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The Mother of Us All, by Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein

New York Philharmonic at The Charles Engelhard Court, Metropolitan Museum of Art / New York / Music

To commemorate the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution—the legislation that extended the vote to women—the New York Philharmonic has commissioned new work by 19 women composers. How transformative this multiyear Project 19 turns out to be is anybody’s guess. (We’re skeptical when we see the Pulitzer Prize-winner Ellen Reid’s When the World as You’ve Known It Doesn’t Exist shoehorned into a program also including Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 but marketed as “Renée Fleming Sings Björk.” No, we’re not making this up.) Quite possibly, Project 19 will have reached its apex with a bonus first performed at Columbia University in 1947, Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s opera The Mother of Us All. Neither hagiography nor musical biopic, this visionary portrait of the women’s-rights activist Susan B. Anthony raises her strivings and the very idea of America to the realm of metaphor. It seems only fitting that Thomson’s brilliant Iveseque fusion of congregational hymns and tunes from the music hall has been entrusted to Daniela Candillari, which is to say a maestra rather than a maestro. And that another woman, Louisa Proske, “trouble-making” cofounder of Heartbeat Opera, directs. —M.G.

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New York Philharmonic at The Charles Engelhard Court 1000 5th Ave., New York, NY 10028, United States
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