Queen(s) of the Night

Author’s Note: This is the post that I wrote for Claire‘s blogoversary last week.

This music has nothing to do with the post, but it is some of the most sublime music and worth a listen. 8 minutes of pure bliss.

Hey there Horde®! It is an honor to be one of the writers celebrating Claire’s blogoversary. Most of you don’t know me, but, if the name looks familiar, I am the one on Twitter that sends Claire the crazy-ass youtube videos or the brain worms of websites (primarily this, this & this). As my Twitter® name (mitchthetenor) implies, I am a singer, mostly of opera/classical music, but I dabble in musical theatre & jazz periodically. Just so y’all are aware, my writing is very often punctuated with parenthetical tangents, references and/or clarifications. If that’s not your style, too bad. This is Claire’s deal, not yours. You will read this post AND be happy about it. So, enjoy (or else!).

Today’s post is about LGBT folk in the theatre, and is sponsored, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts & readers like you.

I am sure that most of you at least saw, if not read the “delightful” article in Newsweek at the end of April about gay folks being able to convincingly portray straight characters. To say that it is offensive is a rather large understatement.  While it is great that ally Kristin Chenoweth didn’t hold any punches in her response to the article and delightfully hunky out man, Cheyenne Jackson (of Broadway & 30 Rock fame) & Michael Urie (of Ugly Betty fame) took Ramin Setoodeh to task in their responses, what makes the article sting the most (to me, at least) was not the writing (although that does hurt), but the fact that the writer is gay. Who needs enemies when you’ve got friends like this, right?

In most realms of theatre (opera & broadway musicals/straight plays [heretofore referred to as MT for simplicity]), if you are a guy, you are gay until proven straight. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be the case, and people could just be people, but it is what it is. In the MT realm, being gay doesn’t appear [to me] to be an issue, as it is virtually a fact of life. For some reason, in the opera world, there is a “stigma”* about it, as people are surprised when a gay man can effectively play the romantic lead to a woman. Wonderful tenor Nick Phan talks about his experiences with this very situation here. As a tenor, I can certainly relate. For some reason, the lower voiced men who are gay have less of a problem with this, despite having to face slightly similar, but also different, problems as the non-romantic leads. Us tenors just get a bad rap, as fey, limp-wristed folks who wear frilly clothes, methinks. 😉

What is so entertaining about this whole situation is that people seem to forget that when they go to the theater, 99% of the time, there is a suspension of disbelief. Most often in opera, this suspension occurs when analyzing the differences between the character and performer, usually an age, physical or gender difference. While I do understand that gender and physical differences usually go hand in hand, what I am trying to differentiate is that, the physical attributes (read: height-weight ratio) between the two can be vastly different (ie: Luciano Pavarotti singing Nemorino [in a production, not concert] in Donizetti‘s Elixir of Love). While I am not as versed in MT repertoire (although the role of Gary Coleman in Avenue Q does come to mind), there are countless roles in operas that require this to occur. Not for men, but for women. And, for some reason, this is totally OK with people and they think nothing of it: in Mozart‘s Marriage of Figaro, the young man Cheribuno is played by a mezzo-soprano. In Puccini‘s Madama Butterfly, the soprano required to sing this monumental role rarely looks the part of the virginal teen, and is far from being one. In Puccini & Verdi‘s masterpieces, La bohème & La traviata, both soprano leads are suffering from TB, and usually don’t look like they are suffering from it. In fact, for the premiere of Travaiata, the soprano was so, ahem, large that the audience could not suspend their disbelief & laughed. In Bellini‘s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, the mezzo-soprano again plays a man, this time, the ill-fated Romeo. Throughout opera, the number of “pants roles” is quite large (with the linked article listing just a few of the most common roles) and people . Even in “dress roles”, where a man dresses up like a woman, such as the witch in Humperdink‘s Hansel and Gretel, audience members can suspend their disbelief without issue. WTF. Going back to the musical theatre realm for a minute, the suspension of disbelief occurs anytime someone sees any of the puppet shows (Lion King, Avenue Q, etc.) or The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, as the performers are clearly not in middle school.

What Nick talks about in the second part of his post is something that transcends the stage, as it should be for all things in life: Does it [being gay] matter? NO! An artist should only be judged on their art. (Well, and maybe some politics. But mostly art. And only politics if they’re being dumb [both right & left can be, so I’m an equal opportunity ‘think-you’re-stupid’-er]).

I agree with him whole heartedly:

“…many people argue that it is important for performers to be open and come out because of their profile, so that they can set positive examples for the rest of the world.”

In closing I leave you with this thought: Wouldn’t it be great if performers(of any genre) be judged on the merit of their acting, singing, or whatever instead of who they are attracted to? To that end, wouldn’t it be great if people were judged on their own merits? While I am gay, that is only one small aspect of me. Yes, it is important, but it doesn’t define my entire being. And yes, I do prance around on stage with limp wrists in lots of frills, but PLEASE judge me on my prancing skills, not because I am gay.

I want to thank Claire for the opportunity to write for yous kids (and congrats on another year in the blogosphere, darling!) and Nick Phan for his wonderful and touching post on being out & proud in the opera world. Also, if you are an ally, there is no greater praise that could be given to you. Your job as an ally is one of the highest importance. As this next generation (God that makes me feel old…) becomes older, they are coming into a society that is more open, but they don’t know of the trials that have happened before them. Tell them about Matthew Shepherd. Teach them about HIV/AIDS. Sarah Jessica Parker made a good point about this:

“There seems to be, of concern to me, young men that are now sick again, or are HIV positive, and I think that because they were too young to see what happened 20 years ago, to know the devastation and the absolute heartbreak that accompanied that time.” video here

The young LGBT kids these days need (not just one, but many) allies, mentors & friends. For more on that, see this.

Peace out, horde.


* I say stigma, but there is no strong discrimination against the gays, but people can view you differently when casting and all that jazz.