Alexandra Smither, soprano
Suzy Smith, piano
The image of a woman, waiting, is common in literature and it's intrigued me for a long time: hers is an act of endurance, tenacity, loyalty, and hope. It requires bravery, courage, fortitude, even defiance. And the woman who waits suffers, but most often silently: she is alone, perhaps vulnerable (or seen to be so), and must balance her soul's longing for a happy outcome with a more pragmatic realism. And always she fights depression and despair, a gnawing hopelessness that frays the edges of her sanity, and in so many of these stories, her tapestry or weaving.
In this song I imagine Penelope wandering the drafty, echoing "empty rooms" of whatever fortress or palace protected and imprisoned her during her long wait for the return of her husband and her son; she is surrounded by clamouring suitors and gossipy servants, but in her heart she keeps a lonely vigil beside the sea that took her family away and may, or may not, bring them back. And, unlike us – who know the story's ending – she has no guarantee that they will return. She's often praised (condescendingly) for her loyalty, for being a good wife. But how often do we risk imagining her silent battle against her own mind – against hopelessness? It's terrifying to contemplate; would we have that strength?
We still know war, we have always known war, and always it has taken a quiet, dreadful toll on those left behind. And this waiting takes other shapes: the long-distance relationship, the parent of the missing child, the widower... We always wait for those we love, the heartstrings stretched taut to breaking point across miles and years, oceans and continents, stronger than any deep-sea cable, but oh so frayed by worry, loneliness, and fear.
In her day Penelope was just as modern as we are now, so here she sing music that is modern in its hybridity: classical, minimalist, jazz, pop – art song and torch song, for lover and loved.