You have your choice of vocal ranges at Dallas Opera’s ‘Manon,’ with out singers Troy Cook and William Ferguson
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
In many ways, Will Ferguson and Troy Cook couldn’t be more different. Ferguson is an operatic tenor, with a peripatetic repertoire that has taken him to New York City Opera and The Met (in the city where he lives), in addition to recitals specializing in interpretations of new composers. Cook, a baritone (so typically cast in heavier roles) has been gifted with an international career of mostly classical roles, including recent appearances in Madrid and London’s Covent Garden, but lives in rural Bucks County, Penn.
But they share one commonality: In addition to having featured roles in the Dallas Opera’s latest production, Massenet’s Manon, they are both out gay singers in the rarified world of opera.
There was a time you didn’t see that much — directors, conductors and designers? Yes. But onstage? Not so much. That has been changing, though … for men and women.
Although both have been openly gay in their personal and professional lives for decades, they agree that the practice of greater openness has grown.
“I have seen singers who are gay but don’t talk about it much — but they are mostly non-U.S. citizens,” Ferguson observes.
“Their [native countries] are less accepting [of gay people], and they are often huge national celebrities there. In the late 1990s, there were a bunch of people who started to come out — largely women, like Beth [Clayton] and Patricia [Racette]. Then countertenors like David Daniels — I’m not sure why that is. But I also think the audience is changing.”
Cook is quick to agree. “Opera companies have been cultivating that market. It’s a way to create a sense of community around the opera — a ‘rainbow series.’ We have been fighting for full acceptance [in mainstream society] — to be just like everyone else. And now we seem to have it.”
Still, acceptance hasn’t seriously altered how openly either singer has lived — both enthusiastically talk about their husbands, to whom each have been partnered for 16 years or more and now legally married. Ferguson’s husband, Kim, is also a singer (though of the pop-cabaret variety); Cook’s husband, Rob, is a gardener (who, he says, couldn’t carry a tune with a handle). For Ferguson especially, marriage equality has made a significant difference in his home life: Kim is a native Australian, and federal recognition of their marriage has facilitated his immigration status.
Ferguson and Cook both extol their fondness for Dallas — from its cosmopolitan qualities to its architecture and people. This is Ferguson’s fourth production with the DO in three years, and Cook’s first … though he performed years ago with the Fort Worth Opera. And they can’t say enough about the Winspear.
“I have to say, this opera house is one of my favorites in this country,” Ferguson says. “Aesthetically, it’s gorgeous but just to sing in there is great — the sound in there is amazing.”
“It’s a more intimate experience, more purpose-built,” Cook adds. “It’s the right shape, the right style for our art form.”
Audiences will get a chance to see how good they can sound in it for four performances of Manon, in a production originally conceived by out opera director Sir David McVicar. The two share a lot of stage time together, though they are something of romantic rivals for the attentions of Manon (played by the breakout star of last year’s world premiere of Great Scott, Ailyn Perez).
“I’ve done Manon at The Met before, but in a different role,” Ferguson says. “I guess that’s the kind of singer I am — different companies hire me for different kinds of ways. It’s great.” For Manon, he’s playing a much older character than he is. “The character is so different from what I look like or who I am — I get to play dress up and be the villain!”
Cook, by contrast, “plays the savior of Manon who truly falls for her, all the while knowing she admires him and all he’s done for her but doesn’t really love him.”
Yeah, we’ve all been there.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2016.