This past weekend, Opera Parallèle’s general and artistic director, Nicole Paiement, was in St. Louis attending the premiere of the revised version of Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie’s sprawling, epic opera Harvey Milk. Condensed and, according to composer Wallace, with hardly a measure left unrevised, it was co-commissioned by OP, but the scheduled premiere in San Francisco fell victim to COVID. (It will still make it here, with the performance dates yet to be announced.)
But other things fructified from the soil of the canceled production, and one of those will appear this weekend, when OP and the San Francisco Transgender District co-present “Expansive: A Showcase of Transgender and Agender Classical Artists.” The concert venue is PianoFight (144 Taylor St.) in the designated Transgender District, the only one of its kind in the U.S. Singing in the show will be soprano Breanna Sinclairé, baritone Rahzé Cheatham, and countertenor Reuben Zellman. The host will be producer/performer Afrika America.
It’s a project close to Paiement’s heart, as she messaged SFCV: “It is a privilege to deepen our relationship with the LGTBQ+ community by collaborating with the Transgender District in bringing emerging transgender or gender-expansive performers to the stage — giving these artists a platform to share both their talent and their stories.”
As OP Artistic & Community Manager Daniel Harvey explained, the roots of this showcase event come from panels/presentations that the company organized around Harvey Milk. Aria Sa’id, one of the cofounders (and now president and chief strategist) of the district, spoke on one of these lead-up events, and from there she and the company began to talk about further collaboration. At the time, OP was refocusing its ideas about community outreach to make their efforts more mutually beneficial.
Says Harvey, “Rather than us coming to a partner and saying, ‘We’re doing this thing; do you want to do it with us?’ we go to a partner and say, ‘How can we support your work?’ With the district, one of their goals is to increase and develop the arts and cultural programming. So we landed on this idea to bring together both of our worlds and create an opportunity and a platform for transgender and gender-nonconforming artists and showcase their work and artistry and do it in the district as well.”
Of course, the company’s forward planning includes more events and integration. Harvey says that “we do want this partnership with this community, and the LGBT community in a broader sense as well, to go beyond just community programs and be in all parts of the organization, both onstage and on the administration side.” And he stresses that the company envisages race and gender-blind casting as part of its mission, meaning that gender-nonconforming artists would not have to play only gender-nonconforming roles.
OP has put all of these partnership initiatives under the banner “Bullhorn.” “When we were planning for our production of the opera, we had done a lot of research to build out this programming around the opera,” says Harvey. “We were inspired by Harvey Milk in that he was a bullhorn for his community and for San Francisco. And this is what we want with our community programming: to bring in voices that are not often heard and use our platform to showcase them — to be a bullhorn for our community.”
NB: As originally published, this article reported that Nicole Paiement was conducting the St. Louis premiere of Harvey Milk. She was attending but not conducting. We apologize for the error.