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Dynamic Duo

Arts & Entertainment9412005-06-212005-06-06

Dynamic Duo

Patricia Racette and Beth Clayton celebrate their wedding and sing out for pride at Lincoln Center

Patricia Racette and Beth Clayton celebrate their wedding and sing out for pride at Lincoln Center

By Dave White

When soprano opera star Patricia Racette and her partner of eight years, mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton, take Lincoln Center's Rose Hall stage on June 23 to perform a duet for the Charles Busch-hosted gay pride event True Colors, they'll be singing the most lesbian-identified piece of opera ever: the "Flower Duet" from Delibes's Lakme. The piece, written for two female voices, most famously underscored the seduction scene between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon in The Hunger. It also popped up in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and the lesbian-themed I've Heard the Mermaids Singing. "We were going to sing [Mame's] 'Bosom Buddies' instead, but then we thought it might be too trashy," jokes Racette.

But how does one convince two opera divas from the same household to perform together in the first place? "It wasn't a hard decision," says Clayton. "This year happens to be a very personal time for us because we're having a commitment ceremony on June 18, so when this came up it was serendipitous. Some jobs had shifted and the time became free, so it was an easy yes. It also happens to be Pat's 40th birthday, which is fabulous. So we had all these great reasons to celebrate and to make a statement. And we love Charles Busch."

The opera world has always welcomed lesbians and gay men (although it hasn't always made it easy for stars to be publicly out). Racette and Clayton have never been personally or professionally closeted and still enjoy flourishing careers. Clayton recently appeared in the Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of William Bolcom's A Wedding, directed by Robert Altman. As for Racette, she just wrapped up a starring role in the Houston Grand Opera's production of Falstaff, "where about 50% of the cast [was] gay. That was unusual, but fun," and is currently booked for the next few years. The pair's official coming-out in print, though, happened when Racette was profiled in a cover story of a 2002 issue of Opera News, a story written by Busch's partner, Eric Myers, and in which Clayton participated as well. "Frankly, we get spoiled by it," says Clayton. "We're in an environment that's very supportive of our sexual orientation--celebratory even. It may shock some patrons in regional houses, but even that's changing. I can't feel any negativity. We're both committed to being singing actresses onstage, so you'd never hear someone come to a performance and say, 'Oh, my gosh, that's not believable to see, Patricia Racette onstage with a man.' It's quite the opposite. That's part of our craft."

"There's an implied tolerance we've come to expect," adds Racette. "As for fans, I can't count the number of times that people have approached me after a performance and said, 'Thank you for coming out.' That is really so important to me."

That comfort level extends to the couple's playful rapport together--their conversation is peppered by jokes about their unfunky opera-friendly long hair and how having similar vocal repertoires would doom their relationship. It also informs their connection to their families, who will be in attendance at their commitment ceremony in Santa Fe, N.M. "It's incredibly special for us because our families, individually, have never met over the eight years we've been together. Not for any bad reason, but because it's just been impossible to get them in the same place at the same time," explains Racette. "So we're overjoyed. We have really supportive families. We're close to them."

The only problem? What to wear to the wedding. "Because of what we do for a living, we didn't want to wear dresses," says Clayton. Adds Racette, laughing: "We're going in our finest flannel."

White writes about film for E! Online.


Patricia Racette
Beth Clayton
Lincoln Center
Charles Busch

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