Meyrianne Héglon as Omphale in Xavier Leroux’s Astarté.
For the New Yorker website I’ve written a Cultural Comment on the recent wave of gay-themed operas, with particular attention to productions of Lou Harrison’s Young Caesar at the L.A. Philharmonic and Peter Eötvös’s Angels in America at New York City Opera. At the close I also praise Gregory Spears’s Fellow Travelers, which had its première at the Cincinnati Opera last year. It will appear at the Prototpye Festival in New York in January and at the Chicago Lyric Opera in March.
I mention the predominance of gay-male stories and the relative neglect of lesbian subjects. I’d like to single out a few projects in the latter category. One is Carla Lucero’s 2001 opera Wuornos, about the serial killer Aileen Wuornos, which had its première at the Yerba Buena Arts Center in San Francisco in 2001. This project had difficulty attracting funding, as a San Francisco Chronicle article recounted. Among LGBT donors there were concerns about whether the story provided a “good role model” — a tricky question to raise in the field of opera. Of course, gay activists had long been campaigning against vicious portrayals of gay killers in movies and on television. (Back in 1991, shortly after I came out of the closet, I participated in a Queer Nation San Francisco protest against Basic Instinct.) The opera audience is, however, probably sophisticated enough to see negative or ambiguous depictions of gay people without generalizing from them. Kristin Norderval, who portrayed Wuornos in that 2001 production, has long given voice to her queer identity as singer and composer. The central character of her 2016 opera The Trials of Patricia Isasa, about the Argentinian architect and activist who survived torture in the junta’s detention camps, sings of a youthful lesbian affair. (The work can be seen on YouTube.) I should also note that Eve Beglarian and Phil Kline are working on Descent, a musical inspired by the ersatz Sapphic poetry of Pierre Louÿs.

from Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
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