Composer discusses gay life, opera at speaker series

By Shane Donglasan

The LGBTQ experience has been significant to the history of opera since its beginnings. One of the earliest operas to explore the theme of queer love was Francesco Cavalli’s 1651 opera, “La Calisto.” In the last three decades, operas with queer-centric love narratives, such as Charles Wuorinen’s “Brokeback Mountain” and Paula M. Kimper’s “Patience and Sarah,” have proliferated.

Today, artists within the world opera are more eager than ever to tell stories that reflect the diversity of our lived experience.

Joseph Rubinstein speaks at a presentation called “LGBT Opera, Then and Now” in the Soo Bong Chae Auditorium.
Composer Joseph Rubinstein speaks at a presentation called “LGBT Opera, Then and Now” in the Soo Bong Chae Auditorium.

Composer Joseph N. Rubinstein and dramatist Jason Kim are in the midst of producing “Legendary,” an opera set in the New York City drag scene of the 1980s. The work was inspired by the story of Dorian Corey, a prominent subject of the 1990 documentary “Paris is Burning,” a film about drag ball culture in Harlem and the powerfully-bonded community of gay and trans people who created it.

Rubinstein and Kim are recipients of the Opera Genesis Fellowship, an award that has allowed them to work on their project through a residency at The Hermitage Artist Retreat in Englewood, Florida.

Rubinstein held a presentation called “LGBT Opera, Then and Now” in the Soo Bong Chae Auditorium as part of Hermitage North @ New College, a free series launched earlier this year that brings Hermitage artists to campus to showcase and discuss their work.

Rubinstein addressed the cultural relationship between the gay, male identity and opera.

“There’s sort of this anecdotal connection between gay people and opera,” Rubinstein said. “I think the reason for this link in the popular culture is a combination of opera’s history and the way that gay people relate to the art form.”

Rubinstein’s music has been presented at several venues, including the Fort Worth Opera Festival, the Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater and the Society for New Music.

In his operatic works, Rubinstein said he is interested in bringing characters to life onstage through engaging directly with their inner emotional life, much like an actor might.

Once finished, “Legendary” will be produced as an intimate chamber piece with five singers and fewer than 15 orchestral players.

“It’s not a grand opera,” Rubinstein said. “Artistically, the spirit of ‘Legendary’ is intimate and asks for intimate orchestration and setting … we look forward to getting it into production.”

– Shane Donglasan is the marketing writer/project coordinator at New College of Florida.


Located in Sarasota, New College of Florida has educated intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement since its founding in 1960. As the State of Florida’s designated honors college, New College provides an exceptional education that transforms students’ intellectual curiosity into personal accomplishment. The 110-acre campus on Sarasota Bay is home to more than 800 students and 80 full-time faculty engaged in interdisciplinary research and collaborative learning. New College offers nearly 40 areas of concentration for undergraduates and a master’s degree program in Data Science.

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