Patricia Racette is an internationally acclaimed operatic soprano. Over 30 years in the industry, she has been particularly renowned for performing as Puccini's and Verdi's heroines.
On a more personal level, she came out as a lesbian in print on the cover of Opera News in 2002. Her partner, Beth Clayton ( a talented mezzo-soprano in her own right ), met in 1997 and were married the first time in 2005. When New Mexico legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, they did it again, as well as after the 2015 Supreme Court ruling.
Currently performing in Janacek's Jenufa at the Santa Fe Opera, and newly announced as the artistic director of the Young Artists Program at the Opera Theater of St. Louis, she is also preparing for her role at Ravinia on Thursday, Aug. 22, as Dinah in Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti, and her November program with the Chicago Lyric Opera as Sister Helen in Heggie's Dead Man Walking.
Windy City Times: The LA Times called you "the most fearless woman in Opera." Do you know why?
Patricia Racette: Possibly because I performed onstage naked when I was 52 [in Strauss' Salome]. [Laughs]
WCT: And/or because you came out on the cover of Opera News in 2002?
PR: Maybe. An artist needs to be honest and authentic; to create. Our families, friends and close colleagues always knew. It was just time. It was Pride Month. We were ready. But it is definitive when you come out in print.
WCT: When did you realize that you were a lesbian? What is your coming-out story?
PR: I remember having special feelings for a fourth-grade teacher, although I had no context to explain them. In high school it became clearer, and in college [the University of North Texas, from which she graduated in 1987], I had my first experience with a girl. I wasn't really "out" then. It was kind of terrifying and I was trying to understand it. There was no turning back for me, for sure. Coming out personally is different than coming out professionally. I had several relationships before I met Beth [Clayton] in 1997. My family and closest friends always knew I was a lesbian. I was never closeted.
WCT: What is the Beth and Patricia story?
PR: We met briefly at a party in 1997 in NYC; in fact, we had the same manager for a while. [She] was always saying, "You should meet Beth Clayton." Then in 1998 we both were in La Traviata at the Santa Fe Opera andzing!it happened! It was pretty immediate and wonderful. We have been together ever since.
WCT: Did you and Beth consider having children?
PR: Yes, we discussed it thoroughly early on. Ultimately, we decided not to have children due to the heavy travel demands of our schedules, and the pace of our lives. We did have an amazing fur baby, Sappho, for 17 years. Sadly, she died in 2015. It took us years to recover; however, we are now thrilled to have a new fur baby, Zoe, who is 5 months old, a butterscotch toy poodle who will be about 6# when fully grown. They are such precious spirits to share their lives with us.
WCT: In 2010, you and Beth did a great clip for the It Gets Better project. You are both very clear in your message about how wonderful it is to be out lesbians. What form does your activism take now?
PR: Every time I introduce Beth as my wife, or she introduces me as her wife, and the listener is uncomfortable, we are making a statement. There is no shame in our marriage. That is ground level activism. We support LGBT initiatives at all levels. Nationally we are big supporters of Lambda and HRC [the Human Rights Campaign]. I also like to support local efforts when I am able, depending on what opportunities arise, and what works with my travel schedule. It is hard to have a community. Personally, I will not go to a country where it is illegal to be LGBT.
WCT: You grew up in Bedford, New Hampshire, [as] the middle child. Your sister is two-and-a-half years older, and your brother is four-and-a-half years younger. You attended the same high school as your mom and dad. How was music present in your early years?
PR: Early on, I wanted to play guitar and taught myself some basic chords, starting around age 7. Then my parents sent me for ACCORDION lessons!! Not what I wanted but they helped some, and six months were enough. I would write simple songs and sing along. I continued to play guitar and sing through high school. I liked pop music and I am a sucker for ballads, especially those sung by female jazz vocalists. I did listen to women's musicIndigo Girls and many others.
WCT: How did you become involved with opera?
PR: When I headed to college, I wanted to study vocal jazz. In the auditions I was told that my voice was more suitable for opera than jazz. Initially, I was shocked and cried for three days. But I love the art form: the total mix, the theater, the stagingit is perfect for me. It has been a good choice for me in so many ways.
WCT: Do you and Beth ever work together?
PR: We discuss all of our career choices and support each other. Dinah, in Trouble in Tahiti, is a role that Beth did in Munich. It is the first time that has happened, where she has performed a role that I am going to do. So she is helping me with that. We really operate as a team, she is always very helpful. We also want to have more time together, so we are keeping that goal in the forefront. When you travel extensively for work, a "stay-cation" is what you want. We love our home in Santa Fe and want to have more time there, together.
WCT: What are you most proud of in your accomplishments and what are you looking forward to doing?
PR: I have had the opportunity to learn and master so many wonderful operatic roles. Any committed artist never stops doing the work, studying, making it better, and pursuing new and different roles and activities. I am proud of directing my first opera with the St. Louis Opera in 2017, La Traviata. I am proud of the master classes I teach on integrative artistry.
I am excited about my new duties as artistic director with the young artists in St. Louis. My "Diva on Detour" cabaret jazz tour continues, and I would like to do Broadway someday. There are always new opportunities. Opera was the interloper in my life; jazz and cabaret are my roots.
I am looking forward to meeting and working with Marin Alsop at Ravinia. We are cast for our abilities and availability. It is happenstance or maybe synchronicity to be programmed with Marin Alsop [the musical director of the Baltimore Symphony, and an out lesbian] and Paolo Szot [an openly gay Brazilian operatic baritone singer/actor]. Really!
See Ravinia.org for tickets to Racette's performance.