Last month, in the role of the escaped convict, Angelotti, in Puccini’s TuscanyLucia Lucas became the first openly trans singer to perform at the Met. Lucas was the first trans opera singer to come out, in 2014, and she has continued to perform traditional baritone roles in the years since. Lucas has the kind of rich, formidable, rumbling voice that the ears register like a force of nature: a hailstorm or an earthquake. Lucas is a Heldenbaritone, or a heroic baritone: a powerful, dramatic voice with a high register and a wide emotional range, usually associated with Wagner and with dark, masculine roles.
Lucas almost accidentally started singing while studying horn at CSU Sacramento. Curious about opera, she asked the school’s opera director to discuss it with her and insisted that she sing for him. After her offer was declined several times, the director finally gave in and when he heard her sing, he was so impressed that he asked her if she would like to take private voice instruction. After graduating, she chose singing because it was easiest for her. “I found I was good at it, decided I wanted to get better at it, and continued to focus my efforts,” Lucas told Observer.
Opera performances are often strongly prescribed. There is usually not much room for creative experimentation. Artists have to look and behave a certain way to get certain parts. In some cases, they have to fit into specific costumes. After coming out as transgender in 2014, the roles Lucas played and the way she played those roles didn’t change. These were characters, like Wotan in Wagners Siegfriedwhich she had built up over the years. She wouldn’t show up with a new version of a character for a performance that was already underway. She frames her transition to music directors as a personal change that would have no impact on her performance on stage.
Lucas was initially concerned about what playing male roles in operas would affect her emotionally after the transition. She didn’t know if she could perform at all. As it turned out, she had nothing to worry about. “It was such a relief to come out that I decided to act on stage is easy when you don’t have to act in real life,” Lucas told Observer. If anything, she now believes she’s a stronger performer for it. “Every time you share something about yourself, when you let people in, you become more open as an artist,” Lucas said. “I think anyone who is the most honest version of themselves will be able to make the best art they are capable of.”
Like all opera singers who perform at their best in traditional operatic roles, Lucas looks for small moments of openness in a score where a character can breathe figuratively. “I see characters as multidimensional,” Lucas told Observer. “And maybe the typical traits of male and female in character development are sort of a sliding scale, and not necessarily binary.” character can express vulnerability without breaking operatic conventions.
Lucas kept herself busy during the pandemic while locked up in Germany making music videos with her partner, the alto Ariana Lucas. Their video “Coffee, Gin and Murder”, partly filmed in Lucas’s own studio apartment in Karlsruhe, is a parody of Act 3, Scene I of Wagner’s Siegfried† In the video, Woton (played by Lucas) returns from a quarantine walk in mask and surgical gloves, and wakes a moody Erda, performed by Ariana Lucas, from his eternal slumber by making her an espresso. This video led to a commission for another opera music video, a mini opera, inspired by the tiger king Netflix series, composed, rehearsed and produced within a month. The video, “Exotic v. Baskin: The Micro Opera” The bizarre rivalry between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin turns into dramatic opera. Lines from the series are turned into a hilarious avant-garde duet: Lucia Lucas, in a mullet and horseshoe mustache, and Ariana Lucas, dressed as a tiger-obsessed flower child, sing: “I need you and you need me/ like a Prince Albert needs a meter / like bats in a rage.” The overall effect is zany and powerfully funny.
Lucia Lucas, based in Germany, was able to work steadily through the pandemic and plans to work as an opera singer for as long as possible. While there was no template for her when she first came out as trans in 2014, she now hopes that singers thinking of coming out will turn to her for advice. Her advice to singers concerned about the potential impact of transition on their operatic careers is to “discover where your voice is most authentic and where you can make the best sound.” For her it was being a baritone. Singing professionally, she repeats, is extremely hard work and takes years of training. “You could become a manager at Starbucks and earn more than most working opera singers. You can go another way to earn money and then do this for fun if you want. But if you want to do this professionally, you have to have a good sound.” to make.”
Switching and staying baritone worked for Lucas. “It’s about talent and voice and it’s not about identity,” she told Observer. “It’s not that people should get bonus points for their identity, it’s that they shouldn’t be taken away.”