Patricia Racette may be known as one of the American opera world’s finest sopranos, but she insists she’s felt like a crossover artist for the bulk of her career.
“I like to say I happened into opera,” she told The Huffington Post in an interview. “Or sometimes I say I was hijacked into it. Don’t get me wrong -- I love it. I wouldn’t backtrack on it at all, but it was absolutely nothing I had planned. Opera found me.”
Instead, Racette says she’d long dreamed of a life singing jazz and torch standards, the type of which can be found on her new album, “Diva On Detour.” Starting on March 26, Racette will showcase the “opera-free” set, which features songs made famous by the likes of Edith Piaf and Judy Garland, at New York’s 54 Below nightspot, where she’s booked for five performances.
Conveniently, Racette’s 54 Below shows are bookended by two opera engagements -- “To be able to do both is an embarrassment of riches,” she added -- but she nonetheless hopes her work helps extend the perception of opera as a stuffy or elitist art form, defining herself as a "singing actress" rather than "opera singer." Insisting that opera "is more accessible" than some think, she added, "There's a grandeur to it for sure, but there's no other art form that [comprises] so many fine art disciplines."
Of course, Racette has never been one to play it safe personally or professionally. In 2002, she came out as a lesbian on the cover of Opera News; three years later, she tied the knot with fellow opera singer Beth Clayton, whom she met in 1997, in New Mexico, where they now reside.
As to the impact her coming out has had on her career, Racette acknowledged the limited number of female opera performers who are openly gay, but then shrugged.
“I’m not really able to ascertain either way if it’s been a positive or negative thing [for my career], but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said. “As an artist, I pride myself on delivering an honest interpretation, something that will reach you because of its honesty and its truth -– whether that’s in a song or on the operatic stage. I couldn’t do that artistically if I’m hiding behind who I really am.”
When the conversation dips into politics, Racette reveals that a recent opera stint in Washington, D.C. has made her extra hopeful for the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearings on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Prop 8. In addition, Racette says she and Clayton hope to take advantage of Santa Fe Mayor David Coss’ recent, if legally ambiguous, declaration that same-sex couples have the right to wed in New Mexico once they return home after her 54 Below stint.
“I can’t imagine being ashamed of the biggest blessings in my life, which are who I am and who I am married to,” she noted.
So how is Racette able to incorporate her personal life into her “Diva On Detour” show, which features songs like "The Man That Got Away,” which has become a gay favorite despite its undeniably heterosexual perspective?
“Oh, I’ve got a few homo moments in the show, not to worry,” she quipped. “This is an evening with Patricia Racette, after all.”
Patricia Racette's "Diva On Detour" plays New York's 54 Below from March 26 though March 30. For more information, click here.