Wagnerian Wednesday

[Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet (Elektra), Manuela Uhl (Chrysothemis), Berlin 2007. – Photo Credit: Barbara Aumüller/DOB]

Since we touched upon the isse of out LGBT opera singers (and the lack of them) in yesterday’s post and since I couldn’t resist Eyes’ challenge on an alliteration Wednesday post, let me add another impressive voice to the list: New Orleans-born dramatic soprano, Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet, who – much as Pieczonka – doesn’t shy away from mentioning her partner and their child in interviews and says that she has never experienced any direct backlash due to being out and that she considers honesty one of the most crucial foundations of her art (see this German interview around her Elektra debut at Deutsche Oper Berlin, or this one in English).

I first stumbled over Charbonnet as Isolde in Geneva (sadly, only the DVD) and my summary of that night, after picking up my jaw from the floor was “must. hear. Brünnhilde. live.” I’m still working on that one…

Faced with both Pieczonka and Charbonnet, who are both out A-list sopranos, I wonder: Is is easier to be out for large soprano voices who cover a lot of very feminine repertory, than for lyric mezzos, who get the queer eye of rumor more often than not as soon as they don a pair of pants a a convincing swagger onstage? Is there are greater fear of being pigeonholed, of being confused with one’s roles and of unwillingly playing into stereotypes and being boxed accordingly?

Listening to Charbonnet’s Isolde again while writing this post made me think again about how queer “Tristan” is as an opera, or how queer it could be – Kupfer’s old Berlin reading came close to it at points, with Kurwenal doting on Tristan and Brangäne being desperately worried about Isolde. I always imagined Brangäne as having a thing for Isolde (also, standing guard while the girl you’re pining for has a date with her dumb, undeserving boyfriend? – picture book lesbian self-sacrifice reaction!). Then of course, Isolde could have had a thing for Brangäne, too, before she took the potion – as FitzFulke pointed out to me this morning “a potion taken on the ocean” that could make someone “obsessively straight”?

I’m still waiting for that reading. If I were a teenager again, I’d stage it with my Lego people (or wait  – I did stage opera with Lego people back then, but I was stuck on italian repertory. I also hadn’t realized I was gay yet.)

But all LGBT questions apart, what matters in opera are the voices, and voices can be heard, felt and read in all kinds of ways, independent of whether a singer is straight or queer, out or closeted. Some of the queerest voices stem from the straightest of throats (and vice versa).

And in the end, the singers’ lives – although it is great and important to have out folks out there – is none of my business and doesn’t play into my readings. But their voices – oh, their voices!

7 thoughts on “Wagnerian Wednesday”

  1. OK. Wagner will do. I guess it could have been Wonder Woman, Woolf or just Waaaaaaaa!
    Can’t wait until tomorrow ( no pressure! ) but no days of the week begin with K 😉


  2. Location, location, location. How high is il bacio di Tosca planted? Where does Melot penetrate Tristan? Stage directions are more and less specific, but the solitary Legomaniac is free to direct as flexibly as plastic allows. You’re surely right about categories and stereotypes, Anik, and about lives’ irrelevance to talents. Oh, their voices — höchste Lust!


  3. Being 176cm (about 5’8″ in the old measurements), robustly built (without being rotund), short haired and not quite feminine in dress or carriage, and in my mid 30s and thus deemed far too old to be worth training, I failed to impress in my auditions with a prominent music conservatorium. Sometimes, the voice alone doesn’t cut through all the barriers.

    Still, I was offered a place in another music school, I’ve learnt how to wear a frock and can sometimes remember to walk onstage and about daintily. Perhaps there’s a chance I’ll get to actually put my rather large voice in service of the Wagnerian repertoire; if so there’s no possible way to hide my off-stage, very out persona. I am ‘the only gay girl in the village’ at music school – I do think it’s important for people to see that the world’s not straight and that our rainbow colours seep through every human endeavour.

    While I absolutely agree that it’s the voice that counts, it’s helpful to know that there’s somebody ‘out there’ who’s been there before you, and is still managing to do it. I knew of Pieczonka before, now I know of Charbonnet. Thank you for bringing her to my attention Anik. XOX


  4. “I always imagined Brangäne as having a thing for Isolde (also, standing guard while the girl you’re pining for has a date with her dumb, undeserving boyfriend? – picture book lesbian self-sacrifice reaction!). ”

    I KNEW IT. I sat through the whole thing yesterday thinking “surely Anik has talked about this.” And here you go. Thank you, search box. 🙂


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