Operas and other works of art reflect the values and belief systems of the societies in which they were created. Often, that means that perspectives on diverse and intersecting identities such as race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality, and ability are poorly aligned with current views. While it may be more comfortable to politely disregard the problematic elements of our treasured masterpieces, it is more constructive to confront these issues head-on. The cultural movements that came before us affect our present reality in a myriad of subtle and sometimes imperceptible ways. Viewing ourselves through the lens of our collective past can reveal lingering beliefs we may prefer to ignore.
When we look at historical works within the context of a specific cultural moment, instead of glossing over differences, we can explore a new (or old) viewpoint and open our eyes to the fundamental changeability of human systems of belief. Rather than communicating universal truths or transcending time and space, historical works of art can give us a glimpse of a social reality perhaps far removed from our own. Instead of reinforcing essentialist readings of history, art can encourage audiences to explore alternative perspectives and even question the assumptions of their own, contemporary culture.
As performers and artists, it is our mission to connect with audiences of today and together build a better and more compassionate world for tomorrow. We must be thoughtful in our choices — artistic and otherwise — and respectful in our representation of marginalized communities. The messages we send to audiences can have a profound impact on the people they reach. It is our responsibility to ensure that the stories we tell are ones which embrace difference, advocate for diversity, and encourage a respectful dialogue.
"I hear a lot of institutions claiming to be safe spaces, and I see an awful lot of rainbow stickers and trans flags hung on walls and in windows. And yet, I encounter very few organizations that have actually done the work to make their spaces truly safe for queer, and in particular trans, people... So how can we make our spaces safe? The answer is that we can’t, or at least not perfectly—not as long as human beings are fallible and limited and capable of harm, which we all are... And yet, I believe it’s still worth it to strive towards safer spaces, the safest possible in the real world of power differentials and systemic oppression. And while it can be very hard to identify the precise specifications that make a space feel safe, in my experience there is one particular litmus test that I find effective, no matter the context: does the space make room for play?"
"In the opera industry there’s a saying: “take the note.” It was drilled into me as a student. Basically, it means that as a performer it’s my job to nod and smile whenever a director or conductor offers me instructions or feedback. After all, I’m supposed to be grateful for the opportunity to work in my field, so I can’t ever risk talking back or disagreeing. As you might imagine, this makes for a pervasive culture of silence—eyes meeting uncomfortably across rehearsal rooms, hoping that someone will speak up while knowing that nobody will... I’ve decided I would like to throw the phrase “take the note” directly into the trash. Or rather, maybe I’d like to throw it back to the people in power who have benefitted from this culture of silence. It’s time that classical music institutions learn to “take the note” and receive feedback from marginalized artists."
This article seeks out queer resonances in the peculiar lives and sensational music of the castrati: castrated male singers who, on operatic stages of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, proved their virility not through the strength or reproductive capacity of their unusual bodies, but through the breathtaking virtuosity of their voices. Problematizing not only binaries of gender and sexuality, but also those of mind vs. body and verbal vs. non-verbal, this paper uses music as a medium through which to explore the liminal space between linguistic signification and embodied experience. Relying on Sylvia Wynter’s ‘deciphering turn’, this study investigates what the stories and music of the castrati can do rather than concentrating on what they mean: the use of auto-ethnography extends this investigation into the present, exploring how modern performances of the castrati’s music can potentially offer solace and inspiration to queer subjects of today.