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In full ‘Force’

Washington National Opera’s modern production restores a Verdi classic



Force of Destiny, Washington National Opera, gay news, Washington Blade
Force of Destiny, Washington National Opera, gay news, Washington Blade

Washington National Opera’s Verdi reboot gives the show a bold, modern setting. (Photo by Scott Suchman; courtesy WNO)

‘The Force of Destiny’
Through Oct. 26
The Kennedy Center
2700 F St., NW
Tickets $25-$300

As conductor Xian Zhang mounted the podium Saturday evening for the Washington National Opera’s opening night of “The Force of Destiny,” the audience seemed to lean in, eagerly anticipating the driving overture that is the work’s most recognizable calling card. Yet, only silence remained. The curtain rose on a dumb-show dinner scene in a luxurious home, where a family broke bread and a maid stood anxiously by the large window, looking out into the blackest of nights.

Like the unsuspecting characters of Giuseppe Verdi’s sweeping work “La Forza del Destino” (WNO oddly translates the title into English), the audience would have to wait for destiny to come to us on its own terms. Director Francesca Zambello’s creative opening gave the story an unexpected immediacy, especially as the tragic events surrounding the heroine Leonora (Adina Aaron) and her lover Don Alvaro (Giancarlo Monsalve) unfolded in the first scene. Once the die was cast, however, the overture blared from the pit as an interlude between the life the protagonists dreamed of and the tumultuously bloody years ahead.

Zambello, a lesbian, moved the drama from the mid-1800s to the present day, complete with signs advertising sex, pole dancers displaying their wares outside a club and costumes evoking a city’s downtrodden, but this change of scene isn’t done thoughtlessly to bring in new opera fans. It actually works — beautifully at times.

Leonora, costumed as a vagrant, flees her broken family home and the wrath of a brother hell-bent on killing her, and lands outside an urban monastery, with graffiti scrawled on its walls and a neon cross over the door. Yet, as she drops to her knees and begs God to rescue her from this miserable life, the plight of the modern-day heroine seems less antiquated and more real, reminding us of our own dark nights of the soul when we’ve turn to a God we may or may not believe in to see us through ‘til dawn.

The vision doesn’t always work seamlessly — penitent monks wandering through a raucous, sex-crazed street crowd seems more fitting for an earlier era — but the production takes what can be a tottering opera and restores it to a seat reserved for Verdi’s best musical and dramatic writing.

‘Forza’ is not an easy work to cast, given the intense demands for protagonists and chorus alike, but under Zhang’s evocative baton, the artists delivered crackling, if not always subtle, performances.

Aaron was an electrifying presence, her body trembling with pathos, almost as if she was unable to control the power coursing through her. Her final act aria, the famed “Pace, Pace, mio Dio,” was simply perfect in both vocal and dramatic delivery. It may have been opening night nerves, but elsewhere in the opera, she sometimes sped through passages that required focused negotiation between a marvelously dark chest voice and her more velvety middle register, and a couple of notes sounded a hair off-pitch. Hopefully, these kinks will iron themselves out, because her overall performance is spectacular.

The lower-voiced roles took home the prize among the men. Mark Delavan’s Carlo never seemed to flag over the course of a long evening, his rich tone creamy from bottom to top. Italian bass Enrico Iori was a sumptuously formidable, yet also delicately heartbreaking, Father Guardino, and the rousing chemistry between him and Aaron makes one wonder what the two could make of “Don Carlo.”

The dark tenor hero Don Alvaro is a complex role. His music often sits in places tenors would rather muscle through in order to sail onwards to their glorious high notes, and the character’s emotional journey is deliciously multifaceted. Monsalve delivered acting in spades, giving us a sexy and then tormented Alvaro, but his singing was uneven. He seemed capable of only two dynamic choices — shout and bellow — and while, when appropriate, those choices were lovely, they made for a loud night.

By the opera’s end, though, when death had claimed so many and forgiveness seemed like the frailest of hopes, it was Zambello who walked away with the crown for a production that not only made us listen, but also made us think.

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Out & About

DC Center to host estate planning seminar series

Three sessions presented by Murray Scheel



The DC Center hosts a series of talks on end-of-life planning next week.

The DC Center for the LGBT Community and the DC Department on Aging and Community Living will host “Estate Planning Tools with Murray Scheel” via Zoom. 

Scheel will walk guests through the process of taking care of the end-of-life planning business that needs to be addressed during the golden years. Scheel is Senior Staff Attorney at Whitman-Walker Health’s Legal Services.

This event series will consist of three 1.5-hour sessions:

Jan. 19, 3 p.m. – “Tools for while you’re living” (overview, general power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, disposition of remains, etc.)

Jan. 26, 3 p.m. – “Tools for after you’re gone” (living wills, last wills, assets, etc.)

Feb. 2, 3 p.m. – “Healthcare insurance & long term care” (Medicare, Medicaid, correcting misinformation, skilled nursing, hospice care, etc.)

To register for this event, visit the DC Center website.

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Out & About

DC Center to host legal seminar for trans people

Attorney Richard Tappan and paralegal Miranda Shipman to give legal advice



The DC Center for the LGBT Community will host a “Gender and Name Change Legal Seminar” on Wednesday, Jan. 19 at 5:30 p.m. online. 

Attorney Richard Tappan and paralegal Miranda Shipman will give legal advice and speak on the importance of the legal community within the LGBTQ community, the difficulties of the LGBTQ community in the legal field and name and gender changes. 

Guests can find the link at the DC Center website.

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Seeking love and community in Nicaragua

‘High-Risk Homosexual’ explores author’s youth, coming out



(Book cover image courtesy of Soft Skill Press)

High-Risk Homosexual: A Memoir
By Edgar Gomez
c.2022, Soft Skull Press
$16.95/304 pages

Here. Try this.

It fits you, but the color isn’t flattering. It’s too long, too short, too tight, too loose. That’s not your style, so try something else until you find the thing that looks like you. The perfect thing is out there. As in the new book “High-Risk Homosexual” by Edgar Gomez, when something’s right, it’s right.

He was 13 when he figured out that he was a problem to be solved.

Edgar Gomez’ mother had left him in her native Nicaragua with his tíos, just for a while because she had to return to Florida to work. He wasn’t there without her for long, but it took years for him to understand that his time with his uncles was meant to make him more masculine.

In retrospect, he says, nobody wanted him to be a man more than he did. He wanted to be liked by other kids and so he told lies in school to make himself stand out. He wanted his mother to see his love of pretty things and say that it was OK. He wanted his brother to acknowledge that Gomez was gay, and to tell him that he loved him.

Instead, after his brother left for college, Gomez got his first boyfriend, a boy he came out to but who couldn’t come out to himself. He was called names in school. He came out to his mother, who freaked out about it. He befriended a drag queen, but “Princess” used him.

Things he wanted: a real boyfriend. Love. A ban on the stereotype of a macho Latinx man.

Things he still had, while in college: his mother and older brother. A tormentor-turned-mentor. A part-time job. His weirdness. His virginity.

Things he wanted to lose, while in college: his room at his mother’s house. His virginity, but that wouldn’t happen until later, during a painful one-afternoon-stand with a hot man who said he had a girlfriend. That hurt, both physically and emotionally but like so many things at so many times, Gomez tried not to think about it.

If he never considered what he didn’t have, he says, “I wouldn’t miss it.”

In a way, you could say that “High-Risk Homosexual” is a book in search of a point. It’s really quite random and told (mostly) linearly, but not quite. It has its peaks, but also low valleys. And you won’t care about any of this, because you’ll be enjoying every bit of it.

Yeah, this memoir is good: author Edgar Gomez’s literary wandering makes it feel much like an honest conversation with readers. There are wince-worthy moments that allow empathy here, and experiences that are unique but oddly ubiquitous, that leave space for a sense of sympatico. There are passages that are so wistfully uncomfortable that you might squirm, or start “snort-laughing,” or want to stop a moment and just think.

And there’s room for that, too, so take your time. “High-Risk Homosexual” is an affable book with just enough seriousness to make it worth a try.

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