“Harvey Milk,” Etc.
Harvey Milk, an opera by Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie about the life and violent death of America’s first openly gay elected public official, premiered in Houston earlier this year and made its debut at the New York City Opera in April. It is not the first opera about a homosexual to be presented by a major American house; that distinction belongs to Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice, which received its Metropolitan Opera premiere in 1974. But Harvey Milk is the first large-scale opera to reflect explicitly an important new cultural development: homosexuality, once a comparatively shadowy aspect of the world of opera, has now taken a place of honor at center stage.
There have always been homosexuals in and around opera, and it seems probable that they have always been “overrepresented” there (to borrow a term from the lexicon of affirmative action) in much the same way they have been “overrepresented” in the world of theater as a whole. Similarly, there has long been a cult of opera among many homosexual men (and among a surprisingly large number of lesbians). Nevertheless, unlike ballet, opera has not been widely viewed as an art form dominated by homosexuals. Nor, at least in cities large enough to support an opera company, is listening to or attending opera considered anything out of the ordinary.
About the Author
Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.