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Washington National Opera honors Katherine Goforth

Award recognizes an artist who identifies as transgender or non-binary

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Katherine Goforth, the inaugural recipient of Washington National Opera’s True Voice Award, performing in the Portland Opera Gala, with pianist Nick Fox. (Photo courtesy Goforth)

Katherine Goforth was recently announced as the inaugural recipient of Washington National Opera’s True Voice Award. This award was created to provide training and increase the visibility of opera singers who self-identify as transgender and non-binary. Each recipient will receive a financial award and the chance to participate in career training, artistic coaching, and a performance with the Cafritz Young Artists. Recipients will also be presented by the Kennedy Center in a recital at the Millennium Stage. Goforth’s recital will take place in May 2024. 

The Washington Blade chatted with this talented singer about her artistic journey, experience as a trans opera singer, her future plans for her own career, and how she hopes to shape the field of opera.

Washington Blade: Can you share about your journey as an artist? How did you begin this journey and eventually pursue opera?

Katherine Goforth: I had an interest in music and singing for my entire life, but I looked at it as more of a hobby until my high school choir teacher required me to take voice lessons. After a few months of lessons, I started winning prizes and getting special attention for my singing, which meant a lot to me at the time because I was struggling a lot socially and at home. It was easy to dedicate myself to singing after that and hard to imagine pursuing another career. 

Talking about art is a lot broader than talking about music for me. As a teenager, I attended Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, a public arts magnet middle and high school, and we had arts education integrated into most of our subjects. Some of my most memorable projects were a mural painted on school windows I co-designed and co-created, a mockumentary film about the meaning of art, and the semi-opera I composed as my senior year capstone project. 

Since I was a kid, I felt like I had something to prove and have always tried to do more than what others thought possible in my performing and creative work. It has only been since I transitioned that I really started to feel like I was enough. The part of me that wanted to prove myself could calm down and I learned that it is enough for me when I stand in my own values and desires. 

Blade: What has been your experience as a trans person in the field of opera?

Goforth: As a young person coming into a sense of trans and gender non-conforming identity, opera was a damaging space to be part of. At the time, I believed there was no way to actualize my gender identity and continue working. Sure, there were queer people in opera, but almost all of them were straight-presenting men—and those who weren’t, didn’t seem to get the same opportunities. I have a strong memory of seeing the news about the premiere of As One [a chamber opera with a sole transgender protagonist]in 2014. It was the first time I had heard anyone mention trans people in an opera space. I don’t know how much this has changed for students, but I do think that fewer people are postponing their transitions for the sake of working in this industry, which is good. 

I haven’t worked in opera very much since I came out and it will be interesting to see how that develops over the next few years. I’ve heard a lot of people say that major opera companies aren’t ready for trans singers yet, but I hope they’re wrong. My struggle is that I feel much happier playing female characters, but I’m not capable of singing soprano-alto roles on stage right now. That’s something I hope will change in the future, but I think it’s important for me to accept my voice and try to find affirming projects to work on with the voice that I have. 

I’m going to Europe this summer to sing in the premieres of Philip Venables and Ted Huffman’s The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions, which is an adaptation of a novel by Larry Mitchell. My sense is that, although I love singing standard rep, the work that will feel best to me as a human being is contemporary opera. There are new works coming out all the time where a character’s vocal range isn’t restricted by their gender, or where parts are written to be affirming to trans singers. It’s an amazing experience to work on roles like that, like the non-binary protagonist in Drew Swatosh and Brian Dang’s If Only I Could Give You The Sun, a role I premiered. 

For me, the bottom line is that even in a perfectly affirming opera space, there’s a lot for me to navigate. We haven’t even gotten into the contrast between the project of self-actualization that, for me, defines transition and the way control is exercised over singers in the operatic space. It is hard to spend your whole life working on being your authentic self only to then step into an industry where self-identity is encouraged only if you have the right identity. I’m not going back into any closet.

Blade: Congratulations on being the inaugural True Voice Award recipient. How do you hope to use this award as a platform to further your career, and more broadly, shape the field of opera?

Goforth: I’d like to thank Washington National Opera, Kimberly Reed, Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell, and the rest of the selection committee for choosing me for this award. When I decided to come out, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to work in this industry again. It seems to me that trans people have never had this level of institutional support in our industry. I’m honored to receive it, but I’m also aware of all the other people who competed for this award and ways that my selection leaves them out. 

For me, I think my next step is getting out of a young artist box, getting management, and moving into a career where I’m making a living wage from singing without any second or side jobs, singing lead roles instead of supporting roles, and taking the creative work that I develop to the next level. 

“I hope that this award doesn’t only change things for me. Institutional support can mean, ‘here’s one more type of person we can fit into our system’ without changing the system in fundamental ways. Instead, I hope we will build a field that doesn’t require types of people, a field that supports each person in fully becoming who they are, where we don’t have to oppress others to realize our artistic visions—whether that oppression is from transphobia or something else. If our artistic visions necessitate oppression, I hope that we have the strength to imagine new ways of doing things and rethink the ways that we define artistic excellence. And I hope that these changes will not take lifetimes to achieve.”

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Photos

PHOTOS: Baltimore Pride Parade

Thousands attend annual LGBTQ march and block party

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A scene from the 2024 Baltimore Pride Parade. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Baltimore Pride Parade and Block Party was held on Charles Street in Baltimore, Md. on Saturday, June 15. 

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Sports

Washington Mystics to hold annual Pride game

Team to play Dallas Wings on Saturday

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Mystics will be having their upcoming Pride game on Saturday against the Dallas Wings.

The Mystics Pride game is one of the team’s theme nights they host every year, with Pride night being a recurring event. The team faced off against the Phoenix Mercury last June. Brittney Griner, who Russia released from a penal colony in December 2022 after a court convicted her of importing illegal drugs after customs officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage, attended the game. 

Unlike the NBA, where there are currently no openly LGBTQ players, there are multiple WNBA players who are out. Mystics players Emily Englster, Brittney Sykes, and Stefanie Dolson are all queer.

The Mystics on June 1 acknowledged Pride Month in a post to its X account.

“Celebrating Pride this month and every month,” reads the message.

The game is on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Entertainment and Sports Arena (1100 Oak Drive, S.E.). Fans can purchase special Pride tickets that come with exclusive Mystics Pride-themed jerseys. 

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Theater

Queers win big at 77th annual Tony Awards

‘Merrily We Roll Along’ among winners

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(Photo courtesy of the Tony Awards' Facebook page)

It was a banner night for queer theater artists at the 77th annual Tony Awards, honoring the best in Broadway theater at the Lincoln Center in New York on Sunday. Some of the biggest honors of the night went to the revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical “Merrily We Roll Along” and the dance-musical based on Sufjan Stephens’ album “Illinoise.

“Merrily We Roll Along,” which follows three friends as their lives change over the course of 20 years, told in reverse chronological order, picked up the awards for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Orchestrations. 

Out actor Jonathan Groff picked up his first Tony Award for his leading role as Franklin Shepard in the show, while his costar Daniel Radcliffe earned his first Tony Award for featured performance as Charley Kringas. 

Groff gave a heartfelt and teary acceptance speech about how he used to watch the Tony Awards as a child in Lancaster County, Pa.

“Thank you for letting me dress up like Mary Poppins when I was three,” he said to his parents in the audience. “Even if they didn’t understand me, my family knew the life-saving power of fanning the flame of a young person’s passions without judgment.”

Groff also thanked the everyone in the production of “Spring Awakening,” where he made his Broadway debut in 2006, for inspiring him to come out at the age of 23.

“To actually be able to be a part of making theatre in this city, and just as much to be able to watch the work of this incredible community has been the greatest pleasure of my life,” he said. 

This was Groff’s third Tony nomination, having been previously nominated for his leading role in “Spring Awakening” and for his featured performance as King George III in “Hamilton.” 

Radcliffe, who is best known for starring in the “Harry Potter” series of movies, has long been an ally of the LGBTQ community, and has recently been known to spar with “Harry Potter” creator JK Rowling over her extreme opposition to trans rights on social media and in interviews. It was Radcliffe’s first Tony nomination and win.

Lesbian icon Sarah Paulson won her first Tony Award for her starring role in the play “Appropriate,” about a family coming to terms with the legacy of their slave-owning ancestors as they attempt to sell their late father’s estate. It was her first nomination and win.

In her acceptance speech, she thanked her partner Holland Taylor “for loving me.” Along with Paulson’s Emmy win for “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” she is halfway to EGOT status.

The Sufjan Stephens dance-musical “Illinoise,” based on his album of the same name, took home the award for Best Choreography for choreographer Justin Peck. It was his second win.

During the ceremony, the cast of “Illinoise” performed “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!”, a moving dance number about a queer romance.

A big winner of the night was the adaptation of the S.E. Hinton novel “The Outsiders,” which dominated the musical categories, earning Best Director, Sound Design, Lighting Design, and Best Musical, which earned LGBTQ ally Angelina Jolie her first Tony Award.

Also a big winner was “Stereophonic,” which dominated the play categories, winning the awards for Best Play, Featured Actor, Director, Sound Design, and Scenic Design.

“Suffs,” a musical about the fight for women’s suffrage in the U.S., which acknowledges the lesbian relationship that suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt had in song called “If We Were Married,” took home awards for Best Book of a Musical and Best Score, both for creator Shaina Taub. 

Had “Suffs” also won for Best Musical, producers Hilary Clinton and Malala Yousafzai would have won their first Tony Awards. 

Other winners include Maleah Joi Moon for her lead role and Kecia Lewis for her featured role in the Alicia Keys musical “Hell’s Kitchen,” Jeremy Strong for his lead role in An Enemy of the People, and Kara Young for her featured role in “Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch.”

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