Case in point:
The Metropolitan Opera is currently running a production Kaija Saariaho's opera L'Amour de Loin, which is the SECOND opera composed by a woman that the company has produced in its entire history, the first being Ethel Smyth's Der Wald in 1903...113 years ago. It is being conducted by Susanna Mälkki, who is only the FOURTH woman to grace the podium in the illustrious company's 133-year history.
N.B. I saw this production last night. I loved it. The piece is more atmospheric than dramatic, which is, perhaps, not to everyone's taste (the nice lady sitting next to us in the Family Circle left at intermission), but the singing is very good, the production is mesmerizing, and the score is transcendant. You should go see it. It's playing through December 29th.
While female composers and conductors, I think, have the hardest time of it, female orchestral musicians have fought terrible biases - that is until orchestras implemented blind auditions, where auditioners play from behind a screen, which has, thankfully, increased the number of female and minority hires since the practice began.
We singers most notably suffer from gender bias when it comes to the stories we tell and who we use to tell them. If we look at Opera America's ten most performed operas in North America, and break down all of the roles by gender, you'll note that there are approximately 40% more roles for men than for women.* Plus, two of the operas on the list, both by Rossini, use only male chorus. I would like to say that composers writing operas today are doing a better job of using female characters to tell their stories, but I wasn't able to find a pithy list of most-performed operas composed since 1985 to actually do that kind of analysis. If you find one and send it to me, I'll happily do the breakdown on the roles in those operas as well.
I am not even addressing administrative and artistic leadership, stage directors, stage crew, designers of all stripes, or any of the many other folks who work together to put on an opera. If you do a little reading, you'll see the same story played out for all of these folks, too, save the traditonally "girly" jobs of costume and make-up design, where it's more equitable.
Why, pray tell, would this be? As Ms. Saariaho said in her recent interview with NPR "half of humanity has something to say." Do we honestly not care about hearing women's voices? About telling women's stories? If you are an opera producer, as I am in a loose sense, are you prioritizing gender parity when you pick your seasons? If you're a commissioning organization, are you looking at female composers? Are you looking at stories about women as told by women?
Women make up more than half of the population of the world. And I would argue that women make up the majority of professionally trained operatic singers. Anyone who holds auditions can tell you that for every 10 men requesting an audition, there are between 50 and 90 women. (If you are one of those people who holds auditions, please report your numbers in the comments field.)
Can we do better, please? This is just embarrassing.
*I used AGMA's Schedule C Classification of Roles to create this spreadsheet.