‘Gay’ and ‘opera’ are often named in the same sentence. At times, they are almost used as indicative synonyms – a man who enjoys opera is by default gay, and for many gay men, being into opera is something that comes without asking. To this link between ‘gay’ and ‘opera’, we owe the fabulous figure known as the opera queen. (as far as examples go, I’d like to name my own baby brother. The Queen of the Night has nothing on him, except maybe eyeshadow and fake lashes)
Not just among viewers, also among people on the producing side of opera, there are a lot of openly gay men: directors, singers (more or less out) and even managers. A former colleague (a straight assistant director) used to put it this way: “There are straight opera houses, and there are gay male opera houses. And then there’s Innsbruck and Kiel.” (the latter two, at the time, apparently being under lesbian management).
Gay men and the arts – opera in particular – are linked by popular judgment. Just like gay men stand for being creative, well-dressed, the perfect shopping guide and overall a girl’s best friend (and thinking of my brother, I’d have to sign all of the above).
Lesbians, on the other hand, stand for bad haircuts, flannel and a general lack of humor.
Contrary to gay men, lesbians are apparently not considered a relevant opera demographic. If you go to a performance, you’ll find couples of gay men discussing the hotness of Jonas Kaufmann production of the (gay) stage director during the breaks and afterwards they’ll be the ones lined up at the stage entrance, waiting for the diva’s appearance. (and Jonas Kaufman’s, too)
Meanwhile, the only lesbian in sight is most likely the set design assistant who at the exact same moment will be standing backstage with her thumbs hooked into her tool belt, if she isn’t operating any heavy machinery. Honestly, most lesbians I’ve met in opera were set design assistants. If you want to be daring, a costume assistant here and there.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love gay guys, and I love going to the opera with them, but… – wait, I need to get upon the third balcony for the next bit (acoustics, you know…) – WHERE ARE THE LESBIANS???
This is a call on all frequencies for the opera dyke – on, behind and in front of the scene.
Statistically, it is not very credible to assume that in every major opera house, there is just ONE lesbian to be found at all times, and that she’s the one who is the set design assistant.
Granted, there are a few lesbian stage directors, but in comparison to their male counterparts, they remain very few and much less talked about. There is the rare sight of a woman in a suit in the audience, often alone (and most likely at Rosenkavalier performances). And there are a few lesbian singers and even fewer of them are out (with notable exceptions, two of which are married to each other. Heh.) – in general, the out ones aren’t THAT famous, and the famous ones aren’t THAT out. In fact, the only one really, REALLY famous one who has been “outed” (in a damaging, unfair way) remains Brigitte Fassbaender (of course, with that voice, who would care how she identifies? Every queer person can identify with her sound, so let’s leave the woman out if it!). – Being out on the opera stage seems to equal being out in professional sports – and whereas male opera professionals and female athletes are often associated with a possibility of being gay, it seems to be the opposite for female opera singers, just like for male athletes.
Of course, whether artists are gay or not and whether they are out or not has nothing to do with enjoying opera. It’s only a sad side note that apparently, being out can still be detrimental for a career in a field as gay as opera.
And opera isn’t only for its queens – it has much to offer to lesbian and bisexual women, as well:
For one, divas. Hello! The boys might identify with her, but we’d actually go for her.
Two (and this should actually be reasons one to five): trouser roles. They weren’t invented as something gay (in fact, at the time they came to be there wasn’t an anthropological model on the map that would have labeled anyone as gay), but if you’re going to the opera as a lesbian today, you can’t help but consider them a candy store. And you just need to buy a ticket to be locked up with them all night. Sure, trouser roles are supposed to be guys, but what we see is a woman in pants going after another woman. Sounds like a perfectly lesbian thing to me.
The only out lesbian role in opera might be Brangäne Berg’s Countess Geschwitz, but there is lesbian subtext galore. It made us happy for six years on Xena. Why not in opera?
ANY Baroque opera hero sung by a woman? *utter glee*
The way Brangäne takes care of Isolde in “Tristan”? …devoted friendship? Uh-uh. Not in my dreams.
I’m bored with being the only woman screaming her lungs out next to our gay brethren on the third balcony when Catherine Naglestad or Vesselina Kasarova have their curtain call. Dear fellow opera dykes: Holler back. Please.
I’ll do my part. And I’m not above promising posts with hot mezzos in pants while I’m at it. You shell out 100$ for a ticket, you have the right to drool, as far as I’m concerned (respectfully, of course).
When I first stumbled upon Wayne Koestenbaum’s “The Queen’s Throat”, I was jumping up and down with excitement at reading its tagline: “Opera, homosexuality and the mystery of desire”. After reading this thoughtful and articulate account on gay opera fans, though, I found one thing to be missing from it: lesbians.
I’m leaving you a prime example of queer female opera heaven. I dare you to come back afterwards and tell me that opera was NOT invented for dykes.