Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A Transgender Don Giovanni

This one really has me stumped. The Tulsa Opera has announced American transgender baritone Lucia Lucas in the title role of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ for their 2018-2019 season: First Trans Woman Set to Appear in Principal Role on US Opera Stage. Here are some details:
The Tulsa Opera has this week announced American transgender baritone Lucia Lucas in the title role of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ for their 2018-2019 season – set to make her the first trans woman in history to perform a principal role on an American operatic stage.
“Making history, Tulsa Opera presents baritone, Lucia Lucas in her American operatic debut as a transgender woman …”  Tulsa Opera Artistic Director, Tobias Picker has said.
“Lucia Lucas’ appearance here will mark the first time a trans woman has performed a principal role on the operatic stage in the United States … it’s a testament to our company’s commitment to casting without regard to ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation,” he has said.
Lucia has previously performed with the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Il Teatro Regio, Daegu Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Santa Barbara, Sacramento Opera – and as a permanent member of the Staatstheatre Karlsruhe in Germany.
Setting aside all political, social justice, considerations, what puzzles me is simply the issue of voice type. How does a trans person become a baritone? Plus, should the press release have referred to Lucia Lucas as a "her"? In any case, here is a clip from YouTube of Lucia Lucas singing an excerpt from Falstaff:

The role of Don Giovanni poses some issues for any singer, I would imagine. The character of the archetypal seducer, who at the end refuses to repent and is dragged down to hell, is even more complex in our current climate. I would guess that what would be particularly tricky to get across now is that Don Giovanni has a charming side to his character. He is not just a bad, evil person.



Patrick said...

OMG! I must cleanse the bits in my laptop. They were polluted when I clicked on your Neil Young link and only then I realized it was the racist, science-denying, Orange-Dotard-supporting famous right wing nut job website. My bad, you did warn us.

Steven Watson said...

As I understand it, regarding a man who chooses to identify as a woman and takes the appropriate hormones, his voice will remain the same (unlike in the opposite case, where testosterone will lower a woman's voice). So, purely in terms of the music, there doesn't seem to be anything improper or incongruous or whatever the right word is about Lucia continuing to play baritone roles like Don Giovanni.

I noticed, reading a review of Opera North's Don Giovanni last week, that though it was a recycled production the programme notes were amended to include this line: 'The Don of Mozart and Da Ponte’s opera is the archetypal rogue: Harvey Weinstein, James Levine . . . all rolled up into one'. Two rather bulbous, repulsive men, nothing like Don Giovanni (not to mention the fact that Levine is being accused of pederasty).

Bryan Townsend said...

Hi Patrick, yes I did warn you. I read everything so you don't have to. The only media channels I tend to draw the line at are either the ones that think they have no bias, or the ones that have one, but won't admit it! That rules out a lot of media, but not ones like Breitbart.

Thanks, Steven, that is exactly what I was wondering. A person transitioning from female to male will experience a change in voice type but not the reverse. Yes, I'm not surprised that they would resort to that ploy. It's all about making opera "relevant" to contemporary audiences. One musicologist recently was commenting on Don Giovanni and how problematic the opera is. I just left a comment that he is sent to hell at the end, how much more justice do you want?

Marc said...

As a matter of courtesy, if someone wants to present himself publicly as a woman, fine-- I'm not going to insult someone over such matters-- and that arts companies participate in this isn't surprising these days when they seem to play as much to the vapors of the Zeitgeist as to anything else. If Lucas's baritone is untouched by any 'therapeutic' medicines, as Steven says it would be, fine, too. I can't help but think that we are indulging ourselves in doing the very stale épater la bourgeoisie routine-- but if plays in Karlsruhe and Tulsa.... Singers 'cross-singing' (surely there must be an official musicological term?) is a very old and occasionally sensible practice so I don't think even I can get too excited about this.

We live in the best of times, though, Steven-- our Don Giovanni has been improved and woke so that he practices every vice, not just several of them. And Hell is a nightclub in Berlin.

(But I refuse to use myself the neologisms invented by those unhappy with life to replace the English personal pronouns. Have heard them used, Eugene being what it is, out and about and once or twice at the office but the second person 'you' et cetera aren't susceptible of being made gender perfect, so far as I know.)

Bryan Townsend said...

Gender-bending is actually quite an old trope in opera. Two very extensive examples would be the castrato voice and the "trouser" role, such as Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro. Much humor came from women falling in love with and, in many productions, kissing repeatedly, a character who presented as a man, but was actually a woman. And then there are the numerous examples in Shakespeare.