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Epic beginnings

Washington National Opera starts first full season under new leadership



Tristan und Isolde, opera, gay news, Washington Blade, Ian Storey
Tristan und Isolde, opera, gay news, Washington Blade, Ian Storey

Ian Storey in ‘Tristan und Isolde’ coming to the Washington National Opera. (Photo courtesy of the Washington National Opera)

‘Tristan und Isolde’
Sept. 15-27
‘The Force of Destiny’
Oct. 12-26
Kennedy Center
2700 F St., N.W.

Washington National Opera fall season can best be described as fateful, in no small part due to the repertoire chosen by artistic director Francesca Zambello. Although she took over the helm of the company in January of this year, the 2013-2014 lineup marks the first full season she’s planned, so it’s fitting that both of this fall’s main stage operas hinge on inscrutable turns of fortune’s wheel.

Richard Wagner’s legendary love story “Tristan und Isolde” opens the gate, in a production borrowed from Opera Australia and directed by Neil Armfield, a gay theater and opera director who makes his WNO debut with this production. Swedish soprano Irene Theorin will star as Isolde. She replaces Deborah Voight, who withdrew from the production. British soprano Alwyn Mellor will sing the final performance on Sept. 27.

Joining Theorin are two Tristans, the primary being Ian Storey (last seen here in a 2008 “Flying Dutchman”) with one performance taken by Clifton Forbis in his company debut. Storey has a rich history with Tristan, including opening the 2007 opera season at La Scala with the role. His 20-plus year career has brought him all over the world — a far cry from his humble upbringing as the youngest in a long line of English coalminers — but his La Scala Tristan reportedly lacked some of the Wagnerian heft sought after by enthusiasts. Hopefully, the intervening years have helped him round out his interpretation.

This production marks the 200th birthday anniversary of Wagner, whose operatic version of the Tristan myth was first performed in 1865. The story follows the star-crossed title lovers, but more than just a simple love-gone-awry cautionary tale, “Tristan und Isolde” highlights themes of personal transfiguration through love’s transcendent consummation.

Forces beyond the protagonists’ control rule the lives of WNO’s next offering, Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” (here titled in English as “The Force of Destiny”). Zambello directs this new production of Verdi’s mammoth story about the cruel twists of fate that plague the Incan hero Alvaro and his Spanish love Leonora. WNO audiences haven’t seen “Forza” in decades and Zambello has assembled a strong cast of singers for this sweeping work.

Adina Aaron takes on the role of Leonora, sharing it for two performances with Amber Wagner. Opera fans will wait breathlessly for her famous final act aria “Pace, pace mio Dio,” where the heroine begs God for emotional peace despite the tumultuous love she still feels raging in her heart for a man she’s forsworn. It’s Verdi at his best, and Aaron’s career features a strong Verdian presence, most notably Aida, Amelia in “Ballo” and now “Forza’s” Leonora. Her large voice and stage command might just be an electrifying presence in a sometimes-wandering piece, although in many ways, the grounding force of the opera is the tenor.

Chilean singer Giancarlo Monsalve plays Alvaro, sharing the role only briefly with Rafael Davila (seen here last year as Pollione in the company’s hauntingly beautiful “Norma”). His ringing heroic tenor also seems like a dream for the tormented Alvaro, although his real challenge will be to scale the voice back when appropriate, adding human warmth to the drama instead of overdone Italianate bellowing, a temptation for any spinto style tenor.

Leonora’s brother Don Carlo is shared between Ángel Ódena and Luca Salsi, both bringing strong pedigrees to the role.

Part of the excitement around “Forza” is the conductor Xian Zhang. A diminutive Chinese woman who has quickly risen to great heights on the world conducting podium, Zhang’s reviews have hailed her ability to draw riveting performances from orchestras in complex works as diverse as Brahms and Chinese composer Chen Yi. While seeing a woman conducting opera isn’t a novelty, it’s rare enough to take note. In an interview with the Blade last spring, Zambello alluded to the fact that audiences could plan on seeing more women involved in top positions during upcoming WNO seasons.

Along with that promise is the premiere of Jeanine Tesori’s opera “The Lion, the Unicorn and Me,” a musical version of Jeanette Winterson’s charming children’s book of the same title. The story takes place shortly before the birth of Jesus, when a donkey is up for a very special job — carrying the Virgin Mary to Bethlehem. Tesori is best known for her Tony-nominated musical theater scores: “Twelfth Night,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Caroline, or Change.” WNO will run Tesori’s opera in December as its holiday offering.

At the start of her tenure, Zambello talked about wanting a more interactive opera experience, and with the plethora of post- and pre-performance talk-backs and lectures, the company appears hopeful of courting burgeoning opera fans, as well as the old standbys.


Music & Concerts

Gay country artist and brother win big at CMA Awards

Brothers Osborne grew up in Deale, Md.



John and T.J. Osborne at the 57th Annual Country Music Awards in Nashville on Nov. 8 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Brothers Osborne/CMA)

The biggest names in country music gathered Wednesday at Music City’s Bridgestone Arena for the 57th Annual Country Music Association Awards, hosted again this year by country star Luke Bryan alongside former NFL star Peyton Manning. 

Walking away with Vocal Duo of the Year were sibling musicians John and T.J. Osborne.

The Brothers Osborne as they are known by, in previous years have won in this category, this year making it their sixth win.

T.J. Osborne, lead singer of the country duo, came out as gay in an exclusive interview with Time Magazine, which was published Feb. 3, 2021.

While other ostensibly country artists are openly LGBTQ, such as Orville Peck, Brandi Carlile, Lil Nas X, Chely Wright and Billy Gilman, Osborne’s revelation makes him the first — and so far, only — openly gay musical artist signed to a major country label.

John and T.J. Osborne grew up in the small Chesapeake Bay bayside town of Deale in Anne Arundel County, Md., writing and playing songs for friends and family in their father’s shed. T.J. with his brother John formed the Brothers Osborne duo in 2012. Signed with EMI Records Nashville, they’ve released seven country Top 40 singles and three studio albums, to date. Their platinum hit “Stay a Little Longer” was a crossover to mainstream radio.

The siblings took home their first Grammy in 2022, winning Best Country Duo/Group Performance for their song “Younger Me,” inspired by T.J.’s coming out. The band has been nominated for 10 Grammys in total, standing as a now six-time CMA Vocal Duo of the Year, and are three-time ACM Duo of the Year. 

Overall, they have collected six CMA awards, six ACM trophies and received the ASCAP Vanguard Award in 2019. Their critically acclaimed hit songs have tallied multiple RIAA Gold and Platinum certifications, while surpassing more than 2.5 billion global streams. 

In addition to the Brothers Osborne winning Vocal Duo of the Year, country singer-songwriter Lainey Wilson took home three of the top awards of the night, including the coveted entertainer of the year award, as well as female vocalist of the year and album of the year. 

This is also the first time in CMA history that two women have been nominated for Entertainer of the Year in four consecutive years.

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Music & Concerts

Janet Jackson to headline World AIDS Day concert

Annual fundraiser sponsored by AIDS Healthcare Foundation



Janet Jackson will headline a World AIDS Day concert in Houston.

Pop icon Janet Jackson will headline the annual World AIDS Day concert sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Houston.

The Dec. 1 event at NRG Arena will feature a full-length concert from Jackson. In addition, AHF will honor actor and activist Blair Underwood with its lifetime achievement award; choreographer Debbie Allen is slated to speak at the event.

Jackson is a longtime LGBTQ ally and AIDS activist. Her eighth No. 1 single, “Together Again,” released in 1997, paid tribute to a friend who died of AIDS and honored those lost to the disease.

Underwood co-founded Artists for a New South Africa to direct attention to “the catastrophic impact the disease has had on families and children across the continent,” according to Billboard. The actor has worked with AHF for years. The Underwood Center in D.C. provides state-of-the-art HIV medical treatment and care and related services for more than 600 patients at its offices at 2141 K St., N.W. 

“I’m so honored to be receiving this gracious award by AHF,” said Underwood in a statement. “We have had a long-standing partnership in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and there is still more work to be done.”

AHF is the world’s largest nonprofit HIV/AIDS service organization and AIDS advocacy group, with healthcare centers located throughout the U.S. and around the world.

Proceeds from the concert will be used to combat HIV/AIDS. Tickets are on sale now via TicketMaster.

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Music & Concerts

New dance single pays tribute to Town Danceboutique

Local musicians pen ‘Town’ in honor of shuttered club



Bryce Bowyn (Photo by Clarissa Villondo)

The closing of the LGBTQ nightclub Town Danceboutique in the summer of 2017 was heartbreaking to local musician Bryce Bowyn. He and his Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter friend Lexie Martin decided to honor its legacy in their new single, “Town.”

For Bowyn, who moved to the District about a decade ago to attend school at American University, the memories he has from Town Danceboutique are endless. And when it closed, it was a massive loss to Bowyn and many others. 

“It was such a cool space,” Bowyn said. “It was just disappointing to see a place that brought so many people together become part of the landscape again.” The building Town Danceboutique used to be housed in is now home to upscale apartments and a CVS. 

Town Danceboutique was a formative place for Bowyn and Martin, and it was Bowyn’s first experience in an open and accepting LGBTQ environment. His favorite memories at the club were always on Halloween, he said. Patrons, including Bowyn, would go all out with their costumes to look their very best. 

Bowyn and Martin met while they were both in the musical theater program at American University. Despite their years-long friendship, “Town” is the first song they have written together. They sat down over FaceTime and got to work. It was Martin’s idea to pay homage to Town Danceboutique, and the song follows the story of pre-gaming, going out, and hitting the dance floor. 

But the single also serves as a hype song for going out in any city, at any place. 

“It was important to me for the song to remain relatable and accessible,” Bowyn said. “So the whole foundation of the chorus, ‘Let’s go to town,’ can either mean Town Danceboutique, or painting the town red and having the night of your life.”

Bowyn started writing and producing his own music in 2018. He released an EP titled “A Rosy Retrospect” in 2022, and most recently released a single “A Bridge Burned Down” in June. His music is inspired by late 2000s pop and ‘80s synthpop, influenced by stars like Madonna and Charli XCX. Lexie Martin released her self-titled EP in 2019 and most recently came out with her single “SUPERPOWER” in 2021. 

Bowyn has been a lifelong pop music enthusiast. He distinctly remembers watching Britney Spears perform “Oops!…I Did It Again” at the MTV Video Music Awards when he was a kid and thinking “That was what I wanted and what I was set to do in life.”

“My heart was always with pop music,” Bowyn said. 

“Town” is available now for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, and Soundcloud.

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