The queerest opera ever put on stage?

The queerest opera ever put on stage?


norman lebrecht

June 24, 2021

Chicago Opera Theater will reopen in September with a concert performance of Carmen in which Stephanie Blythe sings the tenor role of Don José opposite Jamie Barton in the title role.

Some feminists are getting very excited.

This is Olivia Giovetti in VAN magazine:

… Art in the present can neither exist as it did in the past, nor can it exist in a vacuum. Over the last few decades, productions of operas like “Alcina” for the Staatsoper Stuttgart and “Clemenza” for the Salzburg Festival have allowed for what Walder-Biezans describes as “that interesting possibility of queerness.” It’s a possibility that—like Sandra Piques Eddy’s Ramiro— is impossible to ignore in 2020. The Cult of Callas existed in the footsteps of Gerry-flappers, and now shares space with White Shirts and Mezzosexuals. And, finally, queer and nonbinary women are demanding more space.

“It’s a repertoire of moving, of taking space, of an attitude that usually is not associated with women,” says Q. “The core rep is so much about submissive and suppressed female desire, and actually it’s fetishizing the sort of passivity and being passed around as an object. And if you have that, then [if you create] something that finally gives a voice to all these suppressed things…” She trails off. “Now we can move in the other direction and actually talk about desire.”

Read on here.

What say you?


  • RW2013 says:

    Like this production
    where male and female roles are reversed.
    Old concept, but tired.

  • Hanna Nahan says:

    I say don’t give Ms Giovetti any more airspace than she already has…

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Time was when homosexual relationships might have had some cosmic significance to the performing arts. Today it’s all so yesterday!!

  • sam says:

    1) So there’ll be 3 lesbians in this production? because there is Micaëla afterall…

    2) And girl-Don-José’s mother is telling her daughter that she (the mother) wants to see her (the daughter) marry a girl (Micaëla) before she (the mother) dies?

    3) And the macho toreador Escamillo will now fight a girl?

    4) And the main femme fatale (Carmen) will be killed by yet another femme fatale (girl-Don-José)?

    The gender dynamics are all wrong.

    Nah, I think if there are 3 lesbians in an opera, they would all co-habitate in a loving polyamorous relationship and grow old together in a communal household and be surrogate mothers to each other’s children all birthed by the sperm donation of Escamillo.

    • Alan Josef says:

      No matter.
      Feminists always look up to white men as proved here.

      Although a Porgy and Bess lesbian or gay cast may help blacks with their LGBTQ hangups.

  • James Weiss says:

    No mezzo can sing the role of Don Jose as written. Period. That’s the only issue. This is a stunt for publicity. It has nothing to do with art.

  • pvl says:

    Also, Don Jose sings as mezzo-soprano?

  • SlippedChat says:

    Now, Mr. Lebrecht, you know very good and well, from the history of comments here, that posting an article like this, on this forum, is like a matador showing a red flag to the bulls.

    Said with a degree of seriousness: Opera plots so often require a suspension of belief that I find myself unable to get very agitated about unusual role assignments by gender or race, provided the singing itself is of high quality. (For example, I’m always willing to be convinced by a good Octavian, although I’ve never seen, and don’t ever expect to see, an actual male singer in the role.)

    Said very UNseriously: I take this opportunity to publicly announce that I, a white guy, am now available for the roles of Aida and Madama Butterfly. To paraphrase one of the articles quoted above, this is my version “of moving, of taking space, of an attitude that usually is not associated with [men].”

    The fact that I can’t sing is somewhat of an impediment. But I’m working on it.

    Interested parties may contact my agent. When I get one.

  • Stuart says:

    It is a concert performance. I suppose the gender switching might be more interesting in a staged performance. At COT, you’ll just get a tenor role sung by a mezzo. Not very illuminating.

  • Singeril says:

    Why is this ok? Whenever a non-black artist sings Othello, there is an uproar. If a non-Asian sings Cio-Cio San, there is an uproar. The same goes for other roles. Why is okay to use a woman to sing a role written for a man when there are plenty of men available to sing the role?

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    “Husky Miller” should therefore be sung by a coloratura soprano, and “Michael” by a light tenor.

  • JYF says:

    The general public has a poor enough opinion of opera already without stunts like this.

    Looking at her web site, Jamie Barton is apparently marketing herself as a clown.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Embarrassing nonsense. Works of art have an identity. Also, works from the past still have something of importance to say to us and that is seldom something on the level of social politics or 21C minority problems.

    Why don’t these people restrict their political urges not to the appropriate territories? There are enough: politics, the street, elections, discussion groups, super market coffee corners, tea break at the work place, letters to the editor, etc. etc. But please save the works form the past from your silly queerness.

    If you want queer operas, write one yourself, THAT is the only respectable option if you want to turn music life into a more welcome place for minorities.

    By the way, opera IS already a welcome place for minorities. Not something that you seem to have noticed.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Yup, one of the best places to work if you’re of that disposition. Still, one should never miss an opportunity to play the victim card, even in a welcoming environment.

  • Karlheinz says:

    No more rainbows. Please. No more.

    The Gay-industrial-complex really is grinding our faces in it this June.

    • MWnyc says:

      It’s five more days. You’ll get through it.

      • Karlheinz says:

        What choice do I have? We’ve gone from “we just want to be left alone” to “objecting to children’s drag queen story time means you’re a vile bigot!” Real fast.

  • Patricia says:

    Waste of time and effort. Try a traditonal performance – you’ll sell more tickets.

  • caranome says:

    Look, the queers have won. They’ve rammed down our (the vast majority’s) throats their lifestyle n ideology amazingly successfully during the past 30 years. News flash: it’s no longer edgy, outre, trailblazing, etc. to do queer versions of anything. Instead, it’s boring, trite n artificial when it’s manufactured without any real artistic merit. Do something more creative.

    • RobK says:

      I, a gay man, entirely agree. I’m sick of this non -existent community politicising everything and claiming that it ‘speaks for me’.

    • Eric says:

      Although the concept behind this production is silly and wrong-headed, it certainly exposes the homophobia of some of the responders.

      • Tiredofitall says:

        I would categorize the homophobia (and racism) on this site as more than “some” of the responders. At times it makes me fell ashamed that we share the same genus.

        • E Rand says:

          Not a single word here reads to me of homophobia. Especially not it the literally meaning of “fear-of”. There is a weariness of the amplification of people purely because they prefer to sleep with humans of the same sex. It’s boring. It’s not a relevant point of interest and it certainly doesn’t demand my attention for an entire month. I can’t wait for July.

      • Anthony Sayer says:

        No, it just shows that people who bat for both teams have had enough of this lobotomised politicisation of art.

  • Marjie says:

    Stephanie Blythe as the tenor Don Jose? Oh come on ….. you have to be joking.

  • La plus belle voix says:

    Jamie Barton hamming it up and mugging as usual, with her highly artificial homage to bel canto. She has a great voice, but has no clear idea what to do with it. Such a pity. I just can’t see her having a long career.

  • Player says:

    Gay or straight, it is going to be quite a Chubby Carmen!

  • DH says:

    Sur la place
    Chacun passe,
    Chacun vient, chacun va
    Drôles de gens que ces gens-là
    Drôles de gens! Drôles de gens!

  • RobK says:

    When are they going to put on a production of Britten’s Paula Bunyan?

  • Plush says:

    Certainly a minor company! Gimmicks abound in their presentations. Often their productions are damned with faint praise. This trendy offering’s impression will fade within 2 weeks.

  • Y says:

    My gender is not a costume.

  • Edgar Self says:

    And the bull?

  • Sixtus says:

    No, the queerest opera is Parsifal, in all senses of the word.

  • Ceasar says:

    Poulenc’s Les Mamelles des Tiresias is up there too.


    This is a stunt stretched out of proportion for the sake of publicity.

  • Concerned Opera Buff says:

    Apparently, Blyth will appear as her alter ego, Blythely Oratonio, as Don Jose, with Barton as Carmen. I surmise that it will just be duets. Doesn’t matter what the reason is behind this, it’s a waste of two singers making their duets with COT. Could of had a terrific concert with those two, but gimmicks rarely work. Blyth cannot really “sing” the role of Don Jose. All she can be is something to laugh at. Why would anyone want to be laughed at by an audience? I also suspect that neither of them will get their usual fee.

  • Cue me says:

    While not related to this particular production of Carmen but in reference/response to the post title, Des Moines Metro Opera is currently staging Spears’ Fellow Travelers:
    A powerful work, it is a beautiful and sensitive setting of a love story between two men, set during the specter of the Lavender Scare in 1950s Washington D..C. under McCarthy.

  • Karl says:

    I have a better idea: A black transsexual Carmen. Don Jose kills her when he finds out her secrets…

  • A Musician says:

    the comments on this thread reveal so much about their authors (and the editor of this site for allowing them), and highlight the need for greater diversity in classical music, so that these opinions become irrelevant and can stay in the 1980s.

    You all ooze white, heterosexual privilege, it makes me ashamed that you are our audience. I would rather you stopped buying tickets and stay in your sheltered bubble homes with people that look and sound like yourselves.

    phases like “the blacks”, “transexual”, “chubby” – just disgusting.

    Why does representation matter? just think….

    when was the last time of any these authors was shouted at, spat or, or the recipient of verbal and physical violence on the street just because of they are holding the hand of the person they love?

    when was the last time you received verbal abuse, or were ignored, because of the colour of your skin?

    Is it any wonder that suicide rates amongst these groups are so high?

    Please do not buy tickets for our performances, we do not want you in our auditoriums.

    Your ignorance is astounding. Shame on all of you.