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Lucia Lucas, History-Making Transgender Opera Singer, Returns To Chicago For Lyric Opera Debut

Lucas, a 2009 Roosevelt University alumna, is starring in "Four Portraits," one of three stories that highlights societal challenges.

Lucia Lucas is starring in one of three stories in the new opera "Proximity," which debuts this Friday at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
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DOWNTOWN — An opera singer who made history in 2018 as the first transgender woman to sing a leading role in a standard work at an American opera company is returning to Chicago.

Lucia Lucas, a baritone who graduated from Roosevelt University in 2009 and lived in Wrigleyville, is starring in “Proximity,” which opens Friday.

The show features three stories tackling societal challenges, including the impact of gun violence on cities and neighborhoods, finding connection in a technologically-driven world and “the need to respect and protect our natural resources,” Lyric Opera spokesperson Nicole Rizzo said.

“Proximity” is running for five performances Friday through April 8 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Upper Wacker Drive. Tickets are available online. The show is directed by Yuval Sharon, who has worked on it since 2019 with Anthony Freud, the Lyric’s general director.

“This has been a long time in the making,” Lucas said.

Lucas is playing B opposite countertenor John Holiday, who will play A in “Four Portraits.” It’s one of the three stories by composer Caroline Shaw and co-librettist Jocelyn Clarke about a couple dealing with disconnection in a world increasingly concerned with technology, according to a news release. 

The story includes a scene where A and B are physically close on a Chicago “L” train but “in their own worlds,” Lucas said. “Four Portraits” is commenting on how technology separates people even when those using it believe they’re being brought together.

“I would say that in this day and age, we probably have more conversations on the train with people who are not next to us than people who are actually next to us, and it’s sometimes difficult to make those human connections when people are literally right next to us,” Lucas said.

The opera’s other two stories are “The Walkers,” which focus on the affects and history of gun violence in Chicago and “Night,” which has themes of nature and looks into a potential for the Earth.

Lucas got her start in opera while studying the horn at California State University in Sacramento, she said. Lucas, who had several friends studying opera, asked the professor in charge of the program if she could participate, she said. Lucas was able to begin studying opera after the professor heard her sing, and she later took private lessons, she said. 

Lucas decided to focus on singing during graduate school at Roosevelt University after performing in opera roles in college, she said.

Lucas came out as trans when she was in her 30s. She told NBCNews in 2018 that her doctor in Germany, where she was living at the time, would not give her hormones until she came out publicly.

Lucas said at the time she was concerned about the effect of hormones on her voice, but she found through research that taking estrogen wouldn’t raise her register, she told NBCNews.

Lucas was also featured in the 2020 documentary “The Sound of Identity,” which detailed her experience as a transgender opera singer.

Lucas has performed at the Met, the English National Opera and in other roles across Europe in addition to her starring role as nobleman Don Giovanni at the Tulsa Opera.

“Coming home to a place you have lived, but farther along in your career, always feels nice,” Lucas said of her return to Chicago.

Lucas’ character in “Four Portraits” isn’t transgender, which is a relief for her, she said.

A majority of the characters Lucas has played performing in Europe and the United States haven’t been transgender, she said. She sees herself as an opera singer who happens to be transgender, not a transgender person who happens to be an opera singer. 

Trying to manage expectations and take on the weight of her community can sometimes be difficult when portraying a transgender character, Lucas said. 

“My identity as an opera singer has much more of an effect on my daily life than being trans,” Lucas said.

Lucas expects “Proximity” to sell out quickly after the first performance on Friday and encourages those who may be interested in the show to get tickets as soon as possible, she said. She believes the show, which has been in development for more than five years, will be important for those familiar with opera and people experiencing it for the first time, she said.

“When people see me in the show, I just want them to see good art,” she said. “I hope they enjoy all three pieces that collectively make ‘Proximity’ and feel motivated to be better humans to one another. I hope the audience can empathize with stories new to them and rethink their connections with their world.”

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