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PRIMER | Tapestry Opera’s Queerated Opera Series Is A Fresh Way to Start Your Toronto Pride

By Matthew Timmermans on June 6, 2018

Soprano Teiya Kasahara
Soprano Teiya Kasahara

If you think queer performance is limited to fancy costumes, over-the-top makeup, and lip-syncing as seen on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Tapestry Opera has a surprise for you. Their pride series Tap This: A Queerated Opera Series showcases three different ways to queer the classical genre. Tap This offers three shows that address (often unspoken) queer issues through three different approaches:

1: Reinterpreting Old Operas

Canadian Soprano Teiya Kasahara’s Queer of the Night tells the untold struggle of being a modern woman playing the Queen of the Night, tortured in a misogynistic society in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Kasahara breaks down the role she has sung in opera houses across Canada to reveal her own struggle to adhere to the opera industry’s expectations of her as a woman: to be white, thin, and feminine, in other words, stereotypically beautiful much like the unrealistic expectations of operatic female characters. As an Asian, queer woman, these expectations already made her undesirable in the gaze of the male-dominated opera industry.

Kasahara’s performance becomes an autobiographical confessional in which she slips between the Queen of the Night (what the world expects from her) and her own identity that clashes in moments of anger, sadness, and redemption. At the end of the show, Kasahara re-inscribes the Queen of the Night’s famous rage aria that in the opera exposes her as the villain, instead as an exasperated escape from the heteronormative bonds of Mozart’s 1791 opera and the contemporary opera industry.

Queer of the Night is based on a shorter version of the show called The Queen in Me that Kasahara created for the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. After receiving a very positive response, Kasahara claims that she “caught the creator bug” and is now working on a new piece that will explore some of her other “nesses,” including her Japanese heritage. Through Taiko drumming traditionally performed by men, she wants to negate Japanese feminine ideals by instead taking up space, for example, being physical, stereotypically masculine, and loud!

Following her work queering opera, Kasahara said she could not simply settle for the binds in which she performed before. She wants her new work to represent contemporary issues that are left unspoken, rather than performing old operas that demean women and deny contemporary political consciousness.

2. Performing Operas About Queers

Rather than breaking down well-known operatic characters, Queers Crash the Opera will highlight a selection of operas based on queer protagonists. These excerpts are queer because these operas were made with the intent of telling queer stories. Although it may seem like the simplest answer, creating new operas can be just as challenging as deconstructing more well-known operas, if not more, because the performers don’t have Mozart’s music, for example, as a foundation. But Queers Crash the Opera will showcase several queer operas from Tapestry’s oeuvre as well as other successfully premiered works. The program will be curated by David Eliakis at the piano and performed by soprano Teiya Kasahara, tenor Derek Kwan, mezzo-soprano Catherin Carew, and bass Alain Coulombe.

Baritone Joel Klein (Photo: Allison Hrabluik)
Baritone Joel Klein (Photo: Allison Hrabluik)

3. Writing Queer Music

Although not an opera, Cocktails with Maria Toilette is a set of cabaret songs that explore the fantastic and simply mundane aspects of queer sex. Composed by tenor Isaiah Bell (who will be performing Hadrian’s lover Antinous in the Canadian Opera Company’s upcoming world premiere), the texts of these songs are set verbatim from interviews held between the Gutter Opera Collective––baritone Joel Klein, pianist Karen Lee-Morlang, Kristina Lemieux, Bell, and designer Myles Laphen––and their friends. These experiences range from the gay romance seen in a film like Call Me By Your Name to a live retelling of BDSM and humorous horror stories involving blow jobs and vomit.

These songs were first performed at the 2011 Alberta queer film festival called Reflection/Refraction. Originally seen in concert attire, Klein and Lee-Morlang have since performed these songs in drag because they felt that formal attire was limiting their connection to the music. Maria Toilette is Klein’s drag persona (seen in the video below), and Lee-Morlang will be dressed as a drag king called The Morekeys de Schade, at the piano.

During my chat with Klein and Lee-Morlang, they also performed a few of the songs that will be featured in the show. The first is based on at text by Canadian playwright Sky Gilbert. The song begins by asking the audience to “tell me all your infidelities,” which is exactly what the show is about to do. The second song features the extremely graphic and profoundly honest sexual experiences of a closeted homosexual in Saskatoon, all in his own words I might add. His stories take us from his steamy bathroom fantasies to the comical realities of anonymous public sex in a startlingly real, yet fantastic musical depiction of queer sex life.

These three shows offer just a glimpse at the many ways that the art can start to rectify the absence queer representation. One can only hope that they will inspire even more opera in Canada to follow suit and discuss the people and experiences of the queer community that have always been represented in its fanbase.

Tap This will take place from June 7 to 9 at The Ernest Balmer Studio (9 Trinity Street, #316, Distillery District). For more details see here.

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