Lesbian opera soprano Patricia Racette considers herself to be very lucky.
In her three-decade performing career of tackling both classics ( Madama Butterfly, Salome ) and world premieres ( Emmeline, Dolores Claiborne ), Racette has been able to check off most of the dream roles on her operatic wish list.
Racette shares one of her more elusive wish-list roles when Chicago Opera Theater presents The Consul by gay Italian-American composer and librettist Gian-Carlo Menotti ( 1911-2007 ). It's a Pulitzer Prize-winning operatic tragedy that ran on Broadway for more than 250 performances back in 1950. The Consul was last professionally produced locally in 2006 by Chamber Opera Chicago.
In The Consul, Racette portrays the political asylum seeker Magda Sorel. She is desperately trying to get her persecuted family out of an unnamed eastern European country, only to run into repeated bureaucratic road blocks at the U.S. consulate.
"The issues in this piece are phenomenally relevant, which has made the rehearsal process somehow more emotionally taxing," said Racette in light of all the hardened rhetoric over immigration and "The Wall" coming from the current presidential administration. "When I come home and turn on the news, I think, 'Wait a secondhave I left rehearsals or not?'"
The opportunity to play Magda came about last year after Racette enjoyed a collaboration with former Chicago Opera Theater general director Andreas Mitisek on Francis Poulenc's solo-drama La voix humaine. The Consul has turned out to be an ideal fit not only for Racette, but as a co-production shared by Chicago Opera Theater and Long Beach Opera in California ( where it finished its initial run last month ).
"It fits my voice like a glove," said Racette of Menotti's melodic and dramatic vocal writing for Magda. "I love singing this part."
Racette also revealed that Mitisek's staging of The Consul isn't completely traditional. Magda's infamous Sylvia Plath-like demise isn't followed in this production, but Racette added, "There's nothing so far out that you don't know what it means."
"Andreas thoroughly explored the storytelling of this piece," Racette said. "It has the impact,without being overly obvious and hitting you over the head. It's extremely poignant."
Racette still has a few more unfulfilled dream roles on her wish list like the common-law wife Marie in Alban Berg's Wozzeck, or any number of the former showgirls in Stephen Sondheim's musical Follies. Yet Racette is excited to reveal that she is booked to play one of her wish-list roles, the murderous Kostelnicka in Leos JanÃícek's Jenufa, although she couldn't contractually say when and where just yet.
Racette is also branching out artistically beyond singing. She recently created a weeklong performance seminar/master class to share her knowledge and to work with younger opera singers in San Francisco and New York.
Racette also will make her directorial debut staging a new production of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata next year with Opera Theater of St. Louis. It's a work that has great significance for Racette since she met her future wife, mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton, when they were both performing in a production at Santa Fe Opera 20 years ago.
"I love the piece of theater that it is. Some of the early Verdi can be more stilted, but I feel La Traviata still really reads well as a play," Racette said. "I'm hoping for it to be a beautifully opulent and thorough telling of the story."
At a time when so many hard-won freedoms for LGBTQ people and other minorities are under threat in America, Racette said it is very important to be visible and outspoken. ( Racette and Clayton both came out via a cover story in Opera News magazine back in 2002. )
"It's important to me to be out," Racette said. "Because the antithesis of that is hiding and there's an element of shame in that."
Racette is also grateful that she gets the opportunity to perform in a rarely-done 20th-century tragedy like The Consulespecially when its dramatic story can take on added political resonances for audiences of today.
"One of the beautiful aspects of live performance and art is that within it, we can find something cathartic, something healing or something very telling about what is going on in life," Racette said. "So I feel there is an importance to this work."
Chicago Opera Theater's The Consul plays three performances only at the Studebaker Theater in the Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Ave. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Friday, Nov. 4 and 10, with a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Nov. 12. Tickets are $45-$145; call 312-704-8414 or visit ChicagoOperaTheater.org .