QUEER VOICES
07/12/2019 08:57 EDT

Opera Star Michael Kelly Aims To Scale New Heights For Queer Inclusion Onstage

The "As One" and "Green Sneakers" baritone has put a fresh spin on "My Funny Valentine," debuting exclusively on HuffPost.

As the star of “As One” and “Green Sneakers,” Michael Kelly is afforded a unique opportunity to introduce LGBTQ-inclusive stories to legions of opera fans across the country. Still, the baritone said he remains “continually frustrated by the lack of quality representation of our community” in all artistic mediums, including his own. 

“Americans readily celebrate the evolution of visual art beyond its origins and take great pride in our own visual artists, integrating their work into our culture,” the New York native told HuffPost. “Music, however, is stigmatized by preferences of genre and style ... there are so many of our stories yet to be told and shared with the world.” 

Kelly’s passion for telling love stories that “transcend normative ideals” most recently inspired his recording of “My Funny Valentine,” premiering exclusively on HuffPost and viewable above.

Legendary artists like Chet Baker, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand have all put their signature spins on the song, written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for the 1937 musical, “Babes in Arms.” Praising the track’s “furtive melody,” Kelly is hopeful audiences will embrace his version, too ― calling it “a juicy sing.” 

Dorothy Shi
Opera baritone Michael Kelly is set to reprise his recent role in "As One" in Tennessee and Ohio. He stars in "Green Sneakers" in Colorado this month. 

The Friday release of “My Funny Valentine” comes at a prolific time for Kelly. In June, he starred as “Hannah before” in the New York City Opera’s production of “As One.” The 2014 chamber opera explores a transgender woman’s journey toward living authentically. Though a male baritone plays “Hannah before,” a female mezzo-soprano (Blythe Gaissert in last month’s staging) takes over as “Hannah after” as the character completes her gender confirmation.

“It’s a testament to its universal message of acceptance and self-love that it connects with people from all over the country,” Kelly said of “As One,” which has reportedly become the most-produced modern American opera in recent seasons. “I believe in the show’s power to change hearts and minds about trans people, because I have seen it do just that.”

Kelly will reprise the role of “Hannah before” when “As One” is staged at Tennessee’s Opera Memphis on Aug. 16 and at Ohio’s Opera Columbus on Nov. 8. This Friday, however, he will tackle another side of the LGBTQ experience in “Green Sneakers” at Colorado’s Crested Butte Music Festival. Written by Ricky Ian Gordon, the opera portrays the AIDS-related death of the composer’s partner, Jeffrey Grossi, in the 1990s.

Dorothy Shi
"There are so many of our stories yet to be told and shared with the world,” Kelly said of his commitment to performing LGBTQ-inclusive operas and song cycles.  

“More than anything, it’s a story about overcoming grief and the challenges of caring for a terminally ill loved one,” Kelly said of “Green Sneakers,” which debuted in 2008. “The term ‘AIDS’ is never mentioned because it’s much more about loss than the disease that caused it. It could just as easily be a story of someone dealing with cancer. In the end, grief is grief, love is love, humans are humans.”

Both “As One” and “Green Sneakers” fit into Kelly’s overall aim of “normalizing” the experiences of LGBTQ people through his chosen art form.

“LGBTQ stories are my stories. Much of the art I have performed, created and produced has been LGBTQ-based,” he said, before quipping, “I intend to continue to do so as long as I’m gay.”