Eva Beunk, who studies composition at the Royal Conservatoire The Hague, wrote Hysteria especially for this online edition of Festival Dag in de Branding. In this brand-new work, Eva responds to Rob Zuidam’s opera Rage d’Amours by taking another look at Joanna the Mad. She explores the question how ‘mad’ Joanna really was.
For hundreds of years, hysteria was a common medical diagnosis for women. It was described as exhibiting a wide array of symptoms, including anxiety, shortness of breath, fainting, nervousness, insomnia, fluid retention, irritability, lack of appetite for food or sex – or, paradoxically, an increased libido – and a ‘tendency to cause trouble for others’. While hysteria was categorised as a disease, its symptoms were often synonymous with normal functioning female sexuality.
Didn’t Joanna, above all, show a normal human reaction of grief after the death of her husband? Wouldn’t any normal person, after being locked away and cut off from the outside world, start showing a change in behaviour? Eva draws a parallel with our day and age, in which female leaders still receive outpourings of hate and women who show ambition are often simply not taken seriously.
Joanna was forced to spend the final years of her life in isolation from the rest of the world. In her room in the convent she had only herself for company. It is this loneliness, which these days we all experience to some extent, that Eva sets out to express by single-handedly playing all parts of her composition.
In this composition, Eva uses recordings of her voice and her trumpet. The trumpet as well as singing and spoken word intertwine and interact with her voice, which is at the heart of the piece. All parts of the video were shot in the same room, again underlining the sense of loneliness and isolation.