The mezzo who became a tenor: ‘Glyndebourne was a safe space for singers’

The mezzo who became a tenor: ‘Glyndebourne was a safe space for singers’


norman lebrecht

December 07, 2017

An American transgender singer who was accepted into the Glyndebourne Academy describes the difference a sympathetic environment can make.

The official student profile was this: “Glyndebourne Academy is for those young classical singers (16- 26) who have missed out on the chance to develop their vocal talent through lack of access to specialist knowledge, funds, or who have faced some other barrier which has prevented them reaching their full potential.”

Glyndebourne was creating a safe space for singers to accept their flaws or inadequacies, and to work on them without judgement, and to give them a real chance to make up for lost time due to finances, illness, disability – or in my case, the two years lost while taking testosterone. 

From the very first audition, I felt supported and loved by the Glyndebourne Education team. During our auditions, they sat me down to ask me questions about my situation, and really listened to what I had to say. It gave me an incredible sense of validation that I didn’t know I had been looking for: you are a good artist, you are worth the time and effort, we want to listen to what you want to communicate….

Read on here.


photo: Sam Stephenson/Glyndebourne

CAVEAT: This looks like a piece of Glyndebourne PR planted on an ex-newspaper that no longer pays for articles. It is, none the less, interesting.


  • May says:

    Interesting story, however I hope men born as tenors don’t suddenly start taking testosterone in the hopes of beefing up their voice. Unfortunately his career will fall into the flavour of the month category. Barrie Kosky or somebody will cast him in some gender-bending production, but once the voice lands on a large stage, the limits of his voice will quickly reveal themselves. His voice will never be large enough for the mainstage without doing serious damage to it. Shame on Glyndebourne for instilling false hopes in him.

    • Sanity says:

      I would be interested to know how you pretend to so much knowledge on this subject?…

      I would doubt a tenor is going to start taking testosterone ‘to beef the voice up’. That’s not how it works. And, whilst we’re at it, we might as well dismiss the myth that a male singer taking oestrogen will see their voice rise. They won’t. Surgical intervention has to take place for that to happen. A house trying to dismiss, or refusing to hire a singer, for this reason is acting in bad faith.

      As for the voice not being big enough to go on the main stage, this is another misconception. A good singer, after all, will ‘blade’ the voice, not push it. The voice will remain exactly the same size it was. If it was big enough to fill the house as a mezzo, it’ll be big enough to fill it as a tenor.

      Unfortunately, these myths are being used to force transgender people out of singing. They’re ignorant and their hateful – towards a segment of society that has enough of those sentiments directed toward them already.

      • May says:

        Did you listen to the video on the linked page? The voice has a lovely colour, but it is not big enough for the stage. Forget the transgender element for a minute: He never worked as a mezzo and has only done pocket opera productions in Berlin. According to the article, he broke off his studies as a mezzo and then forged his own path as a tenor. I don’t wish to sound hateful, but the opera world is a tough business and if you try to build a career just on a heartbreaking story and not on a substantial voice, then just look at Paul Potts. Anyone who is encouraging this young singer to pursue a career in opera is simply delinquent in their duty to educate him.

        • Sanity says:

          Yes, I did listen to the voice. When you take testosterone, the voice will ‘break’, just as it does for a cis-gendered male. And then the voice will have to be rebuilt and worked in. This process can take several years, and he acknowledges the process that is taking place. The reason the voice doesn’t sound strong is that it isn’t mixed. At all. This is a technical deficiency. It has nothing to do with the ‘size’ of the voice. Does it have a lovely tone. I don’t know, because what I’m hearing is not a properly produced voice; but I know that the voice will have a great deal more penetration when it’s produced properly.

    • cynical bystander says:

      Why Barrie Kosky? He and the Komische Oper are producing some of the most innovative music theatre at the moment. Maybe a few more houses could do with an injection of the enthuiasm and commitment he shows in the work he produces. And maybe you should reconsider the slur against someone who does not deserve it?

    • herrera says:

      I think May has the better of the argument with Sanity.

      The student is obsessed with categories: he wants to be a “tenor”. Full stop. No matter what his voice actually was, is currently, and will be during his testosterone treatment (how quickly will his vocal chords thicken will depend on his treatment), and what it will be after full voice change.

      The closest analogy is a teenage boy undergoing puberty and declaring, I want to be a “baritone”! Full stop. His vocal coach would say, but how do you know you have a baritone voice?

      Or, let’s put it this way, it’d be like Pavarotti saying at this prime, I want to sing Otello tomorrow and I want to sound like Placido.

      Or perhaps the best analogy is Placido doing baritone roles now. No critic I’ve read thinks he is good or convincing as a baritone.

      And no one doubts that Pavarotti and Placido are the best tenors of their generation.

      To the student, I say, don’t be fixated with “tenor”, a lot of men sing counter tenor and are world famous for it. Or sing what ever you voice will actually allow you to sing at your most expressive.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    Oh wow so, having no singing ability whatsoever, does this mean I can apply? OTOH, the invocation of “safe space” should give anyone pause.

    • Sanity says:

      This course is part of their outreach work, which is prescribed by their charitable status. It’s not intended to suddenly boost completely inexperience people into opera careers. It’s to allow people who would never usually be near an opera stage to get a taste of it.

      You should resist the temptation to make it into something that it’s not…

    • Bruce says:

      You should apply! Maybe you’ll get in!

  • James Cook says:

    Perhaps Glyndebourne should have a scheme to help disadvantaged opera composers get a start

    • Sanity says:

      They do. They have a composer in residence position. Covent Garden also has the Genesis project. ENO also has a scheme such as this. Then there’s the Incorporated Society of Musicians and also the Chester Schirmer Fulbright Fellowship (not sure if the last one still exists).

      • James Cook says:

        Thanks, I’ll look into them

        • James Cook says:

          Sadly the OperaGenesis scheme ended twelve years ago

          • Sanity says:

            Then the name has changed. New commissions for ROH2 are handled by John Fuljames and Sarah Crabtree.

          • Max Grimm says:

            @James Cook,
            The OperaGenesis scheme began twelve years ago in 2005 and ended in 2012. Covent Garden still offers similar schemes, integrated in the various studio programmes undertaken by the ROH and the Royal Ballet.

            ROH2 ended with the start of the 2012/2013 season and Mr. Fulljames has since moved on, becoming the “Artistic Director of Opera” at the Royal Danish Theater in Copenhagen a few months ago.

          • James Cook says:

            Both English National Opera and The Royal Opera House have two opera scores of mine which I delivered to them in person earlier this year, but so far I have received no feedback from either. I have also delivered an opera to the Oper der Stadt Bonn as I’m told that opera is more popular in Germany than here and they might be more receptive to new work