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Opera: Girl drama

Washington opera’s spring season features plum roles for women

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Patricia Racette, Manon Lascaut, Washington National Opera, gay news, Washington Blade
Angela Mead, Norma, Washington National Opera, gay news, Washington Blade

Angela Mead in a promo photo for ‘Norma.’ (Photo by Dario Acosta; courtesy WNO)

Kennedy Center Opera House
2700 F St., NW
Tickets: $25-$300
202-467-4600
kennedy-center.org

This spring at Washington National Opera, the fairer sex will be the talk of the capital’s operatic scene. From stars to directors and the repertoire itself, women rule the stage, with exciting company debuts as part of the stable.

First out of the gate, opening Saturday, is “Manon Lescaut,” starring Washington favorite Patricia Racette in the title role. Last seen on the Kennedy Center’s opera stage in 2011 for “Iphigenie en Tauride” and “Tosca,” Racette (a lesbian) will be tackling the role of Manon Lescaut for the first time in the revival of gay director John Pascoe’s 2007 production.

Patricia Racette, Manon Lascaut, Washington National Opera, gay news, Washington Blade

Patricia Racette in the title role for ‘Manon Lescaut.’ (Photo by Cory Weaver; courtesy WNO)

Written by Giacomo Puccini and premiered in 1893, “Manon Lescaut” was a risky undertaking for the composer. Almost a decade earlier, Frenchman Jules Massenet had unveiled a wildly popular version of the same story, simply titled “Manon.” Up to this point in his career, Puccini hadn’t been particularly successful, but “Manon Lescaut” put Puccini on the operatic map.

For many of his operas, Puccini’s heroine is the crux of the drama, and “Manon Lescaut” set the bar for this winning equation. At the opera’s start, the young and achingly beautiful Manon is on her way to a convent at her family’s insistence. Her carriage stops in a small town for a rest, where she meets the young and handsome Des Grieux. After he professes his undying love for her, she decides to run away with him, whether for love or a convenient escape is up for debate.

At the start of the second act, time has passed and Manon has cashed in her chips for money and comfort instead of love. She’s now the kept woman of an older wealthy man, and although she has everything she could ever dream of, she pines for Des Grieux. Eventually, the young pair manages to reconnect with disastrous results, including an appropriately operatic death scene for Manon.

One of the greatest tests of an operatic soprano is the titular role of “Norma.” Divas from Rosa Ponselle to Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland have made the Druid priestess their calling card, and now, rising soprano Angela Meade steps up to the plate for her first full production of this titanic role.

Audiences and critics have long been anticipating this moment with a mixture of hopeful curiosity and timidity. In July of 2010, Meade sang the role in a concert version, and while the reviews were generally kind, many felt it was too much too soon for the young soprano. Cut to February 2012 when a more seasoned Meade, on the heels of winning the Beverly Sills Artist Award, received glittering notices for her performance at the Metropolitan Opera in Verdi’s “Ernani.” Starting March 9, the soprano makes another run at Norma in a new production, directed by out theater and opera director Anne Bogart.

“Norma” is a tale of betrayed love and, ultimately, redemption, headed by the priestess of the title. The ancient Celts, under Roman occupation, are biding their time to destroy the southern interlopers until Norma gives her consent.

She’s been delaying, though, because she’s fallen deeply in love with the Roman general and has secretly born him two children.

As men are wont to do, the Roman falls in love with another priestess, leaving Norma in the emotional lurch. The opera ends in a spectacularly heartbreaking climax between Norma, her former lover and her father who is shocked to learn of Norma’s transgression. Written by Vincenzo Bellini and premiered in 1831, “Norma” has persevered in the repertoire because of its interpreters. This spring, we’ll see if Angela Meade makes it her own.

Later in spring, comes the final offering of the opera’s season, the American musical “Show Boat,” a piece that has long straddled the line between opera and musical theater. This new production, opening May 4, will be directed by Washington National Opera’s new artistic director, Francesca Zambello, who started her tenure as artistic director in January.

Jerome Kern’s musical masterpiece features songs that have become woven into America’s cultural identity, including the show stopping “Ol’ Man River.” Zambello, who is gay, is no stranger to Washington’s operatic stage, having directed much of Wagner’s Ring Cycle for the company along with another great American opera “Porgy and Bess.”

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Books

New book explores ‘Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling’

The benefits of coming out at work

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(Book cover image courtesy of Bloomsbury)

‘Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling’
By Layla McCay
c.2024, Bloomsbury
$24/240 pages

You can see the CEO’s office from the outside of your workplace.

You’ve actually been in that office, so you know what it looks like inside, too. Big, expansive desk. Cushy, expensive chair. Ankle-deep carpet. The CEO got there through regular means over the course of his career – something you’d like to do, too. But as you know, and as in the new book, “Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling” by Layla McCay, you’ll have to take a different path.

Of all the thousands of board seats and C-suite occupiers in American businesses, only a very tiny number – less than one percent – are occupied by people who identify as LGBTQ. In London, says McCay, no one on the Financial Times Stock Exchange identifies as such. Just six of the world’s leaders, past or current, have come out as LGBTQ.

The reasons for this are many, from discomfort to a sense of a lack of safety or just plain mistrust. Employees often don’t talk about it and employers can’t or don’t ask, which can lead to a lot of issues that cis, heterosexual employees don’t have to think about.

LGBTQ employees make less money than their straight co-workers. They experience discrimination ranging from sexual violence on one end, to micro aggressions on the other. Discrimination can be found in educational settings, and networking events, in a lack of mentorship, and the feeling that one needs to “code-switch.” Even an overseas job offer can be complicated by identifying as LGBTQ.

And yet, says McCoy, there are benefits to coming out, including a sense of authenticity, and feeling as if a load has been removed from one’s shoulders.

If you are an employer, McCoy says, there are things you can do to help. Include LGBTQ people in your diversity programs at work. Insist on it for recruitment. Make sure your employees feel safe to be themselves. Make all policies inclusive, all the time, from the start. Doing so benefits your business. It helps your employees.

“It’s good for society.”

Pretty common sense stuff, no? Yeah, it is; most of what you’ll read inside “Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling” is, in fact, very commonsensical. Moreover, if you’re gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or queer, you won’t find one new or radical thing in this book.

And yet, inside all the nothing-new, readers will generally find things they’ll appreciate. The statistics, for instance, that author Layla McCay offers would be helpful to cite when asking for a raise. It’s beneficial, for instance, to be reminded why you may want to come out at work or not. The advice on being and finding a mentor is gold. These things are presented through interviews from business leaders around the world, and readers will find comfort and wisdom in that. You’ll just have to wade through a lot of things you already know to get it, that’s all.

Is it worth it? That depends on your situation. You may find nothing in “Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling,” or it may help you raise the roof.

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Out & About

Under Armour hosts LGBTQ obstacle course

‘Unmatched Pride’ event held in Baltimore

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Unmatched Athlete in partnership with Under Armour Unified will host the inaugural “Unmatched Pride event for LGBTQ+ and allied youths” on Saturday, July 20 at 11 a.m. at the Stadium at 2601 Port Covington Dr. in Baltimore Peninsula.

Teens 13-17 and kids 8-12 will have the ability to compete in obstacle course activity and skills challenges. The obstacle course will consist of a variety of fun stations that will test participants in strength, agility, and cardio. Flag football skill challenges and more will be offered.

For those who are interested, there will be an opportunity for youths to compete with and/or against their parents as well at 1:30 p.m. Registration is available on Eventbrite

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Out & About

Blade’s Peter Rosenstein holds book talk in Rehoboth

‘Born This Gay’ memoir explored

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Longtime Washington Blade contributor Peter Rosenstein will hold an author talk on Thursday, July 25 at 5:30 p.m. at CAMP Rehoboth (37 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, Del.) in conversation with fellow author Fay Jacobs. The pair will discuss Rosenstein’s new memoir, “Born This Gay: My Life of Activism, Politics, Travel, and Coming Out.” Register at camprehoboth.org.

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