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Behind the Scenes of Cincinnati's Gay Opera

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When it comes to an opera dedicated to a male love story, Fellow Travelers is one of the first. But just because it’s a “gay opera” doesn’t mean it isn’t for all audiences. Composed by Gregory Spears and librettist Greg Pierce, Fellow Travelers hopes to carve a new, welcome space within the treasured art form.

Based on the novel by Thomas Mallon, Fellow Travelers tells the story of a young aspiring journalist, Timothy Laughlin (Aaron Blake), and a handsome, profligate State Department official, Hawkins Fuller (Joseph Lattanzi). The characters are brought together by a chance encounter, which soon leads to a love affair. Themes of politics, religion, and same-sex relations are examined before a stunning act of betrayal occurs.

Blake has been described as “a vocal powerhouse” by the Los Angeles Times and Lattanzi has been praised by Opera News for bringing a “fresh, bright baritone voice” to the stage. We were able to sit down with both performers to learn more about the production.

Out: Describe Fellow Travelers using five descriptive words. Don’t say gay!

Joseph Lattanzi: Innovative, relatable, seductive, mesmerizing, and devastating.

Aaron Blake: Dynamic, provocative, compelling, tragic, and progressive.

But really, how gay is it?

JL: It’s pretty gay, but also very human, and I think everyone has either felt one side of this relationship at one point or another. And…there is also a gay sex scene—tastefully done. Or at least I hope it’s tasteful.

AB: It’s wonderful in the fact that it contains gay subject matter, but it’s not just about being gay—it’s a love story. I think people will look beyond the gay factor and instead their focus will be on how real the emotions between the two characters are.

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Photo of Aaron Blake (L) & Joseph Lattanzi (R) by Andrew David

Why would a straight, non-opera fanatic enjoy Fellow Travelers?

JL: I think it’s an intriguing story about gay history that isn’t told a lot. We get AIDS in the 80s and lots of contemporary stories, but we don’t get a lot from this particular era. You really don’t need to know a lot about opera to get it—it’s not challenging, and the venue is intimate and also, it’s in English and has a backdrop most are familiar with.

AB: I can definitely see how it could attract a wider audience with the political references as well as the gay aspect. A mature younger audience would also enjoy it—the next generation of opera patrons.

The production is debuting in Cincinnati. What are your thoughts about the city and how gay-friendly it is?

JL: I went to school there for five years and I love it! The gay community is wonderful and the opera even has a pride night. It’s a liberal city surrounded by non-liberal suburbia, and the revitalization of the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood downtown is adding great value to the community as well.

AB: This will be my fourth opera with Cincinnati Opera and I’ve watched it change over the past four years immensely. What I love about the city is that the people are so passionate about the artists that they bring to it, and during the summer, when it’s their opera season, things just come to life.

What's the team like behind Fellow Travelers?

JL: The majority of everyone involved here is gay—the director, composer, librettist, producers, two main characters, etc., so really it's something special. A lot of the times you step into these roles and you can be anyone, but with this, I felt like an artist and it’s one of my most fulfilling roles.

AB: I’d hope that audiences come with an open mind and that they take the time to digest the subject matter and what it means to them, and that it reminds them of something they’ve overcome. I’d love to see the production have a life after its opening because it contains a message that is worth being heard by as many people who can hear it.

Cincinnati Opera’s performances of Fellow Travelers will take place in June and July. For a full list of dates and trickets click here. 

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