≈ 60 minutes · No intermission
2016 was a bad year for me. I had just come out of a depression and was considering leaving the opera industry and singing entirely. I had been struggling with being an opera singer in the industry for some time. Struggling with trying to fit in, trying to be what the industry deemed as hireable and successful. But every time I tried to project that image—that persona—I felt like I was losing a part of myself in the process. I didn’t know how to cope anymore, let alone survive as the queer, mixed-race singer I was/am. I was literally putting on a mask everyday and not knowing who would be left underneath when I went home at night. I realized it was time to ask myself some hard questions: Why was I giving so much power to a job that demanded me to change the very nature and fabric of who I was? And what did it say about me that I was willing to put up with this industry’s long outdated beliefs? I didn’t know much then, but I did know I couldn’t simply leave opera behind and walk away. Opera was and remains my lifeforce and my greatest gift. I would have to work for change from within. I would also have to go back to the beginning and rediscover when I fell in love with this vocation in the first place. That’s where I re-met the Queen of the Night.
Over my career I have performed the Queen of the Night in fourteen different iterations of The Magic Flute, each one seeing the famous character as an evil, fallen woman, and an obstacle who needed to be removed in order for the two young lovers to get their happy ending. Creating my own version of the Queen of the Night character, who served as the inspiration of The Queen In Me in early 2017, became my safe space and playground, while the Queen herself became my solace and my advocate. She inspired me to disrupt the world around me, she gave me the platform to speak and sing my truth, and by continuing to develop this solo piece, I started to not only say enough was enough, but I began singing in ways and through works I had never dreamed possible.
It has been a long road. We were supposed to premiere this work in September 2020, but COVID-19 had other plans. However, I’m glad the premiere was delayed until June 2022. While this great pivot took away a lot, it also gave me time to become myself, the real person I was holding back all of these years in the opera industry. And the journey continues to be a winding one. I came out as trans non-binary during this time to myself, to my partner, family, friends, and close colleagues, and with their support I’ve been able to say to the world, this is me. So much of my identity is wrapped up in my voice, a voice that is high—a soprano—and characterized as feminine to the ear, which cascades into the outside world assuming the rest of me is gendered feminine also. And that is okay. Sometimes. But for me, that is not me, as I am learning and unlearning from my past experiences. My voice is a beautiful and loving part of who I am. And my voice can also be trans, just like my body, mind and heart, with or without medical interventions. I don’t regret for a second being assigned female at birth and being socialized as a girl and a young woman. My experiences in womanhood make me the person I am today, make me whole—trans and ever-evolving—and make it possible for me to dream and live my gender and ethnicity through not only a fierce and feminine character like the Queen, but also beyond, both on and off the stage.
Working with Andrea Donaldson as dramaturg and director, co-founding Amplified Opera with Aria Umezawa, Asitha Tennekoon, and Marion Newman, and building my community of dear colleagues, has enabled me to probe further artistically and to honour my full self as I continue these healing and learning journeys with compassion and gentleness. What the mask of the Queen of the Night affords me now is so much more than I could have ever initially imagined. She is a celebration of my past self, of the freedom and unbridled joy I always wanted to feel as a closeted, scared, young singer. She is my cheerleader helping me to redefine what it means to be a soprano in the opera industry. And she is my companion and confidante as I continue to venture into this career of making art, of making space, and celebrating my community. Now, I can finally say that the they/them/theirs of me and my voice are here to stay, welcoming continual disruption of my own perception of what gender is and can be, and of what it means to be a soprano.
Teiya Kasahara 笠原 貞野 (they/them)
Andy Warhol understood the power and pitfalls of repeating an image when he remarked “the more you look at the exact same thing… the better and emptier you feel.” He was referring to the nature of pop culture—observing that cultural understanding is cemented through repetition and noting the emotional attachment we have towards stories and images that are familiar to us. The nuance of Warhol’s art is in how it highlights the tension between an image becoming iconic the more frequently it is seen, while simultaneously losing its meaning.
Enter the Queen of the Night: an iconic character who sings an iconic aria that has been repeated for centuries. She is bombastic, charismatic, and tonight she is ‘a little pissed.’ She loves opera and her audience, but has reached a boiling point—she cannot bear to perpetuate the racism, misogyny, and various abuses on and offstage for herself and her other fellow fallen women characters. So tonight, she halts the opera.
This iteration of the Queen of the Night is born from coloratura soprano Teiya Kasahara 笠原 貞野s (pronouns they/them) experience as a queer trans non-binary multi-racial person who has spent years trying to fit into the rigid roles that their voice type demanded. Their identity and their passion for opera have been at painful odds, which spurred the creation of this piece. In crafting this work, Teiya has given up their anonymity, standing up to an entire industry. A central tension in The Queen in Me is that The Queen—and truly the creator, Teiya—loves the very music that prevents them from expressing themselves authentically as their full self.
Whistleblowers are dangerous and vital. The COC has had the bravery to invite a cultural troublemaker (and their entourage of partner organizations) into their space—disruptors who are railing against opera’s systems and traditions, gesturing toward a new era that asks what we might gain by looking even more critically at the works we consume. In this time of decolonization, truth, and reconciliation, settler culture is experiencing a painful loss of innocence. Through confronting truths and gaining insight into how we are impacted by the world around us, we can challenge the stories that bring us comfort, but that have proven to leave us empty.
If Warhol is right, and engaging in repetition makes us feel good and empty, then we might theorize that breaking from repetition makes us feel uncomfortable and full. What makes The Queen In Me so vital is how Teiya Kasahara demonstrates that by resisting the inertia which compels us to tell the same stories in the same ways, and by challenging ourselves to search for new meaning, we can emerge from the process feeling proud and empowered to live as our full selves.
We hope you enjoy the show!
Andrea Donaldson and Aria Umezawa
Last updated: September 20, 2023
The NAC English Theatre presentation of the Theatre Gargantua/Amplified Opera/Canadian Opera Company/Nightwood Theatre co-production.
Approaching the climax of one of the world’s most famous arias, the Queen of the Night abruptly breaks the fourth wall to speak out against the monochromatic strictures that keep opera rooted in the standards of the past. Combining comedy, drama, and plenty of opera, this vibrant show by interdisciplinary artist Teiya Kasahara 笠原貞野 (they/them) gives a voice to the Queen of the Night, who explores how the rigid conventions of race, gender, and sexuality in opera prevent one of the greatest art forms from reaching its kaleidoscopic potential.
La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, Manon Lescaut, and Turandot (by Puccini); Lucia di Lammermoor (by Donizetti); Macbeth and Rigoletto (by Verdi); Salome (by R. Strauss); Esclarmonde (by Massenet); and The Magic Flute (by Mozart)
Aria Umezawa (she/her) – Co-Director
With her quirky, irreverent style, Aria Umezawa (she/her)’s work evokes wonder and challenges the long-established traditions of opera and classical music. The stage director, producer, and writer is a co-founder of Amplified Opera, the independent, equity-seeking opera company and former Disruptor-in-Residence at the Canadian Opera Company. Aria was the Artistic Director of Opera 5 from 2012-17. Recent and upcoming engagements include Toshio Hosokawa’s The Raven with Opera Philadelphia, A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Vancouver Opera, Madama Butterfly with New Orleans Opera, and a new production of L’incoronazione di Poppea with the Atelier Lyrique at l’Opéra de Montréal. An advocate for safe, equitable practices in the opera and performing arts industries, Aria is in demand as a presenter and educator. In 2018 she developed Safe to Run: Bystander Intervention Training for the Rehearsal Room with Opera McGill and the San Francisco Opera Center, and has run the workshop at opera companies across North America.
Creator and Performer
Teiya Kasahara 笠原貞野
Andrea Donaldson & Aria Umezawa
Accompanied by Pianist David Eliakis
Set & Costume
Designer Joanna Yu
André du Toit
Assistant head technician
Leigh Utley Assistant
Head Wardrobe Workshop, Projectionists, Wardrobe Mistresses, Masters and Attendants are members of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 471.
The National Arts Centre is a member of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres and engages, under the terms of the Canadian Theatre Agreement, professional artists who are members of Canadian Actors’ Equity Association.
Nina Lee Aquino
Community Outreach Lead
ASL Interpreter Consultant
Senior Marketing Manager
Associate Producer, Artistic Projects
Theatre Gargantua is one of Canada’s leading multi-disciplinary theatre companies. Under the direction of founding Artistic Director Jacquie P.A. Thomas, the company has been devising dynamic physical theatre for 30 years. Gargantua is committed to the creation of original, compelling, relevant work that engages multiple senses, and we strive to inspire and challenge our audience to see their world in new ways. Our productions explore socially relevant themes through bold theatricality that expertly blends provocative text, dynamic choreography, live vocal compositions, and media into our signature style. Our work, developed in a unique two-year cycle, has given Gargantua a distinct place within Canada’s theatre ecology, and has garnered dozens of nominations, awards and recognitions for our outstanding work, which has toured nationally and internationally. To learn more about Theatre Gargantua, please visit theatregargantua.ca.
Amplified Opera is a new collective based in Toronto that aims to make the case for opera’s continued existence and relevance within the modern world. Officially launched in 2019, the company’s core values are rooted in ‘five Cs’ that govern its mission and artistic practices: conversation, community, creativity, curiosity, and compassion. Amplified Opera is dedicated to rethinking common creative practices in the art form, deepening opera’s relationships with its communities, and forging meaningful paths forward for the entire performing arts sector. The company is passionate about commissioning new works, as well as reframing older opera, and championing diverse perspectives as the necessary building blocks for a sustainable, and more inclusive, art form. Amplified Opera was co-founded by Aria Umezawa, Asitha Tennekoon, Marion Newman, and Teiya Kasahara. For more information, visit amplifiedopera.com.
Based in Toronto, the Canadian Opera Company is the largest producer of opera in Canada and one of the largest in North America. General Director Perryn Leech joined the company in 2021, forming a leadership team with Music Director Johannes Debus and Deputy General Director Christie Darville. The COC enjoys a loyal audience, including a dedicated base of subscribers, and has an international reputation for artistic excellence and creative innovation. Its diverse repertoire includes new commissions and productions, local and international collaborations with leading opera companies and festivals, and attracts the world’s foremost Canadian and international artists. The company is an incubator for the future of the art form, nurturing Canada’s new wave of opera performers and creators with customized training and support. The COC’s purpose-built opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, is hailed internationally as one of the finest in the world. For more information, visit coc.ca.
As Canada’s preeminent feminist theatre, Nightwood cultivates, creates, and produces extraordinary theatre by women and gender-expansive artists, liberating futures, one room at a time. Founded in 1979, Nightwood Theatre has created and produced award-winning plays, which have won Dora Mavor Moore, Chalmers, Trillium, and Governor General’s awards. To learn more about Nightwood Theatre, please visit: https://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/.