Resonant Bodies

S2021 E7 | FULL EPISODE

Stephanie Blythe is Blythely Oratonio

Opera diva Stephanie Blythe brings to stage her drag persona/alter-ego Blythely Oratonio, a bombastic yet vulnerable dramatic tenor who revels in Puccini, Freddie Mercury, and everything in between, in a musical mash-up of disco, rock, and opera.

AIRED: July 21, 2021 | 0:36:44
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TRANSCRIPT

[ Vocalizing ]

[ Screeches ]

[ Auto-tuned ] ♪ It's very hard

Woman: The voice is such a unique instrument.

It is located in this place in your body

where you have your heart below it.

You have your brain above it.

Only the sound of the voice, I think,

can really go to those deep, emotional places.

And when we hear that, there can be a greater compassion

and understanding and community around the world.

[ Vocalizing ]

♪♪

My name is Stephanie Blythe.

In the operatic world, I am a mezzo-soprano,

and in the drag world, I am Blythely Oratonio,

dramatic tenor.

So, in the opera world, no matter how much

we want to own a role, we can't own a role

because basically we're renting it.

Blythely is me.

I rent the songs that I sing, but the character is all me.

Mezzo-sopranos don't have the same kind of repertoire

that dramatic tenors do.

We have a few really great chestnuts,

but it's not like the tenor repertoire,

and I've always loved that repertoire

and I became an opera singer because of my love of tenors.

[ Singing operatically ]

The set that I'm doing tonight,

it's very autobiographical.

So it's his journey to be to becoming

a different kind of artist.

It's all about transitions.

And we utilize opera and rock and roll to show that.

♪ I can't get used to livin' without ♪

♪ Livin' without, livin' without ♪

I long for the days of the variety show.

They don't exist anymore, so really,

my shows with Blythely are my version of a variety show.

I think it's a wonderful art form,

and I love the conversation.

Blythely is very verbose.

[ Laughs ]

This character is sort of born of the need

to continue that kind of connection to the audience.

I love breaking down walls.

I love looking at people and making connections.

I love making people laugh and I love making people smile.

I always have since I was a kid, because I was a bullied kid,

so making people laugh was the way

that was my coping mechanism,

and it's continued all through my life.

The traditional route for opera is wonderful.

It's wonderful, but it's only one way.

And so the thing about doing cabaret like this,

doing drag cabaret, is that you do it

where you can, and you connect wherever you are.

And I think that opera is more than capable

of having that same effect.

And that's why I'm interested

in teaching the next generation of singers

to long for that kind of connection

and make that the number-one thing for performance.

Because I think when audiences connect

with that kind of energy and that kind of need,

it wakes something up in them that's different.

It just does. I've seen it every time.

It's unmistakable.

It's what makes people opera lovers.

I think Resonant Bodies is wonderful

because there is something for everyone

and because it sparks creativity.

And you never know

who you're going to be inspiring.

[ Piano music plays ]

♪♪

♪♪

[ Cheers and applause ]

♪♪

[ Singing operatically ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

[ Laughter ]

[ Singing continues ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

[ Cheers and applause ]

♪♪

♪♪

[ Cheers and applause continues ]

[ Music resumes ]

Mm.

[ Laughter ]

No beasts tonight, baby.

♪ I want to break free

♪ I want

♪ To break free

♪ I want to break free from your lies ♪

♪ You're so self-satisfied

♪ I don't need you

♪ I've got to break free

♪ God knows

♪ God knows, I've got

♪ To break free

♪ I've fallen in love

[ Laughter ]

♪ I've fallen in love for the first time ♪

♪ And this time I know it's for real ♪

♪ I've fallen in love

♪ God knows

♪ God knows, I've fallen in love ♪

♪ It's strange, but it's true

♪ Hey, I can't get over the way you love me like you do ♪

♪ But I have to be sure

♪ When I walk out that door

♪ Oh, how I want to be free, baby ♪

♪ Oh, how I want to be free

♪ Ohhhhhh

[ Cheers and applause ]

♪ How I want

♪ To break

♪ Free

♪ But time still goes on

♪ I can't get used to living without ♪

♪ Living without, living without you by my side ♪

♪ I don't want to live alone

♪ Hey

♪ God knows

♪ Got to get by on my

[ Sings operatically ]

♪ So, baby, can't you see

[ Sings operatically ]

♪ I've got to break free

[ Sings operatically ]

♪ I've got to break

[ Sings operatically ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

[ Grunts ]

To hell with it.

[ Laughter ]

♪ I've got to break

♪ Freeeeeee

♪ Free

♪ Freeee

[ Cheers and applause ]

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Tor the two of you who don't know me...

[ Laughter ]

...my name is Blythely Oratonio,

raconteur, tenorisimo,

hailed byOPERA NEWS

as the voice of the 23rd century.

And by spear carrier number 35

as the ride of a lifetime.

While we're all standing here admiring one another,

why don't you give it up for my band,

The Fluffers.

Yes!

The Fluffers!

[ Cheers and applause ]

They'll keep you up all night.

[ Laughter ]

It's such a joy to welcome all of you

resonant bodies.

Yes, tonight I'll be

resonating your bodies,

sometimes one at a time,

sometimes in a group.

Yes,

it all depends on your preference.

[ Laughter ]

The safe word is...

tenor.

[ Laughter, applause ]

But the point is, the point is

that I'm going to do it all with the power

of the operatic voice.

[ Dramatic piano notes play ]

Pardon.

[ Laughter ]

I wish I had this --

I wish I had this -- this friggin' throne

for every show I did.

[ Laughter ]

Now, some people say that opera is dead.

Woman: Boo!

Yes, boo, boo!

Leoncavallo, dead.

Donizetti,morto.

Bizet,mort.

Mozart, Wagner,tot.

Und Handel!

Pronounced "handle."

Let's say it all together now.

Handel!

Very good.

Still dead.

Now, obviously, opera's not dead.

But don't you think some of it should be?

[ Light cheering, applause ]

Inaccessible opera,mort.

-Yes! -Yeah!

See? Safe opera,tot.

Opera's about a woman written by a man 200 years ago,

sung in the same way,

wearing the same costumes with the same sets.

Ugh.

Oh.

Dead.

[ Applause ]

Now, don't get me wrong. I love opera.

Who doesn't love a "let me warm your tiny cold hands" number?

Who doesn't get jazzed watching a soprano sing herself to death

for 15 minutes

on a Kool-Aid-stained Vera Wang bedsheet?

But that's all been done... to death.

And I'm not dead. And you're not dead.

At least most of you aren't.

So tonight, we're only going to sing living opera --

opera that breathes and moves [inhales deeply]

that sweats into their décolleté,

which I promise will get deeper as the time passes.

[ Laughter ]

[ Laughs ]

We're going to do this all by singing an aria

that I learned when I was a mere slip of a thing.

Now, my father -- I actually was a mere slip of the thing.

No laughing.

My father was a great jazz musician.

He was a wind player.

So I picked up the flute, and I wanted to be a great flautist

in the style of Jean-Pierre Rampal,

James Galway, Jethro Tull.

Now, unfortunately, my father didn't think much of singers,

and he thought even less of guitar players.

I'm very sorry.

He thought they were very stupid.

But when my father would go off to a gig,

I would stand on the bed,

and I'd hold my mother's hairdryer like a microphone.

It singed my lips a bit, but it had great effect.

And I'd do two stupid things -- play the air guitar and sing.

♪ Jessie is a friend

♪ Yeah, I know, he's been a good friend of mine ♪

♪ But lately something's changed that ain't hard to define ♪

♪ Jessie's got himself a girl, and I want to make her mine ♪

♪ And she's watching him with those eyes ♪

♪ And she's loving him with that body ♪

♪ I just know it

♪ Yeah, and he's holding her in his arms late, late at night ♪

You know, when I was a kid, I didn't keep secrets very well.

So I told all my friends,

"I don't want to be a flautist anymore.

I identify as Rick Springfield!"

♪ I wish that I had Jessie's girl ♪

♪ I wish that I had Jessie's girl ♪

♪ Where can I find a woman like that? ♪

When I told my friends I wanted to be Rick Springfield,

they didn't take me seriously.

They looked at me with their mouths agape.

[ Chuckles ]

Not only was it stupid for me to sing,

I had the wrong voice for it.

I was too loud.

The task was too large.

Yes.

In short, I was too big to be a rock star.

"Why don't you be an opera singer instead?"

Fuck you!

♪ I'll play along with the charade ♪

♪ You know, there doesn't seem to be a reason to change ♪

♪ You know, I feel so dirty when they start talking cute ♪

♪ I wanna tell her that I love her ♪

♪ But the point is probably moot ♪

Moot.

Moot.

Who the hell uses that in a lyric today?

Then I thought, "I'll do something really stupid.

I'll -- I'll become an opera star.

Yes.

And I'll use my large voice as my shield and buckler.

And I'll accept my wild, big, beautiful, voluptuous,

Junoesque, magnificent body.

[ Cheers and applause ]

So I studied, and I practiced.

[ Singing operatically ] ♪ And he's watching her

♪ With those eyes

♪ And he's loving her with that body, I just know it ♪

♪ And he's holding her in his arms late, late at night ♪

♪ You know, I wish that I had Jessie's girl ♪

♪ I wish that I had Jessie's girl ♪

♪ Where can I find a woman like that? ♪

♪ Li-i-i-i-ke

♪ Jessie's girl

♪ I wish that I had Jessie's girl ♪

♪ Where can I find a woman l--

♪ Where can I find a woman like that? ♪

-The bridge? -Now it's time for the bridge.

Now, in opera, we don't have bridges.

We just have hours and hours of fucking recitative.

[ Applause ]

[ Normal voice ] ♪ And I'm looking in the mirror all the time ♪

♪ Wondering what they don't see in me ♪

♪ I've been funny, I've been cool with the lines ♪

♪ Ain't that the way love's supposed to be? ♪

♪♪

♪ Where can I find a woman like that? ♪

Now, you know...

I've sung on some of the most lauded opera stages --

Paris, London, Helsinki,

Schenectady, Philadelphia, and New York --

and I've sung with some of the most beautiful women --

Renée Fleming, Susan Graham,

and that bitch Stephanie Blythe.

But still, deep in my heart...

[ Singing operatically ] ♪ You know, I wish

♪ That I had Jessie's girl

♪ I wish that I had Jessie's girl ♪

♪ I want Jessie's girl

♪ Where can I find a woman like that? ♪

[ Cheers and applause ]

Thank you. Thank you so very much.

You know, I think that we've known each other long enough now

that I could ask you a question.

Have you ever been doing some daily chore,

you know, like tweezing or -- or --

or holding an expiring soprano

while you hold a high "D"?

Something mundane like that?

And then you ask yourself,

"What am I doing with my life?

What even -- What even is this?

Is this vital?"

"Who am I?

Am I relevant?"

"Am I relevant?"

Have you ever asked yourself these questions?

Because, for me,

my life, my career sometimes stretched before me

like one long, endless transition

until I don't even know who I am anymore.

Hmm.

You know, the other day,

I was sitting in my dressing room on the toilet.

I was having a think, as you do.

I was thinking about all those big shifts

in the world and in me.

You know, the kind that really clear the room.

[ Laughter ]

Those are the most electrifying and terrifying shifts of all.

[ Laughter continues ]

Turning 50,

realizing your voice has changed.

Mm.

And then the other day,

coaching a lovely singer

on a role I used to sing quite beautifully

and no longer can.

And so...

you sit there in your dressing room...

...desperately posting photos into the virtual void

with your Twitter and your -- your Instagram

and book of faces,

desperately wanting someone to give your -- your life,

your -- your art the thumbs up

to keep it breathing a little bit longer.

And all the while, the rainforests are burning,

nationalism is on the rise,

and people are protesting to deaf ears.

And you look in the mirror at your painted face,

and you realize that your liner is running.

So you sing.

[ Singing operatically ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

[ Laughs ]

[ Singing operatically to "Send in the Clowns" ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Isn't it rich?

♪ Aren't we a pair?

♪ Me here at last on the ground ♪

♪ You in midair

♪ Send in the clowns

♪ Isn't it bliss?

♪ Don't you approve?

♪ One who keeps tearing around

♪ One who can't move

♪ Where are the clowns?

♪ Send in the clowns

[ Singing operatically ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Just when I stopped

♪ Opening doors

♪ Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours ♪

♪ Making my entrance again with my usual flair ♪

♪ Sure of my lines, no one is there ♪

[ Singing operatically ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Don't you love farce?

♪ My fault, I fear

♪ I thought that you'd want what I want ♪

♪ Sorry, my dear

♪ But where are the clowns?

♪ Quick, send in the clowns

♪ Don't bother

♪ They're here

[ Cheers and applause ]

♪♪

♪♪

[ Cheers and applause ]

We are here, all of us --

art clowns, connoisseurs, opera queens, critics, snobs.

And I'm so glad we are,

changing together as the world changes,

harsh and beautiful.

The problem is, sometimes we're so busy mourning the loss

that we forget to recognize what we've gained.

My silver hair -- fantastic.

A room where I can actually see the audience --

a wonder.

Exchanging a baton for a microphone -- unheard of.

A new...career path

to weave around my days on the opera stage.

And you, all of you wondrous, changing, fantastic human beings

with your own harried transitions at play.

And art, to me, opera or otherwise,

is just transition in public.

It's like a striptease of the soul

that says, "It's okay. It's okay. We're alive.

It's okay to change.

It's okay to breathe, to live,

to sweat, to be different."

Even I, a tenor, understand this.

[ Laughter ]

And as the great philosopher David Bowie

opined so beautifully,

"Turn and face the strange."

And isn't that what we're doing here tonight?

Now, whenever there's a successful transition,

as you know, we must sing an anthem.

So I'm going to sing one more aria.

And as I do, I want you all

to hold your transitions in your arms,

no matter how thorny they may be.

And I want you to make love to them

sweetly and gently,

with some dirty talk

and a little tongue,

a bubble bath, and a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc

as you sing along.

[ Singing operatically to "We are the Champions" ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪ My friends

[ Operatic singing continues ]

♪ Till the end

[ Operatic singing continues ]

♪♪

♪ No time for losers

♪ 'Cause we are the champions

[ Operatic singing continues ]

♪♪

♪ I've taken my bows

♪ And my curtain call

♪ You've brought me fame and fortune ♪

♪ And everything that goes with it ♪

♪ I thank you all

♪ But it's been no bed of roses ♪

♪ No pleasure cruise

♪ I consider it a challenge before the whole human race ♪

♪ And I ain't gonna lose

♪ We are the champions, my friends ♪

♪ And we'll keep on fighting till the end ♪

♪ We are the champions

♪ We are the champions

♪ No time for losers

♪ 'Cause we are the champions

Go ahead, sing!

♪ We are the champions, my friends ♪

♪ And we'll keep on fighting till the end ♪

♪ We are the champions

♪ We are the champions

♪ No time for losers

♪ 'Cause we are the champions

Yeah!

♪ We are the champions, my friends ♪

♪ Yeah

♪ We'll keep on fighting till the end ♪

♪ We are the champions

♪ We are the champions

♪ No time for losers

♪ 'Cause we are the champions

[ Singing operatically ]

♪♪

♪♪

[ Cheers and applause ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

[ Cheers and applause ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

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