Out opera star Patricia Racette talks being a “Diva on Detour”

Patricia Racette is an opera superstar who has graced the stages of the Metropolitan Opera, Opera National de Paris, and Lyric Opera of Chicago just to name a few.  This June she will be making her debut at the New York Philharmonic. As part of The Met: Live in HD, her recent performance as Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly was shown in movie theatres across the globe.  She recently recorded a new CD, Diva on  Detour. Fans can see her perform selections from the album live in New York City this week, and at the famous Ravinia Festival in Chicago this June. In between performances at the Washington National Opera and 54 Below, Ms. Racette was kind enough to speak with AfterEllen and give us a peek into the fantastical world of opera.


Photo by Lisa Cuscuna

AfterEllen.com: You have played so many of the great soprano roles. Is there a role you haven’t played yet that you would really love to? 
Patricia Racette:
I am yearning to do Minnie in Fanciulla del West (Girl of the Golden West). This would be the only Puccini heroine that I have not played to date! I would also love to tackle Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk — done a little less frequently here in the U.S., but she is one interesting lady! 

AE: Do you have a particular role that you have played, that really speaks to you above all others?
PR: I think the role of Tosca speaks to me for many reasons.  It is not for the obvious reasons expected-the fact that she is a “diva.”  I like her character, her firecracker-like, passionate temperament, and the fact that she takes her fate into her own hands throughout the opera. She is a woman in full command of her own prowess!

AE: Your new album, (which is incredible, by the way) is called Diva on Detour. In it you definitely stray from opera repertoire, performing songs by Sondheim, Rodgers and Hart, Harold Arlen, among others.  You also perform the songs in a much more musical theatre/cabaret style. In other words, stylistically it’s very different from the way your fans are used to hearing you.  Why did you decide to go this route? 
PR:  I mention this on the album and during my show: singing this style of music is like returning home for me — truly coming full circle!  Jazz singing came first for me, believe it or not. Opera entered the picture in college. One thing I pride myself on is singing any music with the vocally authentic style of the genre.  In short, this shows my versatility and ability to fully embrace two completely different vocal styles.

AE: You regularly perform to crowds of thousands, but this week you will be performing at a much more intimate venue, the fantastic new cabaret space 54 Below.  Talk to us about the differences in terms of preparation and performance.
PR: I love the space!  The owners have created a sexy, classy and intimate atmosphere, which does not have a bad seat in the house! I love the opportunity to perform and share myself in an “up close and personal” way!  I love the interaction with the audience. I love being able to see them experience the evening. I am actually a funny lady, and this forum gives me a chance to reveal that side of myself!


Patricia Racette as the title role in “Tosca”
Photo by 
Scott Suchman

AE: Some of the hot TV programs right now (Glee, Smash) feature singing at the heart of the show.  With your busy schedule, do you ever get a chance to watch any of these shows?  What do you think of grand return of the musical theatre genre returning to mainstream popularity?
PR: I am not going to lie, I never watch these shows! That being said, if these mainstream media offerings raise awareness and get people of any age excited about music, I hope they continue to be super successful.

AE: The life of an opera star involves a tremendous amount of traveling.  How do you and your wife (opera singer Beth Clayton) manage to coordinate your hectic lives?
PR: Our life of constant travel is not an easy one!  Think of it — we pack and/or unpack almost every six weeks!  Even going home for a bit, feels like a “visit.”  Many people have no idea that I am actually a certified homebody! Beth and I have made some decisions to spend more time together in the past couple of years so that at least our constantly shifting ‘home on the road’ contains both of us.. and our fourteen year old poodle, Sappho, of course!

AE: Of Course! When you aren’t performing, how do you like to unwind?
PR: I love to cook (especially in our home)! Sitting over coffee and perusing new recipes, making the shopping list, and then heading to the gym before the grocery store (in that order!) is pretty much our favorite thing to do.

AE: When you came out in Opera News and again in The Advocate in 2002, I remember it having a profound effect on me as a performer. It’s 10 years later, and your career has continued to thrive.  Do you think that attitudes within not just the opera world but music industry have significantly changed in the last decade?
PR: Firstly, we received — and still receive — such wonderful comments and appreciation for our decision to come out in print.  I would love to believe that we, in some small way, helped to continue to re-shape the attitudes of those who tend to be narrow in their thinking about this subject. More to the point, I will continue my small part in making our voices heard — both operatically and otherwise. We participated in the “It Gets Better” campaign by making our own little video about three years ago, and we also continue to raise our own awareness with our support of gay rights groups, particularly HRC (The Human Rights Campaign).


Patricia as Cio-Cio San in “Madame Butterfly”
Photo by Marty Sohl 

AE: Opera can be so grand and complex, that it can come off as a bit intimidating.
PR: I speak about this frequently.  I find that opera is the only art form to involve so many virtuosic disciplines that happen simultaneously! What other genre has the capacity to be amazingly powerful and grand but also painfully subtle and pointed? It’s multitasking at the highest level! I don’t find it intimidating, I find it opulent and mesmerizing and thrilling. I would love to “get the word out” to those who have been intimidated by the thought of  opera. It is accessible — to any and everyone! With a world offering HD broadcasts in movie theaters and opera companies having special ticket prices so that a new audience can be reached, the opportunity is out there. Seize it!

AE: What would you recommend for people who are interested in attending and learning about opera, but don’t know where to start? A brief, Opera 101, if you will.
PR: Try it! As I said, try it at the movie theater if that feels safer, although I still think that seeing it live in the actual space has merits all its own.  Grab a friend, grab a group of friends, grab a date and check out one of the most popular operas first: Carmen, La Bohème, La Traviata, Tosca, The Marriage of Figaro. And read a tiny bit before you get there so that you have an idea of the plot — all theaters have surtitles/translations either on the back of the seat in front of you or on a big screen above the stage. You will quickly see that there are relevant stories to be told — love, death, betrayal, or the most comic crazy plot twists. And if you don’t find yourself absorbed into those plots, enjoy the escape of going into another world for a few hours!

AE: People often have misconceptions as to what a diva truly is.  As one of the world’s greatest opera divas, how would you define it?
PR: “Diva” literally means “goddess.” That definition has certainly morphed in popular culture! I think we both know that it often has negative connotations these days, but for me a diva is someone who TAKES HER SPACE in the world but also shares it without hesitation.

Patricia Racette will be performing her cabaret Diva on Detour March 26-30 at 54 Below in New York City. Tickets are available here.

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