Courtesy of Clayton and Racette

Beth Clayton and Patricia Racette

In a stunning piece of casting, internationally acclaimed soprano and 30-year opera veteran, Patricia Racette plays Desirée Armfeldt in Arizona Opera’s production of a Little Night Music, and even better, Racette will be performing alongside her wife, mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton (in the role of Charlotte Malcolm).

Racette came out as gay in print on the cover of Opera News in 2002—in what was a landmark coming out for the opera community. The Los Angeles Times called Racette “the most fearless woman in opera.” She and Clayton met in 1997 and were married for the first time in 2005. When New Mexico (where the couple live with their beloved pooch, Zoe) legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, they tied the knot again—and again after the 2015 Supreme Court ruling.

In addition to being a talented operatic singer Clayton also has a Master of Arts degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She currently combines her performance experience with the platform of total mental well-being in a private practice geared towards the specific needs of performing artists but also those in the LGBTQ community and beyond.

Two women in dresses facing each other Patricia Racette (left) and her wife Beth Clayton (right)Tim Trumble

Racette and Clayton caught up with OUTvoices ahead of their upcoming roles in A Little Night Music.

Your casting in these roles is delightful. And of course for those in the know there is an added layer of meaning now. But how are you each approaching your characters and what does it feel like to live, love and be on the same stage together?

Racette: We think so, too, and are so pleased that Arizona Opera was into the idea! Our two particular characters are, shall we say, not fond of one another! Desiree is having an affair with Charlotte's (Beth's) husband, and Charlotte is painfully aware of it. There are a couple of on-stage moments when Charlotte and Desiree exchange 'zingers' at one another, which is great fun to play! Because of the nature of each of our repertories, we did not have many opportunities to share the stage while both of us were actively singing. We did meet while singing La Traviata in Santa Fe, in which the plot took a twist when Violetta went home with Flora instead...! We also had the chance to sing Eugene Onegin in which we played sisters, Tatiana and Olga. Doing that opening duet in the Jonathan Miller production in Santa Fe, we faced upstage and held hands gazing into the Santa Fe desert skies. Those in the know got a particular kick out of our 'sisterly' relationship!

Clayton: For me, approaching Charlotte is both specific and general in that the goal is always to bring authenticity and life to the character. In this instance, Charlotte is quippy and wry and quick-witted, but she is also wounded and, in spite of herself, in love with her husband, Carl-Magnus. Her lines are incredibly dry, which allows such latitude in bringing the humor to the precipice without jumping over the cliff!

Racette: I approach this character as I have approached all my characters: my process is to always flesh out the person in the most authentic and viscerally connected way possible. That being said, playing a character who is in 'the twilight' of her career has a unique resonance! As I embrace this new chapter in my professional life in terms of my involvement in the profession and as I explore my evolving repertoire, I find particular resonance with Desiree.

Clayton and RacetteTim Trumble

Patricia, "Send In the Clowns" strikes me as a challenge if not for any other reason than it's a standard - Sinatra, Collins. But how are you going to do it?

Racette: I don't see it a challenge—I find it a privilege to infuse a song that has the capability of allowing the interpreter to express so much nuance and authentic connection to the text and to the context of that text within the scene. How am I going to do it? Come and see!

What is your history with Arizona the state—and with Arizona Opera?

Racette: This is my debut with Arizona Opera! I have a great affinity for General Director Joe Specter, and I have a long-standing musical relationship with Chris Cano. I think this company is really making its mark on the opera world, and I am happy to be a part of that trajectory!

Clayton: As for Arizona in general, we have a 'neighborly' relationship since we have called Santa Fe, NM home for over 20 years. We LOVE the desert! In terms of AZ Opera, I actually debuted here in 2010 singing the title role of Carmen, a role that I sang more than any other. Sadly, I found myself in a vocal challenge in that moment--most singers have these moments at one point or another. One of mine just happened to occur then. I share this because, as Frederick Egerman says to Desiree in A Little Night Music, "you might say my motives for coming here were...mixed."

I wanted to return here and 'come out' of my so-called singing retirement to: a) revisit a musical that was an early career highlight for me 25 years ago for a "Live from Lincoln Center" broadcast appearance; b) be on stage with my wife in a full production in a year that also marks our 25th anniversary; c) have a moment of 're-do' on these two AZ Opera stages; d) to have FUN doing this art form that is forever a part of me regardless of my newer path in the mental well-being world.

Two women embracing each other Racette and Clayton on their wedding dayCourtesy of Racette and Clayton

Married three times to each other and together 25 years. What is your secret!?

Racette: The secret? A lot of laughs, a ton of trust, and a love and respect that runs deeper than can be articulated.

Beth—the pandemic has been tough on everyone's mental health. But especially on LGBTQ folks and performers. What did you try to offer your clients during this time and what did you also discover about your own wellbeing?

Clayton: Tough—yes! And I wish the pandemic could be referred to in past tense, but we are definitely still dealing with it and its wake. One thing that I continue to remind clients (and myself) throughout this time is to remember that we possess such rich skillsets as performers beyond what our literal instrument might dictate--singers, for example, possess the ability to communicate, to memorize huge amounts of music and libretti, to speak other languages, to organize, to be disciplined in completing tasks. All of those skills have multifunctionality in life, even when we were prevented from doing our craft for live audiences.

In some ways creativity has been pushed to the forefront, and I cannot think of a more creativity-driven population than the LGBTQ+ community! We know adversity and we know resilience.

Get your tickets to A Little Night Music here.

Photo courtesy of Michael Feinstein.

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I think it’s fair to say we all want that #fitlife, especially with Spring around the corner — as well as Gaypril on the way. Whether it’s pool season yet or not, everyone would choose to look fit over not looking fit, if they could have it with a snap of their fingers. OK, the vast majority of us would.

If you’ve met me, or have been reading my articles, you know that I live, sleep, eat and breathe fitness; it’s my heart and soul. That being said, I’m here to tell you that the concept of “fitness” is oftentimes tragically misunderstood.

Before you get too aggressive with your goal for pool season, let’s dive a bit deeper into what fitness means on the inside versus what it looks like on the outside, and common misconceptions around this concept.

1. Beware of the cultural pitfalls and misleading information around fitness.

Most of the bodies you see in the media are probably not real, they just look very convincing. As a trainer who also moonlights as a photographer and Photoshop wizard, I’m telling you that it is incredibly easy to alter pictures in materially misleading ways. Once you know the tricks of the trade, the imposters are easily spotted. But that’s not what this is about.

The point is: to the untrained eye, it can be devastatingly defeating to see such impossible standards. It seems as though the cultural pressure to look a certain way, to look perfect, has spread all the way from runway models to fitness novices with the help of smartphone apps.

The truth is that we fitness models look that cut, and that lean for only a couple days at a time. That’s it! In many cases, months or even close to a year of training, dieting and programming all go into looking like that for ONE day. Let that sink in for a second. Day to day, I am less cut, less tan and much flatter muscularly than what you see in some of my pictures. That’s just the nature of the beast. So, when you have a bad day on the scale, in the mirror or in any other scenario, remember that we’re all human and that the most legitimate photos you’re comparing yourself against were from someone’s very best day. That should help to keep things in perspective.

2. Most people want the results, without actually doing the work.

Fitness is not six pack abs, it’s not superficial, it is not temporary and it’s not an isolated phase in your life. Further, fitness is not something you do for someone else, do to spite someone else or even to impress someone else.

Fitness is confidence, toughness, dedication, coordination, power, balance, speed, strength (both literally and figuratively) and persistence in the face of all obstacles. This includes control over your attitude, your mood, your sleep, your schedule, your diet and other aspects of your life. This means getting that workout in when you least feel like it.

It’s not easy, and it’s definitely a grind that has good and bad days. You must show up and keep working on the days you’re tired, stressed, rushed, defeated, doubtful, afraid and so on. The days you actually have to overcome something instead of just checking your workout off your to-do list are the days you have the greatest opportunity to really make progress, push your body and see the most improvement.

3. Fitness is really an internal mindset. The external physique is the fringe benefit.

I’ve said this time and time again, and it might sound strange coming from such an aesthetic-focused trainer, but you are not your body. Your body is a tool, it’s a means to an end, to express your internal mindset, belief system, discipline and dedication to your workout program. Your physique will come and go. Your strength will come and go. Your abilities will wax and wane depending on what you’re training for at the time.

The outside will, and should, be always changing, but the inside is what we’re really after here. Good trainers want to train you to believe in yourself when sh*t gets hard. We want to train you to be resilient in the face of injury, obstacles and other setbacks. We want you to set ambitious goals and shoot for the moon because you can get there with smart programming and relentless will (do yourself a favor and ditch the crash diets and the photo editing software).

So, as you make your spring preparations for swimsuit season, try focusing on developing a sterling, unshakeable internal character and the muscles will come along the way, this I promise you.

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