Why do some opera singers develop cult following among queer women, and others barely get noticed by the said demographics?
The only out-queer singers I know of (and all North American: my homegrrl Adrianne Pieczonka who however works most often in Germany and Austria, the Met’s Patricia Racette and her partner, and American Verdian/Wagnerian mezzo Jill Grove) don’t necessarily have a huge or particularly mad lesbo following. They’re all ‘happily partnered’ (is a married queer less threatening than a single one? I’m sure there are publicists who think that), some with children, and apart from the fact that they’re with a person of their own sex, there’s nothing particularly queer about them, on or off stage.
I am trying to figure out what I mean by this surplus of queer that adds something to the singer that drives us, the bent audience, crazy.
Tell me if I’m out to lunch – but most of all tell me why you love your diva.
— In part it’s the roles. The only role opposite a woman that I remember Pieczonka singing was the Marschallin – her roles tend to be on the extremely straight side. (Sieglinde. Senta. Tosca. Ariadne.) And when I say straight, I don’t mean they can’t be queered on stage – I mean, no director really bothered queering them yet. So, for all intents and purposes: extremely straight. Same for Jill Grove. Although she sang otherworldly and differently-sexual creatures like Erda and Azucena, he roles are also on the straight side. Of all Wagnerian roles, Brunnhilde, Waltraute, Kundry and Venus will get you queer points. Sieglinde, Senta, Fricka, Elisabeth – no.
— It helps if you’re a mezzo. Gay men gravitate towards sopranos, and queer women gravitate towards mezzos. But not any mezzo repertoire will do.
— You must know how to do baroque. As long as there’s a chunk of baroque in your bag of tricks, you’re on the right path.
— Furthermore, you will ‘own’ at least one Handel trouser role. The more of them you own, the queerer.
— You can’t be conventionally beautiful. In other words, you can’t be beautiful to the straight male gaze. There needs to be something peculiar about your body, something freakish (in the best, sexual-disorderliness meaning of the word), whether in your manner of acting or moving or the length of your neck or your hands (what? like you never thought about this?) or your height or flat-chestedness or curvyness, or hair, or something.
— Having said that, approaching the Botha weight won’t do. Seriously – Montserrat pulled it off, but that was once in an operatic century. And she didn’t have a huge lesbo following anyway. So… there’s freakishness and then there’s freakishness.
— You can’t fear experiment on stage. You’re willing to go to the edge and over, you’re willing to uglify yourself, monster-ize yourself on stage.
— You must pass the Standard Trouser Test with flying colours. There will be debate what the STT consists of. Some would argue it’s the Octavian-Orlofsky-Cherubino, or OO+Romeo triad. Others will say the OO is enough. Yet others will add the Komponist to the OO or the OOCR.
— You must BE (not simply portray sympathetically) Geschwitz on that stage.
— You can’t be a corporation or business enterprise. Please. No branding. No Mezzo Inc. or Soprano Inc., no 24/7-on-the-message publicity.
— If you’re not married to a dude, you’re not blogging about your boyfriend every other post (see Jennifer Rivera) and there’s some room for speculation among those who care about those things (i. e. us), your queer shares will skyrocket. There were some divas in previous generations with this feature, but I can’t think of many in the circuit now. Maybe we are going backwards in this dept., who knows. Maybe this free attitude and this willingness to leave some room for speculation is even queerer than being married to another woman? Maybe.
— If you are married, you will not talk about your husband in every other interview or press release
— or your wife, for that matter! (I love Sarah Connolly but that she had to put it in her publicity materials that it was “her husband who actually suggested she wear the Nelson costume for the Last Night of the Proms,” which the BBC radio presenters happily repeated on air as she was about to sing, was a little much. We’re adults, people. Also, I’ve read DiDonato say “I’ve learned from my husband how to hold a girl,” and so on. Now, my divas would never use the examples of their husbands or boyfriends in this context. Just sayin’.) You will be relaxed, in fact, flattered that women (and not only men) throw themselves at you. You will actually be graceful about it. You will not be terrified of being mistaken for somebody with different sexual preferences.
Anyhoo – what am I missing? I want opinions. What qualifies your favourite singers?