Sapphic Opera Singers & Lesbian Classical Musicians Throughout History

There still seems sadly a taboo about being out as a lesbian opera singer / classical musician? Discover some lesbian opera singers, classical musicians & sapphic composers from 1600 to 2020 you should listen to from swashbuckling La Maupin to Beth Clayton.

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Sapphic Opera & Classical Music

Growing up as a preppy punk > indie > new order > trip hop kid, forgive me, I had a great distain for opera and classical music! Through my love of cinema, my heart missed-a-beat to my introduction of opera arias via:

Diva, directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix which featured Wilhelmenia Fernandez performing "La Wally" composed by Alfredo Catalani, to a libretto by Luigi Illica.

Classical Music via
The Hunger, directed by Tony Scott which featured Léo Delibes' Lakmé: The Flower Duet and, Franz Schubert's Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat major.

Wow - a lovely flash back now, to cruising down Princess Street, Edinburgh, with my so missed Mummy and my gorgeous two dackles in the back, listening to my mixtapes of classical music / opera ...

Though I researched hard, this section of lesbian opera singers & lesbian classical musicians, proved surpringsly hard to find lesbians to girly salute to. Even my best cake boy friend, Baroque Boy (a professional baroque flautist), found it hard to suggest some stellar lesbian opera singers and classical musicians.

I can only assume that there is not enough documentation on the internet of lesbian opera singers and classical musicians and, like many work sectors there is still sadly a taboo about being out. To the lesbian (ladies) of opera and classical music, which I have documented on this page, I thank you for having the courage to be out and, be an inspiration to aspiring opera singers, classical musicians.

During my research on lesbian opera singers I came across two terms, that surprised me:

Travesti (meaning "disguised" in French) which I had not come across before though I could suss the meaning. Travesti was a theatrical term referring to the portrayal of a character in a ballet, opera or play, by a performer of the opposite sex. Because the presence of actual women on stage was considered immoral (seriously?), until the late 17th century (covering Shakespearian plays) in England and the late 18th century in the Papal States, women were portrayed by male actors in drag.

On the English stage, with the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, women started performing, both in the female roles and, in male roles. Of the 375 plays produced in London, between 1660 and 1700, it has been estimated that nearly a quarter contained one or more roles performed by actresses dressed as men.

Opera Singer Felicita Vestvali was bizarrely described as being "Uranian" by Rosa von Braunschweig, a longtime friend who wrote in the Yearbook of Intermediate Sexual Types (1903). I had never come across the term "Uranian".

The term "Uranian" was first published by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825 – 95) in a series of five booklets (1864–65) collected under the title "Forschungen über das Räthsel der mannmännlichen Liebe" (Research into the Riddle of Man–Male Love). Ulrichs derived the term "Uranian" (Urning in German) from the Greek goddess Aphrodite Urania, who was created out of the god Uranus'... testicles. "Uranian" represented the homosexual gender.

The term "Dionian" (Dioning) represented the heterosexual gender and was derived from Aphrodite Dionea. Apparently, Ulrichs developed his terminology before the first public use of the term homosexual, which appeared in 1869 in a pamphlet published anonymously by Karl-Maria Kertbeny.

At first I thought how could Rosa von Braunschweig label her friend, popular Opera Singer Felicita Vestvali, so disturbingly as "Uranian"? On further investigation I discovered, that I think she was defending homosexuality. To be honest, I am worried to qoute it here as it is published as a "Google book" and I dont want Google to de-index this page. I am already dicing with de-indexation fire due to possible copyright infringement of images. Search for Rosa von Braunschweig on "Women as Hamlet: Performance and Interpretation in Theatre, Film and Fiction" by Tony Howard

Check out more delightful Lesbian terms through history.

P.S. Translation of Lakme:
"Sous le dôme épais, Où le blanc jasmin, À la rose s’assemble, Sur la rive en fleurs, Riant au matin, Viens, descendons ensemble".

"Under the thick dome where the white jasmine, with the roses entwined together. On the river bank covered with flowers laughing in the morning, let us descend together!"

Lesbian / Bi Opera Singer: Julie d'Aubigny, Mademoiselle Maupin

Julie d'Aubigny, Mademoiselle Maupin

French Opera Singer: 1670/1673 - 1707

La Maupin was a cross-dressing bi opera singer and skilled swords-woman who killed at least three men in duels. Touché! Swashbuckling Julie d'Aubigny, aka La Maupin, was a... more

Lesbian / Bi Opera Singer: Arabella Hunt

Arabella Hunt

English Soprano & Lutenist: 1662 – 1705

Arabella Hunt was employed at the royal court (St James's Palace) as a singer/soprano and lutenist. She was well thought of by Queen Mary, and taught singing to Princess Anne. She caused a tabloid scandal!... more

Lesbian / Bi Opera Singer: Sophie Arnould

Sophie Arnould

French Opera Singer: 1740 - 1802

Sophie Arnould was the prima donna of the Paris Opéra of her day. She obtained considerable success in operas by Christoph Wilibald Gluck, François Francoeur, Jean-Philippe Rameau, and Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny.

Lesbian / Bi Opera Singer: Felicita Vestvali

Felicita Vestvali

Polish Opera Singer: 1831 - 1880

Felicita Vestvali's specialised in singing contralto "trouser roles" across Europe and America. Her contralto voice was praised by Abraham Lincoln and Napoleon III who was so ... more

Lesbian / Bi Opera Singer: Marie Fillunger

Marie Fillunger

Austrian Opera Singer: 1850 – 1930

Marie "Fillu" Fillunger was an internationally acclaimed Austrian soprano best known for her interpretations of lieder (setting poetry to classical music to create ... more

Bi / Lesbian Opera Singer: Georgette Leblanc

Georgette Leblanc

French Opera Singer: 1869 - 1941

Georgette Leblanc was a operatic soprano (well known for the title role in Bizet's Carmen), actress, author, and the sister of novelist Maurice Leblanc. Georgette Leblanc is buried in the Notre Dame des Anges Cemetery beside Margaret C Anderson (American founder, editor and publisher of the legendary art and literary magazine The Little Review.

Sapphic Classical Music: Concordia Antarova

Concordia Antarova

Russian Contralto: 1886 - 1959

Concordia "Cora" Antarova was a Russian contralto who for more than twenty years, starred in the Bolshoi Theatre. In 1933, Cora Antarova was recognised as an Honoured Artist of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

Bi / Lesbian Opera Singer: Emmy Krüger

Emmy Krüger

German Opera Singer: 1886 – 1976

Emmy Krüger was an operatic soprano who occasionally sang mezzo-soprano. She performed the title role in the world première of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Violanta... more

Lesbian / Bi Opera Singer: Sigrid Onégin

Sigrid Onégin

Franco-German Opera Singer (Contralto): 1889 – 1943

Sigrid Onégin (stage name) is said to have possessed one of the finest contralto voices, ever. Her first marriage was rather salacious ... more

Lesbian / Bi Opera Singer: Noémie Pérugia

Noémie Pérugia

French Opera Singer (Soprano): 1903 – 1992

Noémie Pérugia was a respected French Mezzo-soprano and music teacher. After her debut in Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem in Paris, in 1936 she performed in Paris and travelled to ... more

Bi / Lesbian Opera Singer: Nelly Mousset-Vos

Nelly Mousset-Vos

Belgian Opera Singer: 1906 – 1987

Nelly Mousset-Vos was a Belgian opera singer who toured European cities such as Paris, Milan and Zurich performing French operas and Italian classics... more

Lesbian / Bi Opera Singer: Roberta Knie

Roberta Knie

American Opera Singer: 1938 – 2017

Roberta Knie was a leading Wagnerian soprano who sang on the great stages of Europe as well as at the Metropolitan Opera ... more

Lesbian Opera Singer: Deborah Cheetham

Deborah Cheetham

Aboriginal Opera Singer: 1964

Deborah Cheetham AO is an Aboriginal Australian soprano, composer, playwright and actor. Cheetham is a member of the Stolen Generations ... more

Lesbian Opera Singer: Patricia Racette

Patricia Racette

American Opera Singer: 1965

In 1988, Patricia Racette made her professional opera debut in Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly with the San Francisco Western Opera Theater. She has performed in... more

Lesbian Opera Singer: Beth Clayton

Beth Clayton

American Opera Singer: ?

Beth Clayton is mezzo-soprano opera singer. In 2003, she sang the role of Rosalind in the first performances in 30 years, of Sir Richard Rodney Bennett's opera The Mines of Sulphur... more

Lesbian Opera Singer: Paula M. Kimper

Patience and Sarah

American Lesbian Opera: 1998

Paula M. Kimper composed the first American lesbian opera Patience and Sarah based on the novel of the same name by Isabel Miller... more

Lesbian Composers

Lesbian Composers: St. Hildegard von Bingen

St. Hildegard von Bingen

German Composer: 1098 - 1176 C.E.

St. Hildegard was a German Benedictine abbess (a female superior of a community of nuns) who founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. She is ... more

Lesbian Composers: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth

English Composer: 1858 - 1944

Dame Ethel Mary Smyth is one of the most accomplished female composers. Her opera The Wreckers is considered by some critics to be the "most important English opera ... more

Lesbian Composers: Amy Woodforde-Finden

Amy Woodforde-Finden

American Composer: 1860 – 1919

Amy Woodforde-Finden is best known for writing the music to Kashmiri Song (a.k.a Pale Hands I Loved) based on a poem by Laurence Hope. The Edwardian song was popular ... more

Lesbian / Bi Composers: Adela Maddison

Adela Maddison

British composer: 1862 – 1929

Adela Maddison, born Katharine Mary Adela Tindal, was a Anglo Irish composer of operas, ballets, instrumental music and songs ... more

Lesbian / Bi Composers: Agnes Elisabeth Overbeck

Agnes Elisabeth Overbeck

German composer and pianist: 1870 – 1919

So many names ... she went under... born Agnes Elisabeth Overbeck, known as Ella Overbeck and pseudonyms: Baroness Ella Overbeck or Overbach and... Baron ... more

Lesbian / Bi Composers: Francine Benoît

Francine Benoît

French-born Portuguese Composer: 1894 – 1990

Francine Benoît was a musician, composer, conductor, teacher and music critic. As a prolific composer ... more

Lesbian / Bi Composers: Henriëtte Bosmans

Henriëtte Bosmans

Dutch-Jewish composer and pianist: 1895 – 1952

Henriëtte Bosmans was a well-established Dutch composer and pianist whose oeuvre includes chamber music, orchestral works, and many songs ... more

Lesbian Composers / Flautist: Ruth Anderson

Ruth Anderson

American Composer & Flautist: 1928 – 2019

As well as being a talented flautist, Ruth Anderson, was a composer of orchestral and groundbreaking electronic music. She is best known for having founded, in 1968... more

Sapphic Composer: Pauline Oliveros

Pauline Oliveros

American Composer & Accordionist: 1932 – 2016

Pauline Oliveros was an avant-garde composer and key figure in the development of post-war experimental and electronic music. She formulated new music theories:... more

Lesbian / Bi Composer: Kay Gardner

Kay Gardner

American Composer: 1941 - 2002

Kay Gardner was an internationally known American composer, Flautist and a... Dianic priestess ... more

Sapphic Composer: Jennifer Higdon

Jennifer Higdon

American Composer: 1962

Many of Jennifer Higdon's pieces are considered neoromantic - revived / new nineteenth-century Romanticism. Her first opera was based on Charles Frazier's 1997 novel ... more

Lesbian Musicians / Lesbian Classical Musicians

Lesbian / Bi Opera Singer: Eugenie Schumann

Eugenie Schumann

German Pianist: 1851 – 1938

Eugenie Schumann studied piano with her mother and with, the well-respected German composer and music teacher, Ernst Rudorff in Berlin. ... more

Sapphic Classical Music: Violet Gordon-Woodhouse

Violet Gordon-Woodhouse

English Classical Harpsichordist: 1872 – 1948

"Woodhouse circus" ringmistress Violet Gordon-Woodhouse was influential in bringing the harpsichord and clavichord back into fashion. It is claimed she was the first person to ... more

Sapphic Classical Music: Wanda Landowska

Wanda Landowska

Polish Jewish Classical Harpsichordist: 1879 - 1959

Child prodigy Wanda Landowska studied in Berlin and Paris. She decided to devote her career to the harpsichord rather than the piano and ... more

Sapphic Classical Music: Renata Borgatti

Renata Borgatti

Italian Classical Pianist: 1894 – 1964

Renata Borgatti trained as a ballerina, but abandoned dance (due to her inability to wear tight shoes?) to become a concert pianist. Across Europe and America, she became a ... more

Sapphic Classical Music: Marcelle de Manziarly

Marcelle de Manziarly

French Classical Pianist & Composer: 1899 – 1989

Marcelle de Manziarly was born in Kharkiv and studied piano in Paris under Nadia Boulanger. She later taught and performed in France and America... more

Sapphic Classical Music: Frieda Belinfante

Frieda Belinfante

Dutch Cellist: 1904 - 1995

Frieda Belinfante was born in Amsterdam whose father was Jewish (a prominent pianist and teacher) and her mother was not, Jewish. Trained as a musician, Frieda was one of the first female conductors. During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Frieda joined a Dutch resistance group. See below.

Lesbian / Bi Opera Singer: Tiny Davis

Tiny Davis

African-American Jazz Trumpeter: 1910 – 1994

Tiny Davis (born) Ernestine Carroll Davis was a star American jazz trumpeter and vocalist. Memphis Tiny Davis began playing trumpet at age ... more

Sapphic Classical Music: Wendy Carlos

Wendy Carlos

American Electronic Musician: 1939

Wendy Carlos is best known for her electronic music and film scores including A Clockwork Orange, The Shining and Tron. At the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center she ... more

Sapphic Classical Music: Catherine Lara

Catherine Lara

French Violinist: 1945

Over five decades violinist, composer and singer Catherine Lara has released 26 studio albums, contributed music to television and film productions, and helped ... more

Sapphic Classical Music: Sonia Wieder-Atherton

Sonia Wieder-Atherton

Franco-American Classical Cellist: 1961

Sonia Wieder-Atherton has played as a soloist for numerous international Orchestras including the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and performed at major international festivals. She is also ... more

Sapphic Classical Music: Sharon Isbin

Sharon Isbin

American Classical Guitarist: 1970

Sharon Isbin is classical guitarist with a catalogue of over 30 recordings ranging from Baroque, Spanish/Latin to jazz fusion and crossover. She has commissioned more ... more

Lesbian Conductors

Lesbian Composers: Nadia Boulanger

Nadia Boulanger

French Conductor & Composer: 1887 - 1979

Nadia Boulanger composed several choral, chamber and orchestral works, and her cantata La Sirène won second place in the 1908 Prix de Rome. She was the first woman to... more

Lesbian / Bi Opera Singer: Frieda Belinfante

Frieda Belinfante

Dutch philharmonic Conductor & Cellist: 1904 – 1995

Frieda Belinfante was a talented Dutch-Jewish cellist, one of the first female conductors, a hero of the Dutch resistance and victim of American homophobia ... more

Sapphic Classical Music: Marin Alsop

Marin Alsop

American-born Austrian Conductor: 1956

Marin Alsop is an an award-wining conductor who has conducted most of the leading orchestras in America and Europe and is a lady of many firsts ... more

Sapphic Classical Music: Sebrina Maria Alfonso

Sebrina Maria Alfonso

Cuban American Conductor & Composer: 1959

Sebrina Maria Alfonso is one of the few women conductors in the US and the first Cuban American conductor to conduct Cuba's National Orchestra of Cuba. Her composition ... more

Lesbian / Bi Opera Singer: Kathleen McGuire

Kathleen McGuire

Australian born American Choral & Orchestral Conductor: 1965

For more than three decades, Kathleen McGuire (PhD) has been making music in six countries, working with orchestras, choirs, ballet, opera and musical theatre and has conducted at some of the world's finest venues: ... more