Aria there yet?

Patricia Racette, half of the lesbian power couple of opera, has certainly arrived. And that’s music to our ears

PR-Devon-Cass-5

QUEEN OF OPERA | Stunning soprano Patricia Racette was disappointed when the Dallas Opera canceled her production of ‘Katya Kabanova,’ but she still gets to perform at the Winspear this week with a cabaret performance featuring jazz and pop classics. (Photo courtesy Devon Cass)

 

GREGORY SULLIVAN ISAACS | Contributing Writer
gregoryisaacs@theaterjones.com

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AN EVENING OF CABARET
Winspear Opera House,
2403 Flora St. Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m. Free to Dallas Opera season
subscribers. DallasOpera.org.
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From the outside, the opera world seems like a gay haven — costumes, wigs, oversized egos, passionately dying divas full of drama. The fans are legendary in their devotion — the term “opera queen” is one that is used for self-identification more than it is tossed as a jab.

On the inside, however, it is mostly a gloriously appointed closet. While those who work in the opera, both onstage and off, are mostly straight, a large contingent are lesbians and gay men. They may be out to one another, and even show up at the gala with their partners, but few are out beyond the curtains.

Not so for the stunningly beautiful opera star Patricia Racette. “I am out and proud,” say the soprano in a phone interview. “Everyone has their own timing and their own issues to face, but I have never regretted coming out.”

Racette, who will sing leading roles in both Tosca and Madame Butterfly at the Met in 2012, is married to Beth Clayton, a mezzo-soprano justifiably famous for her smoldering portrayal of Carmen. They met while singing a production of La Traviata in Santa Fe in 1997, Racette playing the ill-fated Violetta and Clayton portraying her loyal friend Flora. (I always wondered about those two characters.) The couple married in 2005.

“It is inconceivable that we would be hiding our relationship,” Racette says. “If I were to be lying to everyone about such a huge aspect of my life, it would affect my performance. I am a total package and I certainly can’t leave part of me at home when I walk onstage.”

Any irony in a lesbian playing Tosca, the ultimate straight woman? Racette laughs at that thought. “We are past that nonsense in the theater and on television as more and more actors come out. In Tosca, I am portraying the circumstances of being passionately in love and I have my own love for Beth to dig into for motivation.”

In this, she is absolutely correct — you don’t need to be a whore to play Carmen. “There is a certain suspension of reality in opera,” Racette adds.

Racette admits to some apprehension at the start of her decision to come out, but it was short-lived. She looked at it in reverse: All her straight colleagues talked freely about their personal lives and the demands of spending so much time on the road, why not her?

“I thought, wait a minute. If I try to avoid these kinds of questions about my personal life, they will think that I am ashamed, like my love for Beth is some kind of dirty secret. For decades, the ‘It’s nobody’s business’ mantra kept opera singers in the closet. I can’t judge what other people do, but when

I hear that I think, ‘Too bad.’ They have no idea how liberating it is to just put all that baggage in the trash and live openly. If I want everyone else to think that my life is great, I have to show how great it is myself.”

Has this adversely affected her career? Hardly, as her Met engagements indicate. Clayton as well continues to get juicy roles. But she realizes that you can never know what you didn’t get.

“I am always asked this question and I always give the same answer. I just don’t know, and can never know unless someone tattles later. However, it really doesn’t matter. The opera world is full of as many disappointments as triumphs.”

One big disappointment was the cancellation of Janacek’s opera Katya Kabanova at the Dallas Opera this season. Racette was scheduled to sing the leading role in a glorious production in which she has triumphed in the past. “That one really hit me in the gut. I was so excited to return to Dallas. I went to school at North Texas State University and have many friends still in the area. I was especially looking forward to singing in the new house opera house.”

She will get to sing in the Winspear on Nov. 9, but it will be a far cry from Janacek. Racette performs her one-night cabaret as a bonus show to TDO patrons. Unlike other classical artists that seem stiff in crossover work, Racette started out singing jazz and cabaret; she switched to opera at the suggestion of an astute teacher. Accordingly, her program is a tribute to songs made famous by some of her favorite singers, and like any good gay person, Judy Garland and Edith Piaf top that list.

“Don’t expect any high notes,” she laughs. “I do in fact belt a few higher notes in the evening, but the reality is that my technique is speech-based. That translates into whatever style of music I sing. Sometimes, my opera fans are surprised that I can sing this way and not hurt my ‘other’ voice. But my technique allows for both styles and I sing in exactly same way — just in wildly different ranges.”

I ask Racette about Tosca’s great moment when she leaps off the castle wall to her death, cursing her tormentor on the way down. “Katya makes a leap as well, but into a river. Of course, Tosca is an opera diva, so her leap is much more spectacular. I always tell them to make it real and take some chances. However, I may feel like I am 17 when I am flying through the air, but I feel like I am every bit of 46 when I land.”

There is another unique “coming out” from Racette: She’s an opera singer who admits her age.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Applause: Stage pink

Queer highlights from the upcoming theater season

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

Anticipation should be strong for the upcoming theater season in general. Ambitious shows like Giant, The Tempest, West Side Story and Hairspray all dot the stage horizon.
But we also like to see some of our own up there. As we look over the upcoming offerings from local theater companies, we always ask, “Where’s the gay?”  In addition to Uptown Players’ first  Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival, here are some of the others.

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Fall

Although the Dallas Opera canceled the opera she was set to star in, lesbian soprano Patricia Racette will still perform at a TDO gala. (Photo Devon Cass)

Singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik gave an indie music flair to the musical adaptation of the 1891 play Spring Awakening. Set in 19th century Germany, Awakening follows a group of youths as they discover more about themselves and their rapidly developing sexuality.

The original Frank Wedekind play was controversial in its day, depicting abortion, homosexuality, rape and suicide. Now the show just has an added rock ‘n’ roll score. Along with Sheik’s musical perspective, Steven Slater wrote the book and lyrics in this updated version which debuted in 2006 on Broadway and won the Tony for Best Musical. Terry Martin directs.

WaterTower Theater, 15650 Addison Road., Addison. Sept. 30–Oct. 23. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

It’s almost un-Texan if you’re gay and not familiar with Del Shores’ tales of Southern discomfort.  Southern Baptist Sissies and Sordid Lives are pretty much part of the queer vernacular in these parts, but Shores got his start way back in 1987.

How will those northern folks take to Shores work (And by north, we mean past Central Expressway past LBJ)? Jeni Helms directs Daddy’s Dyin’: Who’s Got the Will for McKinney Repertory Theatre this fall. As the family patriarch suffers a stroke, the Turnover family gathers as they wait for his death. This family may just put the fun in dysfunctional.

McKinney Performing Arts Center, 111 N. Tennessee St., McKinney. Sept. 30–Oct. 7. McKinneyRep.org.

WingSpan Theatre Co. will produce one of the greater comedies of theater-dom this fall: Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, with Nancy Sherrard sparring over the gay wit’s price bon mots as Lady Bracknell.

Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive. Oct. 6–22. WingSpanTheatre.com.

Although A Catered Affair might sound a bit like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, it has the added flair of Harvey Fierstein’s wit. That’s because he wrote the book for the show alongside John Bucchino’s music and lyrics. The play is based on the Gore Vidal-penned 1956 film The Catered Affair starring Bette Davis.

When Jane and Ralph decide to get married, Jane’s mom Agnes wants to put on an elaborate spectacle of a wedding. The truth is, she can’t afford it and Jane isn’t all too thrilled about a huge affair. As in most cases, the wedding planning is more about the mom than the daughter and Agnes soon realizes the fact. Jane’s Uncle Winston — the proverbial gay uncle — is left off the guest list and is rightfully pissed. But as most gay characters, he rallies to be the voice of reason and support.

Theatre Three, 2800 Routh Street, Ste.168. Oct. 13–Nov. 12. Theatre3Dallas.com.

Lesbian soprano Patricia Racette was going to be featured in the production of Katya Kabanová but unfortunately the show was canceled by the Dallas Opera. But fear not. Dallas will still get to bask in the greatness that is her voice as Racette will perform An Evening with Patricia Racette, a cabaret show with classics from the Great American Songbook for a patron recital.

Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Nov. 9. DallasOpera.org

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Spring

Nancy Sherrard will star as Lady Bracknell in WIngSpan Theater Co.’s fall production of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ perhaps the greatest comedy ever written by theaterdom’s gayest wit.

Kevin Moriarty directs Next Fall for the Dallas Theater Center next spring. Written by Geoffrey Nauffts, the play centers on Luke and Adam, a couple with some unusual issues. What’s new about that in gay couplehood? Not much, but when Adam’s an absolute atheist and Luke’s a devout Christian, the two have been doing their best to make it work.
The comedy played on Broadway in 2010, garnering Tony and Drama Desk nominations. And now Dallas gets to see how, as DTC puts it, “relationships can be a beautiful mess.”
Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. April 13–May 6. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

Perhaps the most surprising queer offering this next season is Theatre Arlington’s production of The Laramie Project. The show usually creates quite a stir — at least it did in Tyler, thanks to Trinity Wheeler — so how will this suburban audience handle it? Doesn’t matter. Props to T.A. for taking Moises Kaufman’s play about the tragic bashing and death of Matthew Shepard to its community.

Theatre Arlington, 305 W. Main St., Arlington. May 18–June 3. TheatreArlington.org.

Usually the question with MBS Productions is “what’s not gay?” Founder Mark-Brian Sonna has consistently delivered tales of gay woe and love that are sometimes silly and sometimes sweet, but always a laugh.

This season is no different. Playwright Alejandro de la Costa brings back drag queen Lovely Uranus in The Importance of Being Lovely. The last time we saw Uranus, Sonna wore the stilettos and pink wig in last season’s Outrageous, Sexy, (nekkid) Romp.  This time around, Uranus graduates to leading lady status as the show is all about her as audiences follow her through the changes she makes in her make-up, wigs and men.

Stone Cottage Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. July 16–Aug. 11, 2012. MBSProductions.net.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Dallas Opera cancels production with out soprano

To get a handle on its finances, the Dallas Opera announced that it will cancel one of the five scheduled full main-stage productions of next season, and the victim is Katya Kabanova, which was to star out soprano Patricia Racette. In a lengthy press release, the DO explained how the move to the Winspear proved more costly than anticipated, and to “stabilize company finances as rapidly and prudently as possible,” the Russian opera, which was to be the second production of the 2011-12 season, would be canceled. Subscribers will be given a full refund.

This doesn’t mean Dallas won’t get to see Racette perform, however — she is still set to headline a special patron recital in November.

Katya Kabanova was the obvious choice to trim; the other four major productions are among the most popular in the repertoire: Lucia di Lammermoor, Tristan & Isolde, La Traviata and Die Dauberflote (The Magic Flute). A fifth “chamber” opera, which will mark the opera directing debut of DTC’s Kevin Moriarty, will go on as planned.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Out soprano who’ll headline Dallas Opera’s 2011-12 season releases ‘It Gets Better’ video

Patricia Racette

Operatic soprano Patricia Racette released an “It Gets Better” video that she made with her partner, Beth Clayton. They filmed their piece at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

As Arnold Wayne Jones reported last week, Racette will star in the second production of the Dallas Opera’s 2011-12 season, a revival of the company’s 1997 production of Leoš Janáček’s Katya Kabanova, written in 1921. The show runs Oct. 28 and 30, and Nov. 2, 5 and 13.

She will also at the Winspear Opera House in a recital for patrons, the opera announced on Jan. 13:

An exclusive patron recital on November 9, 2011, “A Cabaret Evening with Patricia Racette,” featuring the luminous Ms. Racette performing selections from the Great American Songbook in the intimacy of the Winspear Opera House.

Racette has appeared in Dallas before when she starred as the heroine in the 2004 production of Jenůfa.

—  David Taffet