Opera’s Lesbian Divas

While they feel that
homophobia has not been a significant problem in their careers, they both agree
that old-fashioned sexism is "alive and well." "I can always
tell," Racette said. "You can smell it when there’s a director that,
you have something to say but if the guy has something to say … I have so
little patience for that I usually just end up becoming kind of belligerent.
And I’ll be heard one way or another."

Racette and Clayton held
a commitment ceremony in 2005. "The cool thing is that our families had
never met," noted Clayton. "Not for any bad reason, just logistic.
And what was really cute was Pat’s
brother and my sister have children, and our two nieces are only six weeks
apart and they were calling each other cousins by day one. We had a reception,
and we had a beautiful dinner, and my parents paid for it; that was not our
plan, but they sort of came through in that Southern tradition. It was very
affirming and validating.

Racette interjected with
great irony: "And we had no singing! Not a word!"

Racette and Clayton at their commitment ceremony

Instead of a traditional
honeymoon, the couple went immediately to New York to sing at a Pride event; it also
happened to be Racette’s 40th birthday. "It was really cool to do
it," said Racette, "because not only was it my birthday, but it was
also really reaffirming."

Clayton said
simultaneously with great excitement: "We announced that we had just
gotten married and the audience went crazy, and we wore the outfits that we
wore for the ceremony, so we were coming full circle."

A few days later,
Racette’s performance at the Met would be simulcast live to movie theaters
around the world. She is pleased that new programs such as this one are
bringing opera to new audiences. "Don’t be intimidated by the way opera is
seen in this country," she advised, "that is has an elitist quality
to it, or that it’s not accessible, or that you can’t understand it. There are
titles now, so there’s no reason why anyone
cannot understand and appreciate it. And it’s such a rich art form, it has so
many aspects and disciplines involved in making that evening happen. So it’s
really remarkable."

Clayton’s advice for
newcomers? "It’ll be a kick. Maybe go see something that’s considered
traditional so that you understand — or not understand, but so that you can
just allow yourself to just experience it. Just go in and prepare to be
surprised. Prepare to be moved. That’s not something that’s going to happen to
you in your life as you walk through Monday to Friday and do your job."

Clayton continued:
"I meet people all the time who’ve never been to one, and I just say
you’ve just got to go. Just so you can say in your lifetime, you’ve experienced
it. If you hate it, that’s totally fine. If you love it, or if you want to
explore a little bit more, that’s great — but I think it’s only going to make
your life a little bit better."

Clayton in the New York City Opera’s production of Carmen

Racette in the Santa Fe Opera’s production of Katya Kabanova

As the interview drew to
a close, I asked them one last, burning question that every lesbian must know:
Do they watch The L Word? I was
greeted by a knowing chorus of hoots and hollers: "Oh, please!"
"Bring it on!" "I’m all about Jennifer Beals!" "On
Demand! Are you kidding me?" "We’re just sick that next season is going to be the last … what are we
lesbians supposed to do?"

These down-to-earth divas
have even volunteered to do a cameo on the show. Are you listening, Ilene Chaiken?

For more on Beth Clayton, visit her website. For more on Patricia Racette, visit her website.

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