juliane has appeared at Wigmore Hall, the Barbican, the Purcell Room and on West End stages.


Creative Team

Cheryl Frances-Hoad - Composer

Cheryl Frances-Hoad was born in Essex in 1980 and received her musical education at the Yehudi Menuhin School, the University of Cambridge (where she was awarded a double 1st for her BA in Music and a distinction for her MPhil in Composition) and Kings College London (PhD, Composition). Her music has been described as "like a declaration of faith in the eternal verities of composition” (The Times), with "a voice overflowing not only with ideas, but also with the discipline and artistry necessary to harness them” (The Scotsman).

Cheryl’s works include two piano concertos, a Cello Concerto (Katharsis), three piano trios, a ninety minute opera about the life of Amy Johnston (Amy’s Last Dive with librettist Adam Strickson), and several large scale works involving young musicians (A Young Person’s Guide to Composition was premiered by the London Chamber Orchestra and 150 children conducted by Christopher Warren Green in May 2014). 2015 saw Cheryl's BBC Proms debut with a new work for the Cardinall's Musick entitled From the Beginning of the World.


Jeanne Pansard-Besson - Librettist

Jeanne Pansard-Besson is an opera and film director, and a writer. She was a finalist in the 9th European Opera-directing Prize (Camerata Nuova) in Berlin and a semi-finalist in the Ring Award 2017 with projects on ​La Traviata ​and ​Don Pasquale​, and has directed new productions of ​La Tragédie de Carmen​ at the Royal Academy of Music in London and of ​La Scala di Seta​ with the company ‘Raucous Rossini’, which toured the UK and Italy.

She has worked with directors including Mariame Clément, Laurent Pelly, Simon McBurney, Irina Brook, Michael Boyd, in such venues as Glyndebourne Festival, Royal Opera House, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Oper Graz, Opéra Comique, Garsington Opera, Scottish Opera. She is currently finishing a documentary film on a shadow puppet theatre company in Phnom Penh and the man running it, who also works as an interpreter at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, and is working on a feature film in development. Her book, ​The Imagination of Rome’s Foundation Myths, b​ased on the PhD she wrote at the University of Cambridge, is about to be published by Routledge.




Adapted from the original book The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Text copyright © O.W. Toad Ltd, 2005

All Rights Reserved.

Reproduced by permission.