A spectacularly-adorned creature — all glitter, lashes, hair, and curves — commands the stage with her bearing alone. Watching Trannyshack founder Heklina open her mouth and unleash a booming sound that can’t be ignored as she belts out an anthem she wrote about self-expression entitled “Live My Life,” one can’t help but notice how the famed San Francisco drag queen so effortlessly captures the essence of many an opera diva.
So it seems fitting that Heklina is hosting Drag Queen of the Opera at her club, Oasis, in collaboration with singers from San Francisco Opera (SF Opera). Appealing to the “opera-curious,” the Sunday, Oct. 30 offering from the company’s hip new audience outreach arm SF Opera Lab promises to be popular among fans of both drag and opera, as well as newbies. Heklina is encouraging audience members to come in costume, drink cocktails, and enjoy arias performed by young singers. And there’s a DJ dance party afterwards.
The lineup includes Julie Adams (who aced the U.S. opera world’s biggest competition in 2014, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions) and Brenton Ryan, hot off his acclaimed SF Opera debut in The Makropulos Case, as well as additional vocalists and a pianist. There’ll be ample gender-role bending. And in keeping with the onrush of Halloween, looming large will be witches, devils, and coming back from the dead. The ringmistress of all of this operatic mayhem, of course, is Heklina, setting up the scenes and keeping the audience focused with the sharp and bawdy humor for which she’s known.
Popping her opera cherry
Heklina herself is no opera insider. She’s never actually experienced an opera performed live on stage, though she’s going to get a chance to pop her opera cherry when she goes to see SF Opera’s Madame Butterfly next month. “I’m not sure why I’ve never been, maybe I thought it would not resonate,” Heklina says. “Like most people who aren’t familiar with opera, the word conjures images of a heavyset man belting out songs in Italian or Bugs Bunny dressed up like a valkyrie.”