So I Turned Myself to Face Me: “Blythely Ever After”

Stephanie Blythe as Blythely Oratonio. Photo by Dominic M. Mercier

Presented by Boston Lyric Opera
Directed by John Jarboe
Music direction & arrangements by Daniel Kazemi
Cowritten by John Jarboe & Stephanie Blythe 
Blythely, flower, costumes and throne designed by Machine Dazzle with Rebecca Kanach
Original sound design by Dan Perelstein Jaquette 

May 6, 2022 at 7:30 PM
Royal Boston
279 Tremont St
Boston, MA 02116

Review by Kitty Drexel

BOSTON, Mass. — Opera is not dead. Opera has the potential to thrive in these interesting times. Stephanie Blythe ushers in its new dawn as Blythely Oratonio, a drag king with a most ostentatious countenance, in Blythely Ever After. Opera, the culture, need only evolve with its denizens to survive. 

Drag queen Sapphira Cristál, she of the six-octave range, opened the concert in a stately purple taffeta robe with “Dich Teure Halle” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser. She sang live but she was so pitch-perfect that she sounded recorded. This aria sounds as good sung by a queen if not better than it does by a princess soprano.

Cristál did stand behind the mic during this aria, one could never accuse her of parking and barking. She was expressive from her multiple wigs to the base of her heels. Standing still can be a thoughtful, artistic choice. It can communicate self-repression, not just that the director didn’t have any other ideas. 

Queen’s own photo from the concert.

Sapphira Cristál tore up the crowd with lip-synchs to Ella Fitzgerald’s “Air-Mail Special” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (Natalie Cole, Natalie Live 1978) in a burgundy, sequined catsuit. She was athletic; she dove into splits and factually threw herself into performance. Cristál reminded/taught us of two important rules of drag performance: 1. Watch the show. 2. Tip generously. Some of us held cash out for Cristál, and some of us did not do our homework. 

(Venmo is accepted. DM her if you didn’t tip. Ask and she’ll tell you how much is appropriate. Sapphira Cristál is worth every penny.) 

The drag community knows what arts administrators conveniently forget: Pay. Your. Artists. Art, and its perfection, is expensive for the artist most of all. If you can’t afford your artists, you can’t afford your art.  

Oratorio’s band, The Fluffers, excited the audience as they crossed to their instruments. Professional Birdies, stage assistants in black and leather, walked the audience and the stage sprinkling rose petals. They complimented outfits and chatted up worthy individuals.  

Blythely Oratonio entered the stage shortly after Sapphira Cristál left. Oratonio rocked. This silver-haired fox with arms that look like they give great hugs was as comfortable singing traditional opera as he was singing Sondheim, Bowie, and Queen. He used his platform to deliver his origin story, share some hot gossip, and support his activism all with a heavy dollop of innuendo.  

One of Oratonio’s biggest agenda items of the evening was opera’s accessibility. I completely agree that opera should retire its most problematic works, educate its living creators, and welcome the masses by smashing its high falutin’ ways. But! Opera friends, “accessible” does not mean what you think it does. 

Opera is so far removed from the mainstream that its community thinks accessible means making opera available to everyone. Accessible/accessibility is a word that is and has been utilized by the disabled community for decades to mean making places and things available to disabled people. It frequently implies the application of ADA law. Opera does have accessibility issues (we can’t be included if we can’t even get in the building), but this isn’t what Oratonio meant.  

Oratonio meant the kind of likability that leads to mass consumption. He didn’t mean Il Divo or Sarah Brightman. He meant singing rock songs like “Jessie’s Girl” with technical prowess in an arrangement that glorifies the voice and the band. He meant killing off works that subjugate women’s power to impress dead royal patrons. Oratorio meant breathing modernity into a racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic genre because tradition is peer pressure from old, dead dudes. 

Part of doing all that is checking in with the other arts to see what their creators are doing too. Opera isn’t more special than any other art form. If musicals can cast a wheelchair user who belts an F5, then opera can erase the ableism from Rigoletto

The Supreme Court is voting to overturn Roe v Wade. Contact them HERE. A person deserves bodily autonomy at all stages. Banning abortion won’t end abortions; it will brutally kill women. Oratonio thinks it’s wrong to criminalize basic women’s healthcare, and we Geeks do too. It is completely legal to abstain from abortions if you don’t want one.

Blythely Oratonio’s rendition of “Changes” by David Bowie on ukulele brought me to tears. It’s the kind of unnatural genderqueer, acoustic version that I think Bowie would appreciate. The rest of Oratonio’s concert is strictly legit-voiced glam rock, sequins akimbo. “Changes” was unplugged and vulnerable. It’s been six long Bowie-less years. This version helped. 

Queen’s own photo of the High Note cocktail.

We greatly enjoyed “Blythely Ever After” from the High Note cocktail (the absinthe wash was a nice touch) to the glitter throne made by Machine Dazzle. This concert embraces the highest of high-brow and the most depraved of low-brow. And, it got us home by 10 PM.  

Oratonio lovingly made fun at Boston Lyric Opera’s acronym. He missed an obvious one. Singing this gig is what he could call a BLO job. Blythe’s next BLO job is in Champion: An Opera in Jazz by Terence Blanchard with a libretto by Michael Cristofer later this month at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre.

“Blythely Ever After” was created and produced in collaboration with director/co-writer John Jarboe of The Bearded Ladies Cabaret and Music Director and Arranger Daniel Kazemi.

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