Out Baritone Jonathan Beyer Talks About His Gay Take on the Academy of Music’s The Barber of Seville
Jonathan Beyer met his boyfriend of eight years, Brandon Cedel, when they were both students at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. They lived in Center City for a good number of years, where, as Beyer gleefully points out, they were once voted the “cutest couple” in their apartment building.
“We beat out these old grandmas,” he says.
Lots has changed for Beyer and Cedel, who now call Manhattan home: both are internationally-renowned singers who tour the world to perform at esteemed opera companies. Beyer, who is in Philly for an engagement in Opera Philadelphia‘s The Barber of Seville, admits that his relationship with Cedel works because, well, they’re both performers … and because of FaceTime.
“FaceTime is a Godsend,” he says. “We don’t even need to have a conversation when we’re on there; we can just hang out together. Brandon does the same thing, so he gets it. If we’re having a spat, we know how to put it to the side while one of us is performing—it has to wait. Our career choices are understood, even when it sucks. The No. 1 rule we have is that we can’t make the other person feel bad over career choices.”
And obviously that’s worked—Beyer, widely considered one of the great young American baritones, has played The Metropolitan Opera, Munich Philharmonic, Oper Frankfurt, and the Dallas Opera, amongst many others. His return to Philly has been quite fun, according to the singer, who made an appearance at Opera Philadelphia‘s 40th Anniversary Gala several weeks ago.
“It was a bang-up party,” he says, and the “unofficial” after-party at Woody’s was even better. “You can imagine a large group of people in tuxedos and ball gowns pouring out of Woody’s at two in the morning. It was one of the best opera parties I’ve ever been to.”
But it isn’t just parties that have kept Beyer busy here; his role as Figaro in The Barber of Seville has filled his days with plenty of rehearsals, but with great people, including one of his friends, American mezzo-soprano Jennifer Holloway.
“Jen is one of my best friends,” he says, “Sometimes you lie about how great a cast is, but this time, it really is the case!”
He claims it is the relationship between himself and his fellow cast that has allowed him to take some chances in developing the title character in a way that is, to use his phrase, “mildly gay.”
“In Rossini’s treatment of the opera, [Figaro] is pretty gay,” he says. “Figaro’s dynamic with Rosina is like a Will and Grace relationship; she’s this fabulous girl and I’m her gay BFF who does her hair. There’s no romantic interest in Rosina. I don’t go overboard [with the character], but for me, it is just a fun outlet to be, well, me.”
It’s a reason why, according to Beyer, gay men seem associated with the theater and the performing arts.
“For theater kids, it’s a safe space,” he says. “In a sense, instead of grappling with who you are, you get to become someone else.”
“I would love to do more with him,” he says. “I had a very small role in the Met’s Faust that he conducted. Some of these other conductors, they have bitchy resting face, just staring at the orchestra. Yannick is with you from the minute you walk out there.”
Unfortunately for Beyer, Yannick won’t be conducting this production of Barber, which runs through the first week of October at the Academy of Music (more details can be found here). He will, however, be bringing opera to Philadelphians far and wide, including a special dress rehearsal filled with high school students and the special outdoor “Opera on the Mall” broadcast where the program will be shown at Independence Mall on Saturday, September 27th, at 7 p.m.
And, for those who think they don’t like opera, Beyer has this advice:
“Have you ever been to the opera? It’s a lot more accessible than people think.”
You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanBeyer81.