Opera’s Lesbian Divas

 
 

As a mezzo-soprano (a
lower voice than soprano), Clayton sings a different range of roles, but a wide
variety of them — from the fiery lead of Carmen
to the upcoming world premiere of an opera based on The Fly. She often sings "pants roles," a young male character
portrayed by a woman. "I love playing boys," she said. "It’s just interesting to
personify something completely different than yourself."

Clayton in the Opéra de Marseille production of Giulio Cesare

Racette once did a pants
role as well, but her curvaceous figure didn’t fit the part — literally.
"We don’t ever want that to
happen again," said Clayton. "It was Eddie Munster with
implants."

It is clear to even the
casual observer that these women are very much in love. They gaze at one
another, they touch, and they finish each other’s sentences. Before Racette
finishes a sneeze, Clayton already has a tissue ready for her. But although
they do sing together on occasion, this is rare.

The subject of coordinating their
schedules naturally led to the question of how they maintain their relationship
despite globe-trotting careers. "We call it ‘wifing,’" Clayton pointed out. Wifing is the role that one of them plays when the other is
onstage. "Our real home is in New
Mexico, but the truth of it is that going home is
going where Pat is. So I’m happy wherever she’s singing."

Racette concurred: "I
have this summer off, and I would love nothing more than for us to be in Santa Fe for a big chunk
of time. But Beth is working, so I’m going to go where Beth is. And I think
that’s a hardship because sometimes you just want to be home. But there’s no way I’m going to do that and be away
from Beth."

"We have to force
ourselves to sit down and look at the next six months," Clayton continued,
"and where’s the dog going to be — what’s the best situation for ‘the child‘? — so we base it on that and go from there."

Racette with the couple’s dog, Sappho

Clayton and Racette came
out professionally when Racette was the subject of a cover article in Opera News in 2002. The article didn’t
focus on her homosexuality, but it was simply included in a very matter-of-fact
fashion. "It wasn’t about that," Racette said. "Here’s an
article about me, and this is my life, and there’s my partner."

"It was just the
normal questions you would ask anyone," continued Clayton. "Do you
leave your family in or out? Do you leave your personal life in or out? And in
the last 10, 15, 20 years in our business, it becomes quite obvious who’s not
answering those questions … obviously
we’re not the only lesbians in opera, but we’re the only lesbians who are both
singing in a visible way.

"And people would
say, ‘Did you get backlash on that?’ And honestly, no. Of course, we’d be the
last people to hear that. But the positive side is that, any of us who is gay
or lesbian says, ‘If I help that one person

"Well, we’ve gotten so many of those one-person responses of
appreciation. I wish I could
volunteer at the Center or do something on a regular basis, but because of our
travel schedules I feel like the best thing we can offer is our honesty, our
example and our being vocal about it when and if we can."

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