Thursday, August 21, 2003
This afternoon, four of us are heading to Tanglewood in western Massachusetts for a recital by David Daniels, probably the most famous and accomplished of the astonishing race of American countertenors. A second new male voice category is developing for the baroque music scene as well, the male soprano. I am told the difference is that countertenors have low speaking voices and are really mostly baritones who have been able to develop their falsetto into a wide-ranging and viable main singing voice. Male sopranos, on the other hand, have very high speaking voices and the high range is their real singing voice. I heard one of each in the same opera out at Glimmerglass and there really is a difference in the tone, although both were excellent artists and sang their music flawlessly. I am delighted to be living in an era when the great works of Handel, Mozart and others can be sung by real men rather than mezzo sopranos in pants.
David's recital tonight is not opera but songs by operatic composers, folk material and some pop. He is a delightful guy--I had the pleasure of meeting him in Fort Lauderdale after a performance there and again at Glimmerglass. He is gay, in a long term relationship with a pianist/choral director and emblematic of the newer generation of opera singers in this country-- probably everywhere, actually. Gay men in the opera world have been coming out in droves in the last decade, confirming what most of us have known seemingly forever. Backstage at most opera houses looks like a gay club these days. Recently, a trend among female singers to come out and acknowledge their partners in or out of the profession has been picking up steam. All sorts of studies, informal to somewhat scientific, have been done to find out why so many gays gravitate to opera and "classical" music in general--far above the percentage of (known) gay men and lesbians in the general population. The cliche is that we all gravitate to the arts, the chic and fashionable, involves diva-worshop, etc.
In my case it was somewhat more complex. I started being hooked on opera around age seven over the radio (there was vastly more opera and symphonic music on the radio in the 50s through 70s than there is now). For me it was the largeness of the art form and its emotional whallop that got to me. Things were far from great at home and opera for me was the equivalent of "Everything is beautiful at the ballet" in A CHORUS LINE. Later my love of history kicked in and I could readily see how all the performing arts related to the culture, politics and social structure of various countries. To this day I do not teach theater history without relating it to events and historical movements that surround it.
Anyway, countertenors have become the gay icons of the moment in opera and, indeed, the vast majority of countertenors I have had the pleasure to meet have been gay, virtually all of them out. So tonight we'll be four gay men--a good friend, a member of our Council for the Arts at M.I.T. and his partner, and I--at a recital by a gay man in an audience that will probably be at least half gay. This is the new reality in the performing arts