Felix Jarrar, a 22-year-old gay man, had to change his upcoming voice-piano showcase because one of the singers refused to sing a ‘gay’ song.
Felix Jarrar and Brittany Goodwin Showcase #1 is to take place on Sunday 27 August in New York City featuring songs from original operas written by Jarrar and Goodwin.
‘We are premiering a new aria from Tabula Rasa, our jazz opera about Kiki de Montparnasse written on commission from Cantanti Project, and the opening prologue of my opera-in-progress, Mother Goose, which is sung by Fairy Godmother – who, in this piece, is a baritone in drag,’ Jarrar says of the show.
‘Other highlights of the program include selections from Songs of the Soul Beams, our award-winning theatrical song cycle which premiered at BAM in June, and my second opera, The Fall of the House of Usher. Adapted from the eponymous Edgar Allan Poe story, the work premiered last year and toured off-Broadway at The DiMenna Center for Classical Music.’
What went wrong?
Yet, things took a negative turn when one of the vocalists bowed out over a song about a man having unrequited feelings towards his boyhood friend.
‘One of the works on the program is “Take This Kiss”, which is one of my favorite arias from my opera The Fall of the House of Usher. The aria is sung by the Friend, and in this piece he describes his feelings of unrequited love for his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher,’ Jarrar explains. ‘This piece helped me to highlight different types of love and alienation from society, which are the two major themes of the opera.’
‘For this showcase, I reached out to a tenor based in New Jersey who had previously worked with my writing partner on her critically-acclaimed production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen with Gramercy Opera. After sending him the sheet music for the aria, a recording of the opera, and setting up a rehearsal schedule, he emailed me after he read through the libretto. That was the first instance he expressed discomfort in portraying the Friend’s sexuality.’
‘He said that he was not only uncomfortable with portraying the Friend’s sexuality – he disagreed with my entire adaptation, and did not see it as a factor in the story, even though these themes are clearly present within a closer inspection of the story’s plot. He literally emailed me saying he was “going to bow out of this one,”’ Jarrar recalls.
This seemed personal to Jarrar, as he had written this opera when he was 19 and just came out as gay to his friends, family, and colleagues.
‘The composition of this opera, and specifically this aria, was an integral part of my coming out process because it allowed me to express themes through music, words, and dramaturgy which were close to my heart,’ he explains.
This song was also the only part of Jarrar’s opera that his late father heard before he passed suddenly.
In response to the ‘bow out,’ Jarrar told the singer, ‘”This is the way the opera has been for 3 years, and this is what it means to me.”’
Jarrar was left feeling ‘heartbroken and devastated, both on professional and personal levels.’
What happened next?
‘My art is the medium I use in order to make a contribution to the world and confront bigotry,’ Jarrar says. ‘LGBTQ themes are a major component of my work, and writing works with queer narratives is one of my goals as an artist.’
This experience only empowered Jarrar to invest more creative energy into this showcase.
‘I’m proud to say that we will still be performing “Take This Kiss” on the showcase – tenor Brady DelVecchio stepped in at the last minute, learned the aria, and is prepared to share it with the audience on Sunday.’
Jarrar notes that even in a liberal city like New York, there’s still bigotry, hatred, and intolerance.
‘We must confront such views head-on, as they are downright dangerous for the LGBT community in our current political climate,’ he states. ‘I have been passionately working with Brittany on putting this showcase together, and after this setback, I am more motivated than ever to keep making art and presenting our work to the world. Music is cathartic for me, and allows me to sift through my life experiences.’
And on a lighter note, Jarrar reports that a fabulous dress and wings were found for the baritone-in-drag Fairy Godmother, played by Joey Rodriguez.
The Felix Jarrar and Brittany Goodwin Showcase #1 takes place at the Cornelia Street Cafe on 27 August at 6pm.