In Fall 2019, Opera UCLA will premiere the opera, Juana, by composer Carla Lucero with a libretto drawn from UCLA Professor Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s 1999 award-winning historical novel, Sor Juana’s Second Dream, about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695), the 17th-century Mexican nun, scholar, and renowned poet of colonial Mexico. Although Sor Juana is not well known in the United States, she is hailed the in Europe and Latin America as the Latina “Tenth Muse” and the “first feminist of the Americas,” Sor Juana is legendary today for her passionate defense of a woman’s right to be a scholar and to publish her work. In her lifetime, Sor Juana was relentlessly persecuted for her genius and her defiance of the Catholic Church’s dictates regarding the female sex. Because she refused to abide by these limitations, and because she had the support and backing of the Viceregal court, at least until 1688, Juana’s celebrity flourished in her own lifetime, and she saw two volumes of her collected works published in Spain. In 1694, to mark her 25th anniversary as a “bride of Christ,” Sor Juana renounced her scholarly life, her extensive library, and her correspondence with the world and renewed her vows to the Hieronymite order in a document she signed in her own blood. She died a year later, in 1695, while caring for her fellow nuns during an epidemic. What happened to this most accomplished and rebellious of colonial women, this most enlightened mind of the Spanish Golden Age? Why did she forsake everything that had given meaning to her cloistered life?
This 2-day symposium is a dramatic prequel to the opera JUANA that explores the multiple “afterlives” of Sor Juana, i.e., the many ways in which the famous/infamous nun has been represented — from 17th- and 18th century visual and literary portraits to 20th- and 21st-century historical novels, poetry, plays, films, musical performances, visual arts, and even a Netflix mini-series. The title of the symposium, ‘You Imagine Me, and I Exist,’ comes from the English translation of an unfinished poem that was found in Sor Juana’s cell after her death in 1695 (proving that she never stopped writing). It was addressed to her supporters in Spain, and she was thanking them for “breathing another spirit into [her],” that is, giving her work new life by representing her, not as she was — a nun struggling (as she put it) to “learn more [and] be ignorant about less” — but as they wanted to imagine her: a great intellectual, a sublime poet, a phoenix rising from the ashes.
This Symposium will provide the campus community at large, but particularly students and faculty of the Herb Alpert School of Music, and those in the Divisions of Social Sciences and Humanities, as well as the broader Los Angeles community, an opportunity to learn about the life, history, and culture of this enigmatic subject of the opera, and to listen to the music produced in colonial Mexican convents.