Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2018-08-15
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage



Opera looks at Lavender Scare
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Same-sex love stories have been in short supply across the 420-year history of opera. Only in the past century have openly LGBTQ characters started to appear in works like Alban Berg's Lulu ( 1937 ), Leonard Bernstein's A Quiet Place ( 1983 ) or Stewart Wallace's Harvey Milk ( 1995 ). Yet not all of these contemporary operas have worked their way into the standard operatic repertoire.

So hopes are high among LGBTQ opera fans for the critically acclaimed new work Fellow Travelers. Following its 2016 world premiere at Cincinnati Opera and a second run in New York earlier this year, Fellow Travelers receives a Windy City debut this month courtesy of the Lyric Opera of Chicago's outreach arm known as Lyric Unlimited.

Fellow Travlers is inspired by Thomas Mallon's 2007 historically inspired novel of the same name, which is set in 1950s Washington, D.C. A blossoming romance between fictional government workers Timothy Laughlin and Hawkins Fuller is threatened when Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee go on a rampage to root out and expose "subversives" in the Eisenhower administration.

"As an openly gay artist, I think it's so important to tell our stories and to learn about our history," said Fellow Travelers director Kevin Newbury. "In this case, it's the 'Lavender Scare,' which is a period of our history that people don't know very much about—that more than 5,000 men and women lost their jobs because they were gay in the government during the McCarthy era."

The idea of adapting Fellow Travelers into an opera originated with G. Sterling Zinsmeyer, whose film producing credits include Latter Days ( 2003 ) and The Deception ( 2012 ). Zinsmeyer approached Newbury to think of a writing team.

The two decided on composer Gregory Spears, who is acclaimed for his 2013 Willa Cather-inspired opera Paul's Case and the 2016 children's opera Jason and the Argonauts. They also sought out off-Broadway playwright/lyricist Greg Pierce, who is famed for collaborating with composer John Kander on musicals like The Landing ( 2013 ) and Kid Victory ( 2017 ), and for his own plays like Slowgirl ( 2012 ) and Her Requiem ( 2016 ).

"I loved the love story between the two guys, and also how [their heterosexual friend and co-worker] Mary fit into that," Pierce said. "One thing that I really loved was how complicated the gay characters were. I felt like we were emerging from this era where gay characters had to be 100-percent positive role models."

The complexity of the characters in Fellow Travelers also appealed to Spears when composing the music. Timothy and Hawkins have their flaws and are not just noble victims.

"What was important was that it was a real love story, and so it's not an idealized world at all. From the very beginning of the relationship, you kind of know it's not going to work," Spears said. "For me, I thought of the relationship between Tim and Hawk and Mary as a sort of metaphor for what was happening in the larger world around them."

Spears also felt free not to ape 1950s musical styles to underline the drama of Fellow Travelers. Instead, Spears wanted the opera's production design and the period slang and dialogue in Pierce's text to establish the sense of time and place.

"I actually bring in a lot of music that is counter-intuitive in a way," said Spears, though he does cite 20th-century gay U.S. composer Aaron Copland and contemporary minimalism as partial influences.

The Lyric is staging Fellow Travelers at the Athenaeum Theatre rather than its much grander home base of the Civic Opera House. Yet Spears and Pierce don't want the work to be labeled as a "chamber opera."

"Greg really delivered a libretto that is like a play and it has everyday, quotidian language—just people talking to each other so it's not heightened, poetic stuff," said Spears about Fellow Travelers' need for greater intimacy. "It's not an epic story with gigantic sets. The practical side of that means that the piece is easier to do."

Only time will tell if Fellow Travelers will gain entry to the permanent operatic repertoire, but there are hopeful signs. Newbury revealed that other opera companies have plans to present his production in future seasons, while Minnesota Opera will present Fellow Travelers this summer with a different directorial and design team.

Fellow Travelers has also taken on a more timely, if unfortunate, resonance in light of the 2016 U.S. elections. This was clear to Pierce while he watched Fellow Travelers this year in New York.

"I was wishing that it was a museum piece," Pierce said. "I was watching McCarthy spouting out all of this stuff that had no basis in fact, and was wreaking havoc and making everyone scared out of their minds for no good reason, and it just felt so current."

Fellow Travelers is staged for four performances only at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 17, Wed., March 21, and Friday, March 23, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, March 25. Tickets are $29-$75; cCall 312-827-5600 or visit .

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Gay News

NUNN ON ONE MUSIC Sugarland's Kristian Bush, 'Bigger'and better 2018-08-16 - The country-music duo of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, known as Sugarland, have just released their sixth studio album. The group made it ...

Gay News

Aretha Franklin dies at 76 2018-08-16 - Aretha Franklin— the long-reigning "Queen of Soul" who had countless hits ranging from "Respect" to "Freeway of Love" to "I Knew You Were ...

Gay News

NUNN ON ONE MUSIC Beth Ditto goes from Reba to Sam Smith 2018-08-16 - Mary Beth Patterson, more famously known as Beth Ditto, recently headed to Chicago as an opener for a massive Sam Smith show. ...

Gay News

Sam Smith in Chicago 2018-08-15 - As part of his "The Thrill of It All" tour, singer Sam Smith will perform at the United Center, 1901 W. Madison St., ...

Gay News

PASSAGES Women's music leader Esther Anne Fuller dies 2018-08-15 - Esther Anne Fuller, 82, of Whitestown, Indiana, has died. She was a past president of Women In the Arts, a former National Women's ...

Gay News

Northalsted Market Days 2018 2018-08-15 - The Northalsted Business Alliance continued its annual tradition of presenting the largest outdoor street festival in the Midwest on Aug. 11 and 12. ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Richard III 2018-08-15 - By: William Shakespeare. At: Ingraham Park, Evanston. Tickets:; free. Runs through: Sept. 9 Richard III transforms before the audience's eyes ...

Gay News

Critics' Picks 2018-08-15 - Buddy, American Blues Theater @ Stage 773, remounted through Sept. 15. Far more concert than story, the short, mostly-sweet life of Buddy Holly ...

Gay News

REVIEW Holding the Man 2018-08-15 - Playwright: Tommy Murphy; adapted from a memoir by Timothy Conigrave At: The Broadway, Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway. Tickets: 866-811-4111 or 773-857-0222; ...

Gay News

THEATER Spotlight on Hurricane Damage 2018-08-15 - Four gay men cross generations and decades in Hurricane Damage—Kevin Brofsky's funny, sad, hopeful and emotionally layered exploration of dreams snuffed out by ...


Copyright © 2018 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.








About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.