Theater Review: FEMMINA SUPER (Broadwater Main Stage at the Hollywood Fringe Festival)

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by Tony Frankel on June 28, 2024

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


To say that I was fascinated with Femmina Super is an understatement. The show is subtitled, “A New Opera,” which normally has me running in the other direction, as newer operas tend to be atonal and opaque and pretentious. Writer-composer-performer Bethany Hill offers just the opposite. I fear that subtitle may scare away some people, but I would call this an autobiographical (Hill says Semi-Autobiographical”) tale with musical interludes. The red-haired Hill, in bare feet wearing a flowing cream-colored dress that transcends time, plays a woman from Australia interested in composing music who gets chosen for a European Music Festival. She departs the land Down Under, leaving her newly married husband behind (she’s not really into him anyway), and takes on a wonderful journey through her blossoming as a musician and a woman. Yet this adventure, like so many, will open up a whole new set of challenges, especially for a woman. Interspersed are tales of a religiously oppressive family. Paintings by, we assume, her mother, are projected upstage. One is of a grandmother married to a gay man and another who had children out of wedlock.

Timmy Vatterott

While Hill’s writing is lusciously poetic, what really elevates this show into a work of art, is the insight about Barbara Strozzi, one of the most important composers of Italian cantatas and baroque arias in 17th-century Italy. nearly all of her works are for solo voice and continuo (harpsichord or lute and viola da gamba), and I was shocked at the emotional content of her lyrics, most written expressly for her by notable colleagues of her father, showing off the Hill’s gorgeous voice with rapid changes of texture, melody, and rhythm (sung in Italian, the supertitles are in English). Hill dexterously accompanies herself on Appalachian dulcimers, a squeezebox, and double-tracking her vocals on a laptop. It’s quite a showcase.

Alek Lev

Baring a breast in the only surviving portrait of her (Female Musician with Viola da Gamba), you can see why male contemporaries of Strozzi’s day labelled her a courtesan. But that seems highly unlikely. What Hill excels at is tying in how we prostitute ourselves in one way or another to get what we want (and she can be funny: “How many priests does it take to screw in a marriage?”). The Main Stage at the Broadwater may be a bit large for this show, but director Alek Lev ensures that no space is wasted. The 80 minutes fly by and I was supremely entertained. Wait until you hear this voice!

Alek Lev

Femmina Super
The Broadwater (Main Stage), 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles
remaining performance, Saturday, June 29, 2024, 4PM
for tour info and tickets, visit Femmina Super
tickets also available at Hollywood Fringe Festival

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