The 30 Influential LGBTQIA+ Players In Opera

By Francisco Salazar

Happy Pride!

As we continue our pride celebration, we turn to the most influential LGBTQIA+ performers, administrators, directors, and others who have been influential in the opera world in shaping the conversation and boosting visibility.

For this list, we honed in on the accomplishments of these individuals and the way they have used their voice to push diversity and education in the industry.

Thomas Adès

The English composer, Thomas Adès,  has written three operas including “Powder Her Face,” “The Tempest’ and “The Exterminating Angel.” All three have obtained international appeal being been showcased at the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House, and the Salzburg Festival.

In 2014 he won the Grammy for “The Tempest” and was nominated two other times for “Powder Her Face” and “Asyla.” He is part of the Board of Directors of the European Academy of Music Theatre and a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. 

Frederick Ballentine

Frederick Ballentine is one of today’s most promising young tenors. A graduate of the Washington National Opera‘s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, and the Los Angeles Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, the tenor has already made debuts at the Metropolitan Opera, Washington National Opera, Seattle Opera, Los Angeles Opera, and Dutch National Opera, among others.

Ballentine is also featured on several recordings including the “The Ghost of Versailles” with the LA Opera. 

Jamie Barton

Jamie Barton is one of the most renowned mezzo-sopranos in the world. She rose to fame after winning the Metropolitan Opera Council auditions and was featured in the acclaimed film “The Audition.” She went on to headline the closing night of the BBC Proms and famously waved the Pride flag celebrating the LGBT+ community. She has won the Beverly Sills Award as well as the Richard Tucker Award and the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

She is a volunteer with Turn The Spotlight, an organization working to identify, nurture, and empower leaders among women and people of color. She is also a big presence on social media where she converses about body positivity, diet culture, social justice issues, and LGBTQ+ rights. She is also a big advocate of women composers and modern American composers. She recently recorded her first album for Pentatone.

Iain Bell

English Composer Iain Bell is one of today’s prolific composers for voice. To date, Bell has composed five operas with his first “A Harlot’s Progress” premiering in 2013 at the Theater an der Wien. His second opera “Christmas Carol” premiered at the Houston Grand Opera while his third “In Parenthesis” made its world at the Welsh National Opera and was later performed at the Royal Opera House. His fourth opera “Jack the Ripper: the Women of Whitechapel” was performed at the English National Opera and his fifth “Stonewall” was commissioned by the New York City Opera.

“Stonewall” commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and was the first opera with a role created for a transgender singer. He has also written variously orchestral and vocal works. His works have been performed by international opera singers such as Diana Damrau, Jay Hunter Morris, Liz Bouk, Adela Haria, and Natalya Romaniw. Bell is exclusively published by Chester Music Ltd, part of the WiseMusicClassical Group.

Paolo Bordogna

Known as one of the most important buffo bass-baritones of his generation, Paolo Bordogna has performed all over the world at the greatest theaters in the world including the Teatro alla Scala, Rossini Opera Festival, Royal Opera House, Opèra de Paris, Wiener Staatsoper, Teatro Real, Bayerische Staatsoper, and Houston Grand Opera, among others. He is a leading interpreter of the Bel Canto repertoire and has performed more than 50 roles. Bordogna has an expansive discography on Decca, Dynamic, Naxos, OpusArte, and Bongiovanni.

Mark Campbell

Librettist and lyricist Mark Campbell has become one of the most in-demand scribes in opera. He has written 36 opera librettos, seven musicals, and the text for five song cycles and two oratorios. He is also a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

For his operas, Campbell has collaborated with Kevin Puts, Laura Kaminsky, Mason Bates, Iain Bell, and Paul Moravec. Among his most acclaimed works are “As One,” “Silent Night,” and “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs,” which won a Grammy. His recent opera “Stonewall” made its world premiere at the New York City Opera and commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.

Campbell is also an advocate for contemporary American opera and serves as a mentor for future generations of writers with the American Opera Projects, American Lyric Theatre, and Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative.

Emmanuel Ceysson

French Harpist Emmanuel Ceysson is a winner of the USA international Harp Competition, the New York Young Concert Artists Auditions, and the ARD competition in Munich. He is a known recitalist who has performed in Carnegie Zankel Hall, Wigmore Hall, Salle Gaveau, and soloist with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, Deutsche Symphonie Orchester, RAI Orchestra Torino, and Orchestre National de Lyon, among others.

He has held the position of principal harpist at the Opéra National de Paris and then at the Metropolitan Opera. He is slated to take the position with the LA Philharmonic during the 2020-21 season. Ceysson is recognized as the first Metropolitan Opera orchestra player to be featured on the front cover of OPERA NEWS and is an avid recording artist. Outside his performing schedule, he teaches master classes and teaches at the Helsinki Sibelius Academy, and the Mannes School of Music.

Anthony Roth Costanzo

Anthony Roth Costanzo is one of the most dynamic singers in the world. He has revolutionized the repertoire for the countertenor, working beyond baroque operas to incorporated modern and rarely performed works. He has also experimented with the art form with his Handel and Glass project and has led several important productions of Philip Glass’ music. Costanzo is a Grammy nominee and an Indie Spiti Award nominee as he began his career as an actor and starred in “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries.” He also starred on Broadway’s “A Christmas Carol.” He is also a big LGBT advocate who participated in the Pride Parade in 2019 and has participated in several LGBT themed Pride concerts.

Michael Fabiano

Michal Fabiano is one of the biggest opera stars of today, singing all over the world in operas by Verdi, Donizetti, and others. He has performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Teatro Real, among others. He recently signed an exclusive contract with Pentatone and release his debut album, which was dedicated to Verdi.

He is a big promoter of the arts and his foundation ArtSmart helps the underserved youth obtain free music lessons. Outside of his musical contributions, Fabiano is an avid pilot.

Jake Heggie

Jake Heggie is one of the most prolific composers of the 21st century with many of his works becoming fixtures of the standard repertory. His first opera “Dead Man Walking” made its world premiere at the San Francisco Opera and has since been presented in major companies like Atlanta Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Semperoper Dresden, Theater an der Wien, and the Teatro Real among others. It is set to make its Metropolitan Opera debut during the 2020-21 season.

His subsequent works have included “Great Scott,” which had its world premiere at the Dallas Opera and “Moby Dick” which had its world premiere at the Dallas Opera and has since been shown at the LA Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Washington National Opera. He has also written “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Again,” “The End of the Affair,” “Three Decembers,” and “Another Sunrise,” among others. Heggie also frequently collaborates with Susan Graham, Frederica Von Stade, and Joyce DiDonato.

Jennifer Higdon

A professor at Curtis Institute, Jennifer Higdon has written works for such acclaimed artists as baritone Thomas Hampson, pianists Yuja Wang and Gary Graffman, violinists Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Jennifer Koh, and Hilary Hahn.

She has worked with The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Chicago Symphony, The Cleveland Orchestra, The Minnesota Orchestra, and The Pittsburgh Symphony, among others. Her first opera “Cold Mountain” had its world premiere at the Santa Fe Opera starring Isabel Leonard and Nathan Gunn and had subsequent performances in North Carolina and Philadelphia. It was also nominated for a Grammy award. Higdon is a two-time Grammy award winner and is set to premiere her next operas at Opera Philadelphia and the Metropolitan Opera.

John Holiday

Countertenor John Holiday has quickly established himself as a fast-rising singer to watch. Holiday has performed with the LA Opera, Washington National Opera, Spoleto Festival, Wolf Trap Opera, and Portland Opera, among others. He is a winner of the Marian Anderson Vocal Award, the Richard Tucker Foundation Sara Tucker award, the Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition, and third place winner in the OPERALIA competition.

Recently he participated in the world premiere of Matthew Aucoin’s “Eurydice,” garnering rave reviews. Holiday is also known for performing Jazz and Gospel music and is an outspoken voice and advocate of the LGBT community.

Zachary James

Born in Rhode Island, Zachary James has created one of the most diverse performance careers, having begun performing on Broadway. He created the role of Lurch in the Original Broadway Cast of “The Addams Family,” and Thomas Hassinger in the Original Broadway Revival Cast of “South Pacific” at Lincoln Center, among others.

He made his operatic debut in the role of Abraham Lincoln in the world premiere of Philip Glass’s opera “The Perfect American” at the Teatro Real in Madrid and has also been part of several world premieres including “Breaking the Waves.” James is an advocate of modern opera and has performed at the English National Opera, Metropolitan Opera, Opera Philadelphia, LA Opera, and New York Philharmonic. He is an Opera America Ambassador and a big advocate for the LGBT community. 

Lucia Lucas

Lucia Lucas, the most recognized transgender opera singer, recently broke the glass ceiling in the United States by becoming the first trans woman to perform a principal role on the operatic stage.

She made her U.S. debut at the Tulsa Opera singing the title role of “Don Giovanni.” To date, the baritone has performed at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe as an ensemble member as well as the Teatro Regio di Torino and Lyric Oper Dublin.

She will also make her Metropolitan Opera debut becoming one of the first transgender singers to perform at the legendary theater. “Lucia’s Voice,”a a documentary about her life, was recently filmed.

Outside of her mainstage roles in the operatic world, Lucas has performed for many different venues and festivals such as specialty art festivals, queer venues, and one-woman shows. She is also an advocate for the transgender community.

Laura Kaminsky 

New York Composer Laura Kaminsky is best known for her chamber opera “As One,” which has the distinction of being the most performed contemporary work. Since its 2014 world premiere at BAM, the work has been performed by the New York City Opera, Alamo City Opera, Seattle Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Eugene Opera, San Diego Opera, Cincinnati Opera, and the National Opera Center, among others.

She is the Composer Mentor for Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative and head of composition at the Conservatory of Music Purchase College/SUNY.  Kaminsky serves on the boards of Opera America and the Hermitage Artist Retreat and is a big activist who has composed works addressing climate change/environmental sustainability, AIDS, genocide, the perversion of democracy, and much more.

During the height of the AIDS pandemic, Kaminsky ran a series of concerts called Positive Music. After being led into war-torn/devastated Vukovar, Croatia under Human Rights Watch protection, Kaminsky composed my Vukovar Trio. The composer also lived in West Africa and Eastern Europe, where cross-cultural musical projects helped bring people together across social/political divides.

Kangmin Justin Kim

The Korean-American countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim made his operatic debut in 2013 and has since built an international career performing at the Opéra de Montpellier, Opéra Comique, Salzburg Festival, Edinburgh Festival, and Teatro la Fenice.

During his Royal Opera House debut, Kim made history by becoming the first countertenor to perform the role of Cherubino in “Le nozze di Figaro” at the legendary house. Since then he has debuted at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin and the Theater an der Wien.

He has also built a huge following on social media and in 2011, he also took the Internet by storm when he posted a video on YouTube as his alter ego Kimchilia Bartoli performing “Agitata da due venti.” He has since performed as his alter ego on numerous occasions.

Christopher Koelsch

Christopher Koelsch began his career at the Spoleto Festival USA and at the Opera Pacific. In 1997 he began his LA Opera career and was named the Sebastian Paul and Marybelle Musco President and Chief Executive Officer of the company in 2012. As one of the most influential administrators in the business, he has overseen the creation of more than 40 new productions, including six world premieres and has served as executive producer for 10 television recordings for LA Opera, including “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny,” which won two Grammy Awards, along with two live simulcasts, and two audio-only recordings, including “The Ghosts of Versailles,” which won two Grammy Awards.

Andrea Mastroni

Andrea Mastroni is one of the most sought-after basses in the world. He is best known for his Sparafucile in “Rigoletto” and for his work in baroque music. He has performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Teatro Real de Madrid, Opernhaus Zurich, Bayerische Staatsoper, and Teatro Massimo di Palermo. He has recorded for Deutsche Grammophon, Delos, and Musica Viva Records. He has also made a number of music videos and is well known for his glamourous style.

David McVicar

David McVicar is one of the biggest directors in opera and remains one of the few working in the industry that dedicates himself solely to the art form. McVicar has directed around the world at every major opera theater including the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House, Wiener Staatsoper, Gran Teatre del Liceu, and Glyndebourne. He was knighted in the 2012 Queen’s Birthday honors list for Services to Opera and has also been nominated for the Outstanding Achievement in Opera Olivier Award.

Nico Muly

Muhly is one of the most influential composers of his generation. The composer has transcended into the mainstream composing for such popular shows as “Mozart in the Jungle” and the Academy Award-winning film “The Reader.” He has also composed for award-winning films “Margaret” and “Kill your Darlings.”

Throughout his career, he has composed three operas. His first was “Dark Sisters” and in 2011 he made “Two Boys,” which contained LGBT themes and was showcased at the English National Opera and Metropolitan Opera. His most recent opera “Marnie” made its world premiere at the English National Opera and was then brought to the Metropolitan Opera where it was broadcast worldwide through the Met’s Live in HD series.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Yannick Nézet-Séguin is one of the most sought after conductors of his generation. Not only is he the Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera, but he leads the Philadelphia Orchestra and was named the Music Director “for life” of the Orchestre Metropolitan de Montreal. He is also an Honorary Conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra after being their Music Director from 2008 to 2018 and is also an Honorary Member of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

He is also an accomplished pianist, has a distinguished discography, and an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. He is also a two time Grammy Nominee and the first Openly-Gay Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera.

Francesco Micheli

Francesco Micheli is an acclaimed director and artistic director. He is currently the artistic director of the Fondazione Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo, where he is carrying out deep analysis and rediscovery of the role of Donizetti and his operas. His Donizetti Festival has been awarded top prizes around the world and received international acclaim.

He has also served as the artistic director of the Macerata Opera Festival and brought the organization back to its original international prestige. He has created, authored and presented TV programs about opera for Sky Classica and Sky Arte and has hosted a weekly program on Rai 1.

As a stage director, he has helmed works at the Teatro la Fenice, the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, and the Teatro Comunale in Bologna.

Nicholas Phan 

Nicholas Phan is one of the most recognized recitalists in the world. He has performed the Houston Grand Opera, Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Seattle Opera, Maggio Musical Fiorentino, and Glyndebourne Opera, among others. He has also recorded several albums for Avie Records and is in demand for his work in Britten, Handel, and Schubert.

He has been an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community and was interviewed in HuffPost noting the importance of being out in the performing arts, even shared his coming out story. Phan is a co-founder of the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago and has served as guest curator for projects with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Laguna Beach Music Festival, and San Francisco Performances. He is also served as a faculty member of DePaul University School of Music and runs a blog Grecchinois.

Tobias Picker

Tobias Picker is a recognized composer, who is currently the artistic director of the Tulsa Opera. He has written several orchestral works and vocal song cycles that have been performed all over the world.

He has also written five acclaimed operas. His first came in 1995, “Emmeline,” which was commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera and was subsequently broadcast nationally on the PBS Great Performances series. His second opera “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” has its world premiere at the LA Opera and was later turned into a chamber opera premiering at Opera Holland. The third opera “Thérèse Raquin” went on to be performed at The Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, the Royal Opera House, and the Opéra de Montréal.

His fourth opera, “An American Tragedy,” world premiered at the Metropolitan Opera while his fifth work, “Dolores Claiborne” had its world premiere at the San Francisco Opera in 2013.

Outside his work in opera, he is involved in mentoring programs for children with Tourette’s. He appeared in a BBC Horizon television documentary, titled “Mad But Glad,” about the link between Tourette’s syndrome and creativity.

Adrianne Pieczonka

Adrianne Pieczonka is considered one of the great dramatic sopranos of our time. Having performed all over the world, she has dominated such roles as “Tosca,” “Fidelio,” Sieglinde in “Die Walkure” and Chrysthotemis in “Elektra.” Pieczonka has performed every great theater in the world including the Metropolitan Opera, the Wiener Staatsoper, Royal Opera House, Teatro Real de Madrid, Teatro alla Scala, and Salzburg Festival, among others.

She is widely considered a Canadian national treasure, who has received such awards as Officer of the Order of Canada, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and Kammersängerin by the Austrian government.

Pieczaonka is also an acclaimed recitalist and was recently appointed Chair in Voice at the Glenn Gould School, Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

Patricia Racette 

Legendary soprano Patricia Racette arguably paved the way for young opera singers when she came out in 2002 in an OPERA NEWS cover story. For the June 2002 issue, she requested that the magazine include her public coming-out statement and noted that her sexuality and her long-term relationship with Beth Clayton was a very important part of who she is as an artist.

She was also featured in the Lesbian News and The Advocate. Racette has been a huge advocate and was even featured in a campaign for “It Gets Better.”

Racette has performed at every major opera house in the world including the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Royal Opera House, Teatro Liceu, Teatro Real, and Bayerische Staatsoper and has been featured on the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series on numerous occasions.

She is also a stage director and gives Master Classes at the Juilliard School, San Francisco Opera, The San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and The Santa Fe Opera, among others.

Ira Siff 

Ira Siff is a recognized voice teacher, director, and commentator who founded La Gran Scena Opera Co. di New York, an internationally acclaimed travesty troupe that went on to perform internationally in Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, The Edinburgh Festival, the Munich Festival, Gran Teatre del Liceu and Wexford Festival Opera, among others. As a voice teacher, he has worked in New York, Italy, Israel, Holland, and China.

He has given masterclasses at the Met Opera Guild and was on the faculty of the Renata Scotto Vocal Academy. He has also directed several operas at the Sarasota Opera, Carnegie Hall,  Canterbury Opera, and the Tanglewood Music Center.

He writes for OPERA NEWS and is a commentator for the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday Matinee broadcasts.

Russell Thomas

Russell Thomas is a leading tenor in the world in demand for his interpretations in the Verdi repertoire. He is one of the most important “Otellos” of his generation and has appeared at the Royal Opera House, Metropolitan Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Seattle Opera, Canadian Opera Company, and San Francisco Opera, among others. He is also known for his diverse repertoire, which also includes the works of Bellini, Mozart, Berg, Bizet, and Puccini.

Thomas is an outspoken voice for the black community and diversity on his social media accounts and has written several articles. In a recent OPERA NEWS Cover story he noted, “I believe that people who aren’t open about who they are don’t share as much, emotionally, onstage as the people who own who they are. Singing has always been therapeutic for me. It helps me to be free. If I were closed off about who I was, I don’t know if I would be able to do that.”

Howard Watkins 

Howard Watkins has served as the assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera for more than 20 years and has performed in numerous recitals and concerts throughout North and South America, Europe, Russia, Israel, and the Far East with such luminaries as Kathleen Battle, Grace Bumbry, Mariusz Kwiecien, Michelle DeYoung, Natalie Dessay, Diana Damrau, Anna Netrebko, and Rolando Villazón.

He has also performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Spivey Hall, Kennedy Center, the Pierpont Morgan Library, and Alice Tully Hall and has appeared with the MET Chamber Ensemble in Weill and Zankel Hall.

Watkins has also has served on the faculty of the Tanglewood Music Center and he has taught at the Aspen Music Festival and School, Meadowmount School of Music, North Carolina School of the Arts, International Vocal Arts Institute in Tel Aviv, and International Institute of Vocal Arts in Italy. He is also on the faculty of the Juilliard School as a music coach.

Francesca Zambello

Francesca Zambello is a recognized director of opera and theater who is the General Director of The Glimmerglass Festival and the Artistic Director of The Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center. She has also served as the Artistic Advisor to the San Francisco Opera and Artistic Director of the Skylight Theater. She has also directed at the Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera, Metropolitan Opera, Teatro la Fenice, Royal Opera House, and Opera Australia, among others.

She was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government for her contribution to French culture and the Russian Federation’s Medal for Service to Culture. She also received the San Francisco Opera’s Medallion of Honor, three Olivier Awards and two Evening Standard Awards, among other honors.


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