New LGBTQ Operas Coming Out in Hard Times
In light of recent news from Washington, American Opera Projects (AOP) announces that of its 31 new operas in development, four are on LGBTQ topics. For AOP, this is not new. In 1998, AOP premiered the first opera ever to focus on a lesbian relationship, Patience & Sarah, by composer Paula M. Kimper, and librettist Wende Persons, three years after Houston Grand Opera's premiere of Harvey Milk composed by Stewart Wallace to a libretto by Michael Korie.
Upcoming LGBTQ operas are:
- AS ONE: 15 songs for two voices sharing the part of a sole transgender protagonist. As One is the most performed new opera in America. - Laura Kaminsky, composer; Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed, librettists - New productions: - March 2-4, 2017 - Opera Colorado, Denver, CO - May 13-21, 2017 - Long Beach Opera, Long Beach, CA - June 2-4, 2017 - New Orleans Opera, New Orleans, LA
- THREE WAY: A sex comedy opera about craving and connection. - Robert Paterson, composer; David Cote, librettist. - New York premiere: - June 15-18, 2017 - AOP and Nashville Opera, BAM, Brooklyn
- BEFORE NIGHT FALLS: Life of Cuban writer, Reinaldo Arenas, following his emigration to the US and battle with AIDS. - Jorge Martin, composer; J. Martin & Dolores M. Koch, librettists. - New production: - March 18-25, 2017 - Florida Grand Opera, Miami, Florida
- LEGENDARY: New York City's underground drag culture in the 1980s, based on a true story. - Joseph N. Rubinstein, composer; Jason Kim, librettist. - Opera-in-development workshop - free & open to the public: - March 19, 2017 - AOP, South Oxford Space, Brooklyn
While AOP's roster of LGBTQ operas is growing, clearly in our era there is still significant progress to be made. At the same time, these operas are being embraced across the US. As One, the first opera about a transgender person, by artistic team Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell, and Kimberly Reed is now one of the most performed new operas in America. Following AOP's premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, As One has had productions in Seattle, Washington D.C., Berkeley, Logan, UT, Berlin, and just last week, Pittsburgh, where the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called it "pertinent and moving," with upcoming shows in San Diego, Denver, New Orleans, Long Beach, Kansas City, and more.
Opera has unfortunately been late to embrace contemporary works, especially ones that address current events and lifestyles. But it is encouraging to see that more and more opera companies recognize the need to be an art form that reflects the stories of our time. In recent years, audiences have seen successful premieres of LGBTQ-themed operas such as Paul's Case, Before Night Falls, and A Letter to East 11th Street - all having received development in AOP's First Chance program - as well as Fellow Travelers, Three Decembers, Brokeback Mountain, Prince of Players, Champion, and Angels in America.
At a time when the Trump Administration has removed the Obama-era guidance allowing trans people to select school restrooms according to gender choice, AOP will continue to actively pursue works like these for development and production.
AOP's most recent world premiere Three Way "explores sex without moralizing" (The East Nashvillian) depicting modern sexuality in three short, comic one acts. The co-production with Nashville Opera, where it had its well-received premiere in January, will come to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in June 2017.
I'm here for an opera that explains to straight people what being trans- or cis-gender is. Hopefully, we as the audience come to a deeper understanding with them. - Schmopera.com's review of Three Way's world premiere in Nashville.
For us to empathize with the struggles of others there can be no art form where their stories are not told. Giving every minority - of race, gender, country, political view, you name it - an opportunity to tell their story may seem impossible, but it is still the ideal. More immediately, we hold as a goal that a proliferation of these stories will allow opera audiences to recognize that the conflicts and lives of every person are relatable. And that the discovery of those inherent, relatable truths of our unified humanity makes enlightening, and exciting, entertainment.