“Mythic Women: Stories for Soprano & Chamber Ensemble” is a concert of  two dramatic works of new operatic chamber music for Soprano, Harp, Cello, Clarinet and Piano by Grammy-nominated composer Deborah Henson-Conant.

Both works feature soprano Jeila Irdmusa and instrumentalists from the Boston University, and both are dramatic works of new music about women who hold a place in our mythology. 

The premiere of this work was on May 1, 2014 at Boston University

The two pieces on the program: 

  • “Songs of the Pyre” is a song cycle about a woman accused of witchcraft in 16th-Century Europe, who plummets from disbelief into madness. 

  • “Persephone Lost” is a One-Woman, One-Act Opera about Demeter, Goddess of the earth’s Fertility, who’s daughter is stolen to the underworld, and as a result, transforms her own grief into the world’s first 


Inside iconic stories the human voice can be lost in the myth. We no longer experience these people as ‘real.’  I created the “Mythic Women” project to use story and music to find the human voice in stories of women I’d heard since I was a child.  I wanted to know what was the human experience of a woman accused of witchcraft.  What was the human experience inside the story of powerful goddess made powerless by the abduction of her child?  And what did I need to do to find that humanity? And to share it?

The Performers

Jeila Irdmusa: Soprano ~ Szu-Ning Tai: Harp ~ Yun-Yun Lin: Cello ~ Celine Ferro: Clarinet ~ Ling Lo: Piano
Composer: Deborah Henson-Conant ~ Ensemble Coach: Barbara Poeschl-Edrich

Watch the full performance: Songs of the Pyre

Watch the full performance: Persephone Lost

From the Press

“An extraordinary evening of original chamber works for soprano, harp, cello, piano, and clarinet by composer and world-renowned Grammy-nominated jazz harpist Deborah Henson-Conant.”

ArtsFuse  writer Susan Miron wrote this description of the project:

“Thirty years ago, [Deborah Henson-Conant] wrote a one-woman “opera” for her aunt [soprano Gloria Hodes.] Henson-Conant was, she recalls, looking for her place in the world as a woman. The cliché that a witch was one way in which a woman could be powerful intrigued her, so she investigated the matter through a one-woman opera for which she wrote the music and lyrics, Songs of the Pyre. The composition was for operatic soprano, cello, harp, and piano. The second opera was about a goddess, Persephone Lost. She chose these stories because, she says, “I needed to understand what was inside them.”

The two pieces were premiered in the ’80s, and then sat in a box. Then, in 2012 were digitally transcribed from the handwritten scores in 2012. Good timing, indeed. At Boston University, harpist Barbara Poeschl-Edrich invited Deborah to collaborate in a concert featuring the works, and the results, coached mostly by Poeschl-Edrich, were on stage at CFA Concert Hall on May 1.

The performances were excellent, and the soprano, Jeila Irdmusa, was riveting. The other polished players were Szu-Ning Tai, harp; Yun-Yun Lin, cello, Ling Lo, piano, and Celine Ferro, clarinet.

In Songs of the Pyre, Henson-Conant reflects chillingly on the question, ‘What would she have experienced?’ if she was condemned to death because of accusations of witchcraft? The church document The Hammer of Witchcraft was published around 1486. Three hundred years later, some nine million people have been put to death after they were convicted of being witches. “The persecution of witches never dies,” Henson-Conant pointed out. The music is adroitly attuned to The Songs of a Pyre‘s dramatic and scary narrative, which introduces us to a woman, deeply religious and oblivious of her “crimes,” the horrific accusations of witchcraft, her torture, her acceptance that she should ‘confess’ to her crimes, and her final escape into madness.

The second composition was the one-woman, one-act opera Persephone Lost, with text and music by Henson-Conant, based on the Greek myth of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, who was abducted by Hades, King of the Underworld. “My intention in writing this piece,” Henson-Conant recalls, “wasn’t to tell the ‘real’ story of Demeter – but for Demeter to relate the emotional story of her very real loss…

In the classic myth, Persephone returns to the earth each year. Her journey between underworld and outerworld explains the seasons. But in real life it’s not always so… there’s not always a return. The loss is final.” The “desaparecidos” (the disappeared) children in Central and South Amercia were on Henson-Conant’s mind when she created the piece. The music is wonderful, with lovely clarinet licks and some beautiful harp and cello writing. The lyrics, sung powerfully by Jeila Irdmusa, were as affecting as the music.

The fascinating thing about experiencing these two operas, or duo of musical-theater pieces, is hearing where Henson-Conant was musically (and emotionally) in the early ’80s. I loved these two operas, and look forward to hearing them on YouTube. The texts are sophisticated, clever, and emotionally satisfying. Do the compositions deserve to be heard more often? The answer is yes, and hopefully with this ensemble, coached so well by Barbara Poeschl-Edrich.”

-Susan Miron, Arts Fuse 

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