Queen of the Night Misbehaves
What if the Queen of the Night told us what she really thinks?
After 8 times playing the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute, soprano Teiya Kasahara was fed up with the two-dimensional nature of the role. She struggles with the lack of complexity of most female characters in traditional opera: they are either good and girly or strong and evil, and they live in a sexually binary world. Participating in Buddies in Bad Times Emerging Artists Unit in 2016, Teiya seized the opportunity to develop the backstory of Mozart’s Queen and to tell some truths about the stereotyping of women in opera. Within minutes of the familiar opening bars, her Queen starts to riotously misbehave. Using both the Mozart score and drawing on the music of other familiar soprano arias, blended with spoken word in a slam poetry style, she delivers a stinging, at times hilarious, and spot-on critique of the gender oppression, racial bias, and ridiculous tropes of conventional opera.
As a gay woman and a racially-mixed artist in opera, Teiya has experienced overt and subtle discrimination. “There is an expectation that female singers will look, dress and act ‘diva-ish’, and although I am a professional actor and feel comfortable playing any part, the (usually male) artistic director leading the audition is definitely often prejudiced by my off-stage persona to believe I am not a ‘fit’ for the role before I even audition”. She sees the lack of female leaders in opera management and stage directing as a definite problem affecting the representation of equity on the stage. Because of the culture of opera and the narrowness of traditional roles, Teiya has often felt a dissonance between her love of opera, her musical studies and her identity: “It’s sometimes been hard to embrace both at the same time.” Queer of the Night is one of her ways of speaking up.
What has to change in opera for it to be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ people and racialized people? Teiya cites theatre as a leader in breaking down gender and racial stereotypes and advocates for opera following the lead in casting roles in traditional opera. She also sees hope in companies like Tapestry that are developing new opera, and suggests that there are many important new stories affecting the LGBTQ+ community that could inspire an opera, for example the recent disappearances of men in Toronto’s gay village, later found to be the work of a serial killer. She believes that when people see their own stories on the opera stage and see people that look like themselves on the opera stage, they will stop viewing opera as a tired, museum art form for the privileged and instead see it as a living, evolving, vibrant part of the Canadian Arts.
Queer of the Night runs June 7 at 9 pm and June 9 at 4 pm in the Ernest Balmer Studio, 315-9 Trinity Street in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District. Tickets at: https://tapestryopera.yapsody.com