'Betrayed' by opera, this gender non-binary singer finds their own career path

'The more I tried to fit in with what opera wanted me to be, the more I lost myself,' says Teiya Kasahara in a new short film, Opera Trans*formed.

'The more I tried to fit in with what opera wanted me to be, the more I lost myself,' says Teiya Kasahara

"If I wasn't an opera singer, would I be a trans man?"

Teiya Kasahara, a gender non-binary singer, asks that question partway through Opera Trans*formed, a new short film by Leah Borts-Kuperman and Maria Sarrouh, streaming above. It's a stop-and-think moment underlining the dilemma facing gender non-binary and trans singers working in a field whose roles are rigidly defined along gender lines: sopranos and mezzos are cast as women (so-called "trouser roles" aside); tenors and basses as men.

In the film, Kasahara points to opera's Fach system, whereby operatic roles are classified according to particular voice types. "A certain gender expression or expectation becomes associated to those voice types," Kasahara points out, and few if any directors in major opera houses are willing to sidestep these traditions. For gender non-binary and trans people, to work within this system is to deny their true selves.

"As I was beginning to step away from opera, I felt betrayed by it," Kasahara admits. "By the genre, by the works of art, by the way it used to make me feel."

So, instead, Kasahara co-founded Amplified Opera, a theatre company that they say aims to "make space for myself and other people like me, or other people who don't feel like they fit in within the industry."

In January 2021, the Canadian Opera Company announced that Amplified Opera would be the first participant in its Disruptor in Residence program, a two-year residency that began in March with a panel discussion on gender and opera, with more projects to come.

Opera Trans*formed was produced in association with CBC's Creator Network.

Teiya Kasahara performs in a Buddies in Bad Times Theatre production of the opera Pomegranate in June 2019. (Dahlia Katz)