Michael Honeyman brings A Queer Romance to Opera Queensland

michael honeyman
Image: Opera Queensland

Michael Honeyman chats to QNews about his upcoming show, A Queer Romance, for Opera Queensland.

Michael Honeyman has curated an intimate and personal performance inspired by queer romance throughout history.

He was approached to tell his story for Opera Queensland’s Studio Series and felt inspired to explore a theme close to his heart.

“One of the things we never really cover is sexuality, so that’s why I came up with the idea of a queer romance,” he says. 

The songs the Brisbane-raised baritone will be performing are from early 20th-century queer composers that showcase the joy and pain of romance.

The pieces include song cycles of Karol Szymanowski’s The Love Songs of Hafiz and Benjamin Britten’s Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo. 

Britten’s influence

Britten is one composer who has been interwoven in the fabric of Michael’s musical life and career.

As a child, he borrowed a cassette of Christmas Carols from the library only to discover it was a piece by Benjamin Britten.

“I kind of got to know Britten before Bach or Beethoven, and he stayed with me. He was my first gig in Queensland a few years ago when I did Peter Grimes, he is just one of the people that I’ve always been kind of linked with,” he says.

The Britten piece he will perform for A Queer Romance is based on the actual texts of Michelangelo, where he professed his love for another man. Britten dedicated it to his long time, partner Peter Pears, and it was the first piece they first performed together.

“It’s such beautiful music, but it’s also intelligent and really invested in the text and has some really interesting stories to tell that are beyond the standard heroine who falls in love with the wrong guy and dies. They’re a lot more complex,” he explains.

Also featured is one of Michael’s favourite composers, Ned Rorem, who was unapologetic about who he was.

“He was very, very open about his sexuality. He wrote some very famous diaries that are very candid and picked a lot of queer poets, as well as standard American poets, to write his songs to.”

Michael Honeyman queer journey

 Bringing the show to the city he was raised in is something that Michael has some apprehension about. 

“My experience growing up in Brisbane in the eighties and nineties wasn’t all that positive. So it’s a little bit nerve-wracking, but I’m hoping that audiences will really take to it. It’s a very different climate now, for sure,” he says. 

After studying music at a young age, he left it as he “didn’t show my promise” and began a decade-long career in banking.

However, connecting to the queer community brought a love and ambition back for music.

“I joined Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir just for fun, and that’s when the choir conductor Jonathan Welch heard me and said, ‘Oh, this is a very promising voice’,” he explains.

Michael went back to study and began working professionally shortly afterwards. 

Opera is for everyone.

The show takes place on October 6 and 7, and Michael implores those who have been shy of the genre to keep an open mind.

“It is about the story. I know it’s about people getting put off by the voice. But it’s the voice telling the story, and surprisingly, a number of people don’t realise that there are subtitles, which I find is quite funny. So you can always understand the story. So give it a go!”

Find out more about Opera Queensland Studio Series recital: A Queer Romance at oq.com.au

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