Meet Black opera performer and Phoenix resident Terrence Chin-Loy

What better way to celebrate Black History Month by enjoying some history in the making, this time in the traditionally white field of opera.

We caught up with Phoenix native and rising opera star Terrence Chin-Loy for a chat about his role in the upcoming production of A Little Night Music. The distinguished tenor and first generation Jamaican-American will play the part of Henrik Egerman.

Studio Spotlight & Scenes in the Wittcoff Concerts

Terrence, how did it feel to be cast as Henrik Egerman and are things starting to improve with more diverse casting in opera given that the canon is already so white?

Terrence: I still remember when I received my Resident Artist contract from Arizona Opera for the 21-22 season and I saw that instead of one of the Liebeslieders, which I expected to be cast as, I was cast as Henrik. I was very aware that shows like A Little Night Music are often cast with completely white casts, not because they necessarily need to be, but because they focus on familial relationships and it makes sense to most people.

Historically, musical theater has been much more adamant on sticking to what we would call typecasting, and part of that is race-based casting. It was so heartening when my boss, Chris Cano, told me that “...[the general director] and I just really hear this role in your voice.” I was very emotional when he said that because I think anyone of any race goes into opera because they want to sing. When we think of singing, we are thinking of the voice. It means a lot to me that in my time here at Arizona Opera, I have always felt that everyone around me considers the voice primarily, and therefore I’ve never really felt any limitations regarding what was possible for me. The idea that the opera canon is “white” is really a mindset. In most operas, and even in most musicals, there’s no real specification that a character must be white; it’s just often what we default to. I think as we as a society make more and more strides in diversity and inclusion, the arts as well as other institutions will continue to reflect those values.

Tim Trumble Photography

Congratulations on Fire Shut Up in My Bones. What do you think it will take for more Black stories to enter the canon - because there are more than plenty of true Black stories out there that remain untold. And do you ever feel like writing something yourself based on your own background?

Terrence: I think this is part of a larger question that opera is answering currently. Most new opera does not enter the canon; it’s performed once or a couple of times at co-producing theaters and then archived. Opera is a large-scale art form that takes a long time to create and eventually produce. I do think people in power are taking initiative to find and encourage these stories to be written, but it’s not an overnight fix. I think someone like Terence Blanchard is a great example, because he had not really written an opera before Champion, which he was encouraged to compose by an opera director.

A lot of composition initiatives that engage composers of color are already taking root, but opera is a specific idiom and these composers, often coming from other idioms, need support and time to become proficient in operatic storytelling. I think that’s where the opera companies come in as they have the power to work with composers from all backgrounds and see their visions become operatic reality. I don’t consider myself a composer, but outside of singing, I do quite a bit of writing. I am very interested in writing a libretto one day!

Yale Spotlight on Terrence Chin-Loy '

Tim Trumble Photography

What in the storyline and themes of A Little Night Music most resonates with you personally, and as an artist?

Terrence: A Little Night Music is so beautiful because the characters are complex. No one can be said to be doing the completely right or wrong thing, but rather we see each individual character as very human, which is to say idiosyncratic. Desire is a strong theme that runs through the piece. I really connect with my character Henrik because he is stuck between the desire to be morally upstanding and the desire to feel love and passion. I think even though Henrik is not queer, there’s a personal resonance there for anyone who has grown up not wanting to be gay because it felt “wrong.” No matter what our experience, we probably have all felt this tension between something that we felt we should do and the thing we actually want or need to do. Other characters in the show work through this same dilemma in their own ways, and what we see on stage that still makes this piece so relevant today is that sometimes being happy isn’t about what’s right and what’s wrong. I think A Little Night Music is about listening to your heart to find clarity.

How long have you lived in Phoenix and what do you like about it and the scene, the community, and culture?

Terrence: I have lived in Phoenix since August 2020, and this place and its people have really surprised me in the best way. Discovering my love for hiking has been one of the best things about living here. The American Southwest is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and getting to experience that in Phoenix and Arizona at large has been such a joy. I’m a Florida boy at heart, and having the sunshine as a mainstay of daily life has been a beautiful way of living to return to.

Get your tickets to A Little Night Musichere.

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