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The Diva Is Out

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Patricia Racette talks about opera, her wife, and Mexican food

Patricia Racette

Famous soprano Patricia Racette will be back at Houston Grand Opera to debut her stage role as Floria in Puccini’s Tosca this month before heading off to sing at the Met, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Diego Opera, and Washington National Opera. And, oh yeah, some jazzy cabaret gigs, too.

Born and raised in New Hampshire, Racette arrived in Texas in the ’80s to study jazz at North Texas State University. When she was told her voice was more suited to opera than jazz, she wasn’t too thrilled.

“I didn’t even know what opera was,” she laughs. “I wanted to be a jazz singer.”

Luckily for opera buffs, she decided to give opera a go. Her first professional performance was in 1988 in Fort Worth, but it wasn’t long before she was at San Francisco Opera and then New York City Opera. Throughout the ’90s she rose to acclaim touring, recording, and wowing audiences, including those in Houston where she formed a bond with Patrick Summers, HGO music director, when performing in La Traviata in 1999 and later in Falstaff, Madame Butterfly, Cold Sassy Tree, and Mefistofele.

“It will be great to do my first Tosca with Patrick,” she says. Racette also says it will be great to be back in Houston for the first time since she last performed here in 2005. Although one thing is worrying her.

“Iím highly disturbed to hear the original Ninfa’s on Navigation was sold,” she says almost seriously. “I love the Mexican food.”

Besides being an incredible singer, it turns out that Racette is also quite a wit. And a very out lesbian who is married to another opera diva, mezzo soprano Beth Clayton, an HGO Studio alum. They met in Santa Fe during a production of La Traviata.

“It was a palpable attraction,” Racette remembers. “It was as though I had known her for 25 years. It was definitely the U-Haul lesbian thing. We’ve been together for 12 and a half years now, and I know she’s the one I was meant to be with.”

But it’s not always easy having two divas in the house, not because they bring their work home with them—Racette claims that they listen to “silence” at home and country music (Wynonna!) in the car—but the problem is that both are traveling so much.

“It’s great to be married to someone who understands your work,” she says, “but the transient nature of what we do is hard.”

It’s also hard on the couple’s apricot miniature poodle, Sappho, named for the famous Greek poet.

“Like me,” Racette says, “she prefers Beth, so she usually goes with Beth. But I miss them, we’re a little family.”

Racette will be solo in Houston this month but she’s excited by the role of Floria, a woman who isn’t an ingénue but a slightly older woman with, Racette says, a more complicated life. She’s also hoping to impart a true experience to her audience here.

“I want them to be transported somehow,” she says. “We find our own stories in what we see and hear. That’s why the arts are transformative.”

And Racette sings high praises for HGO, citing the Wortham Theater Center’s wonderful acoustics and the Houston opera-savvy public as reasons why she likes to perform here, among another one.

“HGO has such wonderful artistic productions,” Racette says, but adds with a laugh, “It’s mostly the restaurants I come for!

“Yeah, I’m a hoot! Are you going to write that?”
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Patricia Racette returns to Houston Grand Opera as Floria in Tosca, Jan. 22–Feb. 7. See houstongrandopera.org for ticket information and details.

Marene Gustin interviewed TUTS’ Roscoe “Rocky” Miller in the December issue of OutSmart magazine.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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