March 31, 2023
Finding her voice
Baritone Lucia Lucas continues to blaze a new trail in her Lyric debut
This spring, acclaimed baritone Lucia Lucas made her Lyric debut in Caroline Shaw and Jocelyn Clarke's Four Portraits, one of the trio of operas that make up Proximity. Her presence in the cast of this world premiere commission is remarkable for a number of reasons. For one, returning to Chicago was a homecoming of sorts: the artist is an alumna of Roosevelt University.
For another, Lucas is the first transgender star to take a leading role on the Lyric stage. That’s consistent with her current focus on her mainstage operatic career, which recently has included exciting debuts on some of the world's biggest stages.
The title Four Portraits refers to the four different scenes in which the two central characters of the work — “A” (played by countertenor John Holiday) and “B” (played by Lucas) — appear. The music in the piece reflects and refracts humor, yearning, and frustration with the chaotic sounds of the city. Lucas explains that the language used in Four Portraits is so universal that everyone can relate to it, no matter what gender, voice part, or situation. “B” repeatedly faces loss and loneliness, which is something that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. “The challenge [with Four Portraits] is that it’s very minimalistic in certain points,” she says. “I had to make sure that the rhythm is super, super precise when I didn't have words that go with it, when it's sort of a melismatic thing. I had to look at different techniques for how to break that up.”
Lucas speaks highly of Proximity's director, Yuval Sharon, whom she worked with in 2013. “I love what he's done for the opera industry,” she says. “He's been making innovative theater, and he's had out-of-the-box ideas. And the really cool thing is when you have a company like Lyric that says, ‘We've seen your avant-garde work, and we want that on our main stage. We want to give you anything you need,’ I think that's fantastic.” Sharon wrote in his director’s note that “Four Portraits zooms into the smallest human social unit — a couple — alienated by but also connected through technology. There is a graceful ambiguity in the piece's depiction of a couple absent from each other — and potentially physically lost to each other.”
In her early days as an opera singer, Lucas says, she was “very inquisitive” about how other artists prepared for their roles. She discovered different techniques, including speaking through a role 25 times, followed by 25 times in rhythm, and a final 25 times with music. When she faced her first big challenge with unfamiliar music, Lucas found ways to learn and break down her roles, using tools like digital audio workstations to recreate the score and rehearse with the music coming from her iPad. Lucas's dedication to her craft is evident in her meticulous approach to her roles.
When it comes to large-scale productions like Proximity, Lucas enjoys having the resources of a prominent opera house, as it allows for more complex ideas to come to life. Currently based in Germany, Lucas hopes to continue taking on more challenging roles and to sing at big houses in Europe. “I'm very happy at the level where I am,” she says. “I would love to do some more Wagner and Verdi.” Still, Lucas is excited about the direction that the opera world is headed, with more and more new music being created. She believes that new music is "the answer to the opera's eternal question: How do we get new audiences?"
A major career milestone occurred in 2019 when she made her U.S. debut at Tulsa Opera singing the title role in Mozart's Don Giovanni. With it, she became the first known trans woman to sing a leading role on an American operatic stage. While she acknowledges that there was some hesitation from people when she first came out publicly in 2014, she ultimately decided that she "wanted to be in my career out longer than I wasn't.”
Even that recently, the world was a little different. “When I came out, people said, ‘Oh, so how do you do this? How does this work?’ And I said, well, nobody's done it before. There's no one for me to look to,” Lucas remembers. Even though “a little bit of lag period” followed in her professional life, she believed that as long as she stayed true to herself, her true fans would stick with her and appreciate her art. “The thing that keeps you in the business is you being you. It’s the best of both worlds when you are genuine and honest and people actually like you; then you don't have to do anything you don't want to. It's like the easiest thing is just telling the truth and then letting the chips fall where they fall.”
I want to push myself. I want to push the art that I can make. I want to go farther.
Proximity is a production that is sure to leave a lasting impression on audiences and inspire a new generation of artists to push the boundaries of what's possible in the world of opera. “I think that everybody is going to walk away [from Proximity] with a different experience,” says Lucas “I think that putting these pieces together makes it really special because it's getting people to reflect on how they interconnect.”
Don’t miss your opportunity to see the enchanting Lucia Lucas in this riveting new work, onstage through April 8.