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'They Know That I'm The Real Deal': Transgender Baritone Makes Opera History

Lucia Lucas, with cast mate Hidenori Inoue, in a dress rehearsal for the Tulsa Opera's 2019 <em>Don Giovanni</em> production.
Shane Bevel Photography
Tulsa Opera
Lucia Lucas, with cast mate Hidenori Inoue, in a dress rehearsal for the Tulsa Opera's 2019 Don Giovanni production.

This month in Tulsa, Okla., opera singer Lucia Lucas made her U.S. debut. She also made history.

At the Tulsa Opera, Lucas sang the title role in Mozart's Don Giovanni. Mozart's character is a ruthless, macho womanizer. Lucas is a transgender woman with a rich baritone voice and is the first known trans woman to sing a principal role on an American opera stage. In a conversation with NPR's Ari Shapiro, Lucas said she doesn't want her performances to be entirely defined by this historical marker.

"It's meaningful because any time something happens for the first time, it's meaningful," she says. "But it shouldn't be meaningful. Trans people shouldn't have a barrier to entry, except for just talent."

But in the beginning, Lucas says, she was fearful that living as a woman would jeopardize her ambitions in opera: "I was concerned that it would be too uncomfortable for me to present as a man onstage, to sing with my baritone voice onstage." Her discomfort took hold immediately after coming out, when she had to face a week of performances.

Lucia Lucas in <em>Don Giovanni</em>.
Shane Bevel Photography / Tulsa Opera
Tulsa Opera
Lucia Lucas in Don Giovanni.

"But instead of questioning these things and thinking about how it would psychologically affect me, I decided to just do it," she says. "And so I did the next week of performances and said, 'Oh, I can do this. This is fine. As long as I don't have to pretend offstage, I can pretend onstage.' "

As far as talent goes, Lucas is confident that her craft speaks for itself. She says she's unconcerned about being pigeonholed as a trans opera singer, as opposed to simply an opera singer: "When people hear me, they know that I'm the real deal."

Lucas spoke with All Things Considered about her experience; hear the full conversation at the audio link.

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Corrected: June 1, 2019 at 12:00 AM EDT
In the audio of this story, as well as in a previous Web version, we incorrectly say Lucia Lucas is the first known trans person to play a principal role in an opera on a U.S. stage. While she is the first known trans woman to do so, trans male opera singer Adrian Angelico performed in the U.S. in 2017.
Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Dave Blanchard