The Blind Opera Singer Who More Should Hear

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com January 16 2013 4:00 AM ET

The mezzo-soprano, says opera singer Laurie Rubin, is “the soprano with balls.” She giggles as she explains that mezzo-sopranos like her don’t get to play the pretty young girl or even the damsel in distress with the “juicy, sad arias that make you cry.” Instead, the mezzos are cast in opera’s more unconventional roles: the old lady, the pageboy, the so-called pants roles. But Rubin, a blind Jewish lesbian opera singer, says that kind of typecasting just makes her line of work all the more interesting.

Rubin, 34, who has been blind since birth, lets that optimistic outlook shine through in her new memoir, Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight — and it radiates through the phone from her home in Honolulu, where she and her partner, Jenny Taira, run Ohana Arts, a performing arts camp for musically gifted children.

She developed a love of music in childhood via some rather disparate sources: Kenny Loggins and her grandparents’ favorite operas. Her parents pushed to assure that she excelled academically, became independent, and pursued her musical passions. This led to a residency at the esteemed Tanglewood program for musically gifted students in Massachusetts, a bachelor’s degree at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, and a master’s degree at Yale University School of Music. At Yale she met Taira, an accomplished clarinetist and pianist.

In addition to her 2012 album, also titled Do You Dream in Color? as well as her performances in Rossini’s La Cenerentola in 2011 and as Penelope in Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses in 2008, Rubin has excelled in avant-garde roles. These include her 2007 performance of Karen, the abused girl who finds delusional refuge with her pet rats in Gordon Beeferman’s Rat Land. Rubin has also performed solos at London’s Wigmore Hall and at Carnegie Hall.

Many things don’t come easily for Rubin. But even though she has faced discriminatory casting directors and was made an outcast throughout adolescence by her peers, Rubin’s fans say her positive outlook and willingness to tackle new things (cooking, navigating New York City, and designing her own line of jewelry chief among them) offer inspiration for others to persevere through tough situations. “If it were easy,” she says, “it would be boring.”