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Opera siren

Lesbian soprano Patricia Racette on ‘Tosca,’ being out and her life off the stage



‘Tosca’ lead Patricia Racette at Washington National Opera’s rehearsal space in a Takoma Park warehouse. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Hardcore opera fans may quibble at the repetition, but hang around D.C. long enough and there’s a chance to see just about any standard-canon opera you can think of. Washington National Opera, now not-so-strange bedfellows with the Kennedy Center, kicked off its fall season last weekend with the Puccini warhorse “Tosca” with lesbian Patricia Racette in the title role.

Racette, who lives with her partner (mezzo soprano Beth Clayton) in Santa Fe, is hunkered down for the day at the Opera’s mammoth rehearsal/storage space in Takoma Park a few Mondays ago. Though dressed casually, she’s made up and coiffed as some of her afternoon press rounds are on camera.

Down several long hallways and through a giant costume room that looks like it could dress the entire cast of “Ben-Hur” and then some, Racette settles into a small and dingy library where CDs, VHS tapes and songbooks line the walls. During a 45-minute conversation, she riffs on her life off stage, the logistics of making it through live performance and why the stage, as opposed to the studio, is where she feels most alive musically.

Together for more than a decade and married since 2005, Racette says she and Clayton find a way to make their marriage work despite two busy careers that by necessity involve significant travel. Once several years ago they didn’t see each other for almost seven weeks.

“It was absolute torture,” Racette says. “Torture.”

Racette is developing a following in Washington. She was here in May for “Iphigenie en Tauride” (Gluck) after previous appearances in 2007 for “Jenufa” and 2009 as Ellen in “Peter Grimes,” all with WNO.

Though it half-heartedly reviewed the production, the Post called Racette’s “Tosca” performance “luminous” and “compelling” and praised her stamina and vocal authority in “Iphigenie.”

Racette calls singing opera akin to surfing.

“I mean it’s a fine art and it’s called a fine art for a very, very good reason because it takes a lot of study, a lot of concentration, a lot of precision and it’s ongoing. As long as you’re a singer, you’re tidying up and you’re working on these things. I don’t worry if I’m gonna hit the note, that’s not my thing. But you have to have everything in line and as fluid as possible because it’s true, once you get there, you’ve got that one chance and boom. It’s not like practicing when you say, “OK, out of those four tries, I hit it once. It’s like a very intricate, very involved surfing. You know you want to hit the wave as absolutely best you can. Do you hit it that way every time? Absolutely not, but you do the best you can. … I’ve seen other singers where they just didn’t get there and there’s a whole other level of mental angst with that but that’s not my typical issue.”

Do some singers channel a non-verbal signal to the audience that they might not hit the note, whether they know they will or not? Is it a way of contriving some suspense in the performance?

“I think some of it is milked,” she says, “but some of it is really real. When you come to the climax of “Vissi d’arte” (one of her “Tosca” arias), you’re taking your spring and jumping over the canyon, so you have to have all your faculties composed. It’s not something that just comes out, like la la la. It’s not but I think if you make it seem like that kind of moment, I think the audience feels almost robbed from the experience. I’ve been playing Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall and she hits this belty high note and it’s so exciting because she kind of falters for one second and there’s a part where she kind of misses it for a split second, but then regains it and that’s almost more interesting than perfection itself.”

It’s why Racette has almost zero interest in recording any of her signature roles.

“I did a little at the beginning of my career and I hated it. I’d rather have a root canal … To me that has nothing to do with music making or the art form. I want the audience’s energy, I don’t want to be there in that test tube of perfection. For me, it just took all the joy, all the magic out of it and I have no interest in it whatsoever.”

But what about legacy?

“You mean like in 50 years, Patricia who,” she says, with a hearty laugh.

Isn’t there a time and place to get it down just right?

“I guess so, but it’s not accurate. It never was accurate, it never will be accurate. That’s not the way we are. The excitement of live performance, both for the performer and the audience is that aspect, it’s live, it’s right now, you get that one chance at that note and, oh God, yes, that was fantastic, or ooh, ooh, that was a little bit off but, it involves the audience, it keeps them on that ride.”

Racette’s humble New Hampshire beginnings have been oft-noted. She calls her family and upbringing “not remotely” musical and “steeped in ignorance,” especially about opera. She grew up listening to Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer and as a self-taught guitarist started writing her own songs as “sort of a Joni Mitchell-type thing.”

She started taking a few voice lessons because she knew she’d need an audition tape for college. Though not classically steeped to any degree, she knew studying music in college would require exploring some of that. She envisioned either a guitar-and-clogs kind of singer/songwriter career or later, perhaps something jazzy like “a Manhattan Transfer-kind-of thing.”

Racette, now 46, calls her 18-year-old self, “Green — as green as they come.”

She cried for three days when her vocal teacher told her bread and butter would be in opera. Her raw vocal talent was just naturally best suited for it. She detested her salon piece (Handel’s “Oh Had I Jubal’s Lyre”) but sprawled out on her apartment floor listening to a record of Renata Scotto singing “Suor Angelica” ignited a passion within her. She laughs about it now.

“I had envisioned this rather simple, rather short sighted thing,” she says. “I didn’t know how to plan the life I have.”

In the operatic designations, Racette is a full, lyric soprano. She bristles slightly at too much emphasis on these categories as they can be confining. LGBT labels, though, don’t bother her at all.

“Oh, it’s very clear to me that I’m a lesbian,” she says. “I’m out and proud because the alternative is to be secretive and ashamed and I just can’t imagine behaving that way about the best thing in my life.”

Racette embraces her off-stage life and prides herself on wearing overalls, owning a toolbox and getting her hands dirty in construction projects, such as the Santa Fe house she and Clayton recently had finished.

“Oh are you kidding,” she says. “I’m on the roof and I’m checking things out, asking the questions. I’m very involved with that sort of thing. I’m very earthy in that way and very down to earth most of the time when I’m off the clock. No one can even imagine I do what I do. I’m never the leading lady then, I don’t have that hat on. It’s just not the sort of energy I have.”

And are lesbian opera divas anomalies?

“I think there are about 13 of us at last count,” she says. “But not all of them are out.”

And the men?

“Ehhh, it’s a pretty gay world,” she says.

She concludes her remarks with a knowing chuckle.

“A lot of the men singers are straight but yeah, most of my hair and makeup are my gays, which is as it should be I think.”



Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center

2700 F Street, N.W.

Tonight, Sunday matinee, Tuesday, Thursday and Sept. 23-24 performances remain (Natalia Ushakova sings the lead Sept. 23)

In Italian with English subtitles


202-467-4600 or





PHOTOS: DCGFFL 25th Anniversary Party

Gay flag football league marks milestone at Penn Social



The D.C. Gay Flag Football league held a party celebrating their 25th season at Penn Social on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Gay Flag Football League (DCGFFL) held a 25th season anniversary party at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23. Proceeds from the event benefited the LGBTQ youth services organization SMYAL as well as the D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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New book goes behind the scenes of ‘A League of Their Own’

‘No Crying in Baseball’ offers tears, laughs, and more



(Book cover image courtesy of Hachette Books)

‘No Crying in Baseball: The Inside Story of ‘A League of Their Own’
By Erin Carlson
c.2023, Hachette Books
$29/320 pages

You don’t usually think of Madonna as complaining of being “dirty all day” from playing baseball. But that’s what the legendary diva did during the shooting of “A League of Their Own,” the 1992 movie, beloved by queers.

“No Crying in Baseball,” the fascinating story behind “A League of Their Own,” has arrived in time for the World Series. Nothing could be more welcome after Amazon has cancelled season 2 of its reboot (with the same name) of this classic film.

In this era, people don’t agree on much. Yet, “A League of Their Own” is loved by everyone from eight-year-old kids to 80-year-old grandparents.

The movie has strikes, home runs and outs for sports fans; period ambience for history buffs; and tears, laughs and a washed-up, drunk, but lovable coach for dramady fans.

The same is true for “No Crying in Baseball.” This “making of” story will appeal to history, sports and Hollywood aficionados. Like “All About Eve” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “A League of Their Own” is Holy queer Writ.

Carlson, a culture and entertainment journalist who lives in San Francisco, is skilled at distilling Hollywood history into an informative, compelling narrative. As with her previous books, “I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy” and “Queen Meryl: The Iconic Roles, Heroic Deeds, and Legendary Life of Meryl Streep,” “No Crying in Baseball,” isn’t too “educational.” It’s filled with gossip to enliven coffee dates and cocktail parties.

“A League of Their Own” is based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). From 1943 to 1954, more than 600 women played in the league in the Midwest. The league’s players were all white because the racism of the time prohibited Black women from playing. In the film, the characters are fictional. But the team the main characters play for – the Rockford Peaches – was real.

While many male Major and Minor League Baseball players were fighting in World War II, chewing gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley, who owned the Chicago Cubs, founded the league. He started the AAGPBL, “To keep spectators in the bleachers,” Carlson reports, “and a storied American sport–more important: his business afloat.” 

In 1943, the Office of War Information warned that the baseball season could be “scrapped” “due to a lack of men,” Carlson adds.

“A League of Their Own” was an ensemble of women’s performances (including Rosie O’Donnell as Doris, Megan Cavanagh as Marla, Madonna as Mae, Lori Petty as Kit and Geena Davis as Dottie) that would become legendary.

Girls and women  still dress up as Rockford Peaches on Halloween.

Tom Hanks’s indelible portrayal of coach Jimmy Dugan, Gary Marshall’s depiction of (fictional) league owner Walter Harvey and Jon Lovitz’s portrayal of Ernie have also become part of film history.

Filming “A League of Their Own,” Carlson vividly makes clear, was a gargantuan effort.  There were “actresses who can’t play baseball” and “baseball players who can’t act,” Penny Marshall said.

The stadium in Evansville, Ind., was rebuilt to look like it was in the 1940s “when the players and extras were in costume,” Carlson writes, “it was easy to lose track of what year it was.”

“No Crying in Baseball” isn’t written for a queer audience. But, Carlson doesn’t pull any punches. 

Many of the real-life AAGPBL players who O’Donnell met had same-sex partners, O’Donnell told Carlson.

“When Penny, angling for a broad box-office hit chose to ignore the AAGPGL’s queer history,” Carlson writes, “she perpetuated a cycle of silence that muzzled athletes and actresses alike from coming out on the wider stage.”

“It was, as they say, a different time,” she adds.

Fortunately, Carlson’s book isn’t preachy. Marshall nicknames O’Donnell and Madonna (who become buddies) “Ro” and “Mo.” Kodak is so grateful for the one million feet of film that Marshall shot that it brings in a high school marching band. Along with a lobster lunch. One day, an assistant director “streaked the set to lighten the mood,” Carlson writes.

“No Crying in Baseball,” is slow-going at first. Marshall, who died in 2018, became famous as Laverne in “Laverne & Shirley.” It’s interesting to read about her. But Carlson devotes so much time to Marshall’s bio that you wonder when she’ll get to “A League of Their Own.”

Thankfully, after a couple of innings, the intriguing story of one of the best movies ever is told.

You’ll turn the pages of “No Crying in Baseball” even if you don’t know a center fielder from a short stop.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Rupert Murdoch’s powers on full display in ‘Ink’

Media baron helped pave the way for Brexit, Prime Minister Thatcher



Cody Nickell (Larry Lamb) and Andrew Rein (Rupert Murdoch) in ‘Ink’ at Round House Theatre. (Photo by Margot Schulman Photography)

Through Sept. 24
Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814

Yes, Rupert Murdoch’s loathsome traits are many, but his skills to succeed are undeniably numerous. 

In the first scenes of John Graham’s West End and Broadway hit drama “Ink,” an exciting year-long detail from the life of a burgeoning media baron, Murdoch’s powers of persuasion are on full display.

It’s 1969 London. Over dinner with editor Larry Lamb, a young Murdoch shares his plan to buy the Sun and rebrand the dying broadsheet, replacing the Daily Mirror as Britain’s best-selling tabloid. What’s more, he wants to do it in just one year with Lamb at the helm. 

Initially reluctant, Lamb becomes seduced by the idea of running a paper, something that’s always eluded him throughout his career, and something Murdoch, the outsider Australian, understands. Murdoch taunts him, “Not you. Not Larry Lamb, the Yorkshire-born son of a blacksmith, not the guy who didn’t get a degree from Oxford or Cambridge, who didn’t get a degree from anywhere. Not you.”

Still, Lamb, played convincingly by Cody Nickell in Round House Theatre’s stellar season-opener, a co-production with Olney Theatre Center, remains unsure. But Murdoch (a delightfully brash Andrew Rein) is undeterred, and seals the deal with a generous salary. 

Superbly staged by director Jason Loweth, “Ink” is riveting. Its exchanges between Lamb and Murdoch are a strikingly intimate glimpse into ambition involving an ostensibly average editor and a striving money man who doesn’t like people.  

Once on board, Lamb is trolling Fleet Street in search of his launch team, played marvelously by some mostly familiar actors. He makes his most important hire — news editor Brian McConnell (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) — in a steam bath. The remainder of the Sun’s new masthead falls handily into place: Joyce Hopkirk (Kate Eastwood Norris) the women’s page editor whose forward thinking is marred by her casual racism; Zion Jang plays Beverley Goodway, an awkwardly amusing young photographer; persnickety deputy editor Bernard Shrimsley (Michael Glenn) who learns to love ugly things; and an old school sports editor who proves surprisingly versatile, played by Ryan Rillette, Round House’s artistic director. 

At Lamb’s suggestion, the team brainstorms about what interests Sun readers. They decide on celebrities, pets, sports, free stuff, and —rather revolutionarily for the time —TV.  Murdoch is happy to let readers’ taste dictate content and the “Why” of the sacred “five Ws” of journalism is out the window. 

Murdoch is portrayed as a not wholly unlikable misanthrope. He dislikes his editors and pressman alike. He particularly hates unions. His advice to Lamb is not to get too chummy with his subordinates. Regarding the competition, Murdoch doesn’t just want to outperform them, he wants to grind them to dust. 

Loewith leads an inspired design team. Scenic designer Tony Cisek’s imposing, inky grey edifice made from modular walls is ideally suited for Mike Tutaj’s projections of headlines, printed pages, and Rein’s outsized face as Murdoch. Sound designer and composer Matthew M. Nielson ably supplies bar noises and the nonstop, pre-digital newspaper clatter of presses, linotypes, and typewriters.

From a convenient second tiered balcony, the Daily Mirror’s establishment power trio Hugh Cudlipp (Craig Wallace), Chris Lee Howard (Chris Geneback) and Sir Percy (Walter Riddle) overlook all that lies below, discussing new tactics and (mostly failed) strategies to remain on top.   

Increasingly comfortable in the role of ruthless, sleazy editor, Lamb is unstoppable.

Obsessed with overtaking the Daily Mirror’s circulation, he opts for some sketchy reportage surrounding the kidnapping and presumed murder of Muriel McKay, the wife of Murdoch’s deputy Sir Alick (Todd Scofield). The kidnappers mistook Muriel for Murdoch’s then-wife Anna (Sophia Early). Next, in a move beyond the pale, Lamb introduces “Page 3,” a feature spotlighting a topless female model. Awesta Zarif plays Stephanie, a smart young model. She asks Lamb if he would run a semi-nude pic of his similarly aged daughter? His reaction is uncomfortable but undaunted. 

For Murdoch’s purposes, history proves he chose well in Lamb. By year’s end, the Sun is Britain’s most widely read tabloid. Together they give the people what they didn’t know they wanted, proving the pro-Labour Daily Mirror’s hold on the working class is baseless and paving the way for things like Brexit and a Prime Minister Thatcher. 

“Ink” at Round House closes soon. See it if you can.

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