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Virginia Opera conductor enjoys musical challenge

Adam Turner preps 2 performances of ‘La Boheme’

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Adam Turner, gay news, Washington Blade
Adam Turner, gay news, Washington Blade

Adam Turner says traditional arts companies must be willing to try new things if they hope to appeal to millennials. (Photo by Keitaro Harada; courtesy Virginia Opera)

‘La Boheme’

 

Giacomo Puccini

 

Virginia Opera

 

Saturday, Nov. 14 at 8 p.m.

 

Sunday, Nov. 15 at 2 p.m.

 

George Mason University

 

Center for the Arts

 

4400 University Dr.

 

Fairfax, VA

 

Tickets: $98, $80 and $48

 

cfa.gum.edu or vaopera.org

 

Adam Turner, principal conductor and artistic adviser of Virginia Opera, moved to Norfolk, Va., four-and-a-half years ago after attending college at D.C.’s Catholic University.

Next weekend, he’ll return to the Washington area to give two performances of Puccini’s “La Boheme” at George Mason University in a production the company is also doing this weekend (Nov. 6, 8 and 10) in Norfolk and in Richmond on Nov. 20 and 22.

Turner will be in the pit directing a 50-piece orchestra (the Virginia Symphony) with seven leads, a chorus of 24 and a 12-voice children’s choir.

“It’s like a huge old circus up there,” the 33-year-old Louisville, Ky., native says. “It’s a lot of people to manage and keep on the same track.”

We spoke with him during a break in rehearsals last week.

 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Was it a big adjustment moving to Norfolk from Washington?

ADAM TURNER: The short answer is yes. It was a pretty big adjustment because it’s just a different pace of life, I think, down here. But I enjoy it, being this close to the water. The Hampton Roads community when you put it all together is over a million people spread out over Virginia Beach, Hampton and Newport News yet it still feels kind of like a small town where everybody knows everybody. But there’s a good restaurant scene and the arts are extremely valued here so that’s what drew me.

 

BLADE: Tell us about “La Boheme.”

TURNER: It’s very romantic and super relevant and a familiar story to anyone who has ever been in love or who has an artistic side to them. It’s just one of those pieces that really resonates with just about anyone. … There’s an episode of “The Simpsons” where Homer wakes up from a coma and suddenly he’s an opera singer and he sings “La Boheme.” I remember thinking, “Wow, opera is everywhere … even ‘The Simpsons.’” It’s one of the classics.

 

BLADE: Was there opera in Louisville when you were growing up?

TURNER: My grandmother took me to “The Nutcracker” every year and later I saw Broadway musicals like “Phantom of the Opera” and “Starlight Express.” … Then when I was a little older, I saw my first opera in Louisville, which was “The Magic Flute.” I think just basically the vocal acrobatics of it and the stamina and the talent you need to sing those roles was just overwhelming. It really left an imprint on me.

 

BLADE: Is there overlap between the worlds of opera conducting and symphonic conducting? Do some conductors do both?

TURNER: I think the old-school conductors trained in Europe did both and always started in the opera house and then went to symphony conducting or ballet conducting or whatever. It was something that was just included and considered part of your job, but opera conducting is probably the most challenging work there is in classical music performance and I think that’s why I probably am drawn to it because it is such a challenge. There’s a lot more to manage and not only are you leading the orchestra and influencing the music and all of that, but you’re also keeping all these forces together, you know, uniting them with the same vision and the same precision. … Anytime I’ve done anything orchestral or with soloists, I love it, but I always kind of am wondering, “OK, where are the singers?”

 

BLADE: Why?

TURNER: I think singers give so much more drama to the process and they need attention and a lot of care and tenderness, care and attention. I just work really well with them. … It’s a real challenge but a fun challenge.

 

BLADE: Is opera your first love or conducting or did you sort of discover them simultaneously?

TURNER: I think I discovered them simultaneously. The first time I ever saw conducting was when I was 5 or 6 and I was immediately taken by the conductor and all he was doing and thinking, “Oh, I want to do that someday.” … I grew up listening to Elton John and Ben Folds and Billy Joel, you know, piano men, and then somewhere along the way I found out about Pavarotti and Domingo and all these famous opera singers and I was really attracted to that sound and just the romanticism of the music and I kind of float both sides. I really like pop music and old-school rock but then I’m just as happy working in opera which I think is just one of the more challenging things because it pulls all these great art forms together.

 

BLADE: There’s lots of handwringing in classical music. How are things overall at Virginia Opera?

TURNER: When I first came here there had been some major upheavals with the artistic director. He had been fired so there was a lot of instability and uncertainty about what the future direction was going to be. So I was hired to provide artistic stability and also some new fresh energy to the company and along with that, my goal was really for us to find new audiences, people my age. I would love to see more 20- and 30-somethings in the opera house and how do we do that? So for me the main goal was just getting people into the theater to experience it for themselves and let them know it’s not this scary, sacred institution. … Once they do that, they’re just overcome with the emotion and raw passion of live performance and live playing. … We try to find repertoire that will appeal to our seasoned opera goers … and also find a way to get new folks in. … Last year we did “Sweeney Todd” and it was thrilling to see so many young and new faces. … And then they come back and now they’re giving Puccini a run or maybe even Verdi or Mozart.

 

BLADE: There’s so much worry and prognosticating on this topic. Do you think when millennials get a little older, they will do a better job of picking up these batons or will our traditional arts companies continue facing challenges?

TURNER: I think they will face challenges if they don’t adapt and try new things and that’s the thing I keep harping on. We have to keep trying different approaches to find out what works best. People are all craving this kind of live experience. It’s not something you can get on Netflix sitting at home by yourself. Live acoustic performance is unlike any other form of entertainment and companies all over the world are trying new approaches. … We started an initiative where for the past five years, we’ve been doing one new production each season we’ve never done before in our 40-year history. … You have to do new things that will entice people to come to the theater and try a new piece they’ve never heard before.

 

BLADE: You’re running a marathon next Saturday the same day you’ll conduct in Fairfax. Why?

TURNER: I’m just crazy, that’s why. … I run all the time, sometimes up to 50 miles a week. It gives me so much more energy and really kind of sets the tone for my day and gives me a lot of focus and drive. … I just wanted to find a marathon that fit my schedule and this was the one that fit and that I thought I could handle.

 

BLADE: How long have you been out?

TURNER: Since I was 20. Basically in college in D.C., I blossomed, so to speak.

 

BLADE: Has opera been as gay as we typically think of it in your experience?

TURNER: People who like prissy things are attracted to opera and I think a lot of gay men appreciate beautiful singing and beautiful sets and costumes and the grandiosity of all that. I can certainly see why it would attract the gay culture. … All over the country there are gay men running opera companies … because they’re so passionate about the art form. I have no explanation for it or anecdote, but it’s refreshing to know we have all found our niche.

 

BLADE: Is there much gay life in Norfolk?

TURNER: Oh yeah, I have a great circle of friends here but it’s different than the gay community in D.C. or even in Richmond. It’s more laid back. I just found out last week that Norfolk has the highest gay marriage rate in the state. … I’m not getting married anytime soon, but I certainly enjoy dating and going out with my friends.

 

BLADE: You’re working on a production with the Washington National Opera next year. Does that have any connection to your work with Virginia Opera is that a separate thing altogether?

TURNER: That’s completely separate and I’ll be on staff for one of their productions as part of a fellowship I was awarded earlier this year. We strive to do different repertoire, like last year they did “La Boheme” and this year we’re doing it. Even though they’re totally separate productions and a completely different market … we strive to do our own thing.

 

BLADE: Who’s your favorite classic opera diva?

TURNER: I’m a huge fan of Marilyn Horne, a great mezzo-soprano. I tend to like the lower-voiced women.

 

BLADE: You were awarded a $10,000 stipend with the Julius Rudel/Kurt Weill Conducting Fellowship this year. What did you do with the money?

TURNER: It’s in savings, I haven’t done anything with it yet. I’ll probably use it for career-development stuff. Travel and networking stuff.

Adam Turner, gay news, Washington Blade

Adam Turner in action. Turner discovered opera growing up in Kentucky. (Photo courtesy Virginia Opera)

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a&e features

Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

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‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

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