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.

Lesbian Singers   |   Lesbian Opera Singers   |
Lesbian Classical Composers   |   Lesbian Classical Musicians
 

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
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.

Uranian
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

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

French Opera Singer: 1670/1673 - 1707

Lesbian / Bi Opera Singer: Sophie Arnould

Sophie Arnould

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.

French Opera Singer: 1740 - 1802

Lesbian / Bi Opera Singer: Felicita Vestvali

Felicita Vestvali

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

Polish Opera Singer: 1831 - 1880

Sapphic Classical Music: Concordia

Concordia "Cora" Antarova

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.

Russian Contralto: 1886 - 1959

Bi / Lesbian Opera Singer: Georgette Leblanc

Georgette Leblanc

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 Anderson.

French Opera Singer: 1869 - 1941

Bi / Lesbian Opera Singer: Emmy Krüger

Emmy Krüger

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

German Opera Singer: 1886 – 1976

Lesbian Opera: Countess Geschwitz in Lulu

Countess Geschwitz in Lulu

Lulu is an opera composed by Alban Berg (Austrian) which tells the story of a mysterious young woman, Lulu, who follows a downward spiral from a well-kept mistress in... more

Opera Première (incomplete): 1937

Lesbian Opera: LiánXiāng Bàn

LiánXiāng Bàn

Lián Xiāng Bàn (The Fragrant Companion) is a Chinese play by Li Yu (Chinese playwright, novelist and publisher), written in 1651. Cui Jianyun (a newly married wife of the renowned scholar Fan Jiefu) and Cao Yuhua (the daughter of Lord Cao), fall for each other after they meet when Cui goes to a temple to burn joss to the gods after her honeymoon. The opera was first performed in Peking in 1954.

Chinese Lesbian Opera: 1954

Lesbian Opera Singer: Patricia Racette

Patricia Racette

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

American Opera Singer: 1965

Lesbian Opera Singer: Beth Clayton

Beth Clayton

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

American Opera Singer:

Lesbian Opera Singer: Paula M. Kimper

Patience and Sarah

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

American Lesbian Opera: 1998




Lesbian Composers

Lesbian Composers: St. Hildegard von Bingen

St. Hildegard von Bingen

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

German Composer: 1098 - 1176 C.E.

Lesbian Composers: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth

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

English Composer: 1858 - 1944

Lesbian Composers: Amy Woodforde-Finden

Amy Woodforde-Finden

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

American Composer: 1860 – 1919

Lesbian Composers: Nadia Boulanger

Nadia Boulanger

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

French Composer & Conductor: 1887 - 1979

Lesbian Composers / Flautist: Ruth Anderson

Ruth Anderson

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

American Composer & Flautist: 1928 – 2019

Sapphic Classical Music: Pauline Oliveros

Pauline Oliveros

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

American Composer & Accordionist: 1932 – 2016

Sapphic Classical Music: Jennifer Higdon

Jennifer Higdon

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

American Composer: 1962

Sapphic Classical Music: Sebrina Maria Alfonso

Sebrina Maria Alfonso

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

Cuban American Conductor & Composer: 1959




Lesbian Classical Musicians

Sapphic Classical Music: Violet Gordon-Woodhouse

Violet Gordon-Woodhouse

"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

English Classical Harpsichordist: 1872 – 1948

Sapphic Classical Music: Wanda Landowska

Wanda Landowska

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

Polish Jewish Classical Harpsichordist: 1879 - 1959

Sapphic Classical Music: Renata Borgatti

Renata Borgatti

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

Italian Classical Pianist: 1894 – 1964

Sapphic Classical Music: Marcelle de Manziarly

Marcelle de Manziarly

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

French Classical Pianist & Composer: 1899 – 1989

Sapphic Classical Music: Frieda Belinfante

Frieda Belinfante

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.

Dutch Cellist: 1904 - 1995

Sapphic Classical Music: Wendy Carlos

Wendy Carlos

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

American Electronic Musician: 1939

Sapphic Classical Music: Catherine Lara

Catherine Lara

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

French Violinist: 1945

Sapphic Classical Music: Sonia Wieder-Atherton

Sonia Wieder-Atherton

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

Franco-American Classical Cellist: 1961

Sapphic Classical Music: Sharon Isbin

Sharon Isbin

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

American Classical Guitarist: 1970