Role models of greatness.
Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Opera singer Paulo Szot (b. 1969) made his Broadway debut as Emile de Becque in the recent Lincoln Center Theatre revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical South Pacific (see photo below). He earned a Tony award for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance, and his name came to the forefront of operatic and Broadway baritones as a result of that career-changing role, which he played from April 2008 through August, 2010. Since that time he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera and returns there next month to perform in Massenet’s Manon.
The baritone’s background is Polish-Brazilian. Both his parents were born in Poland, and that’s how he landed a last name beginning with “SZ” (by the way his name is pronounced "shawt") They emigrating to Brazil during WW II, so Portuguese was his first language. He lived in Poland for many years after he turned 18, so he considers himself both Polish and Brazilian. Szot studied voice at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, and began a singing career in 1990.
Szot is openly gay, but came out in a quiet fashion. His sexual orientation was simply added to his Internet biography after an inquiry was made of his management. Szot has been in a long-term relationship, but does not mention his partner’s name. He simply states that his lover is “in the business,” and that he is not from the United States. Szot shares a house he built on the edge of the Brazilian rainforest with his partner and 4 Weimaraners. When he's on the road (which is most of the time), he talks with his dogs via Skype.
This Nearly Was Mine (South Pacific)
Of his performance in South Pacific, Ben Brantley of the New York Times said the following: "When he delivers 'Some Enchanted Evening' or 'This Nearly Was Mine,' it's not as a swoon-making blockbuster (though of course it is!), but as a measured and honest consideration of love."
The Nose (Shostakovich)
Paulo Szot made his Metropolitan Opera debut in the 2010 production of The Nose, the first ever staging of this opera by the Met. The unlikely crowd-pleaser, based on a story by Nikolai Gogol, is a fantasy about a Russian bureaucrat who wakes up to find his nose missing. When he finally tracks down the runaway facial feature, it's become a high-ranking official and celebrity. I’m not making this up.
Dmitri Shostakovich was only 22 when he wrote the angular, dissonant, percussion heavy score, but when the opera was first produced in Leningrad in 1930, the satiric tone ran afoul of Stalin's repressive government, and it was banned in the Soviet Union until 1974.
In an interview Szot related, “I was extremely nervous my first time on the stage, because it’s the Metropolitan Opera. As a first-time ever Brazilian male singer there, I had my whole country on my back, representing a new generation, so it was a heavy thing for me.”
In 2011 Szot returned to the Met to sing Escamillo (Carmen), and next month (March 26) he returns to the Metropolitan Opera in the role of Lescaut in Jules Massenet's Manon. It is interesting that David Pittsinger, who alternated the role of Emile de Becque with Szot in Lincoln Center’s South Pacific (so that Szot could fulfill previously secured opera commitments), will also be in the cast of Manon at the Met. I was fortunate to see South Pacific with both Szot in New York and Pittsinger (a gracious, talented straight man) at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, in the national touring company of the musical.
When the show’s run was extended on Broadway, Szot had to cancel performances in three opera productions in Brazil. He was amazed that he was cast in South Pacific in the first place, which came about when he answered a casting call from Lincoln Center. They were looking for an opera singer, and Szot was in the U.S. performing a Mozart opera in Boston at the time.
Szot photographed holding his Tony award next to presenter Liza Minelli (at left).
There are parallels to Ezio Pinza’s creating the role of Emile de Becque in 1949, when South Pacific first opened on Broadway. Pinza was also an opera star who crossed over to Broadway, but Pinza had retired from the Metropolitan Opera a year earlier. Szot has done the reverse – retiring from a Broadway production to make his debut at the Met. We can hope that Szot continues simultaneous careers on Broadway and in the world’s great opera houses.