Meet opera couple Patricia Racette and Beth Clayton

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 Racetteplays 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 otherPatricia 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 otherRacette 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 Musichere.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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