BWW Feature: KLASSICAL KWEENS: Gilda Wabbit
Sometimes an opera singing drag queen from Kentucky becomes a viral meme sensation. Not frequently, but it happens--at least to Gilda Wabbit.
A bawdy queen, whose performances are chock-full of juxtaposition, drenches her act in the perfect Mozartian homage--pairing filth with flair. Ms. Wabbit boasts a bright countertenor, which she deftly manipulates through a wide variety of repertoire; however, like most artists, and humans for that matter, her story is one of growth and learned self-respect.
She started her studies as a tenor at university in Kentucky--never really finding her footing. She constantly felt behind, not realizing until later that this was because she was studying the wrong voice part. The lack of outward praise and recognition she was receiving from her teachers and colleagues forced her to redefine her values and learn to look inward for validation--a lesson that can take a lifetime to master.
This learned respect for the self propelled her forward. I believe it was this newly molded definition of success that pushed her to find her path. Without this growing self-respect, she may never have moved to New York to pursue opera. And, without this awareness, there is no way she would eventually find the musical versatility that her countertenor provided. A voice type, ironically, steeped in a historic gender-bending tradition.
In an interview, famed countertenor Andreas Scholl says, "the high male voice stands for somebody who transcends the cliché of what is masculine or feminine." It was this discovery of her true vocal-self, her true inner artist, that helped open Ms. Wabbit to the possibility of drag and 'transcend the cliché of what is masculine or feminine.'
So, with growing self-respect and fledgling success as a tenor--she changed course. She listened to the inner barometer she'd been honing and pivoted towards what was right. Post voice switch, she got an itch to enter a competition--dressed as a woman. At the last minute, the competition was canceled, but the host, Ms. Brita Filter, agreed to let Gilda perform her number anyway. She sang, live, all three roles in the number "I'm Not Getting Married Today" from Sondheim's Company.
It was a hit.
When she finished, she heard the applause that she'd been waiting to hear from her operatic pursuits. Having already learned how to listen and make alterations when necessary, she realized that the audience enjoyed what she was doing--and it was time to lean in.
She started a career as an opera singing drag queen who not only gives illusions with her face and body, but also with her singing voice. Along the way, she stumbled into meme stardom with "this is what liberals want," and made trips back to her alma mater to discuss her successes. While there, she was asked when she would begin singing 'legitimately.' Her response?
I delved deeper, and she explained:
"Because of the lessons that I learned, I was able to understand that what I am doing IS legitimate and I didn't need their validation. I am exposing people to classical music who would never put themselves in an opera house. We put opera on this pedestal that strips it of its humanity. It is sexy and gritty and violent and that is what makes it so exciting."
"To have that sense of one's intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference."
Gilda seems to have taken this lesson to heart. It's a journey that we all share...or at least we should.
So, learn from Joan; learn from this queen. Grow, explore, pivot--and get your ass to a classical music performance. You never know what you'll experience until you do.
You can see Gilda Wabbit performing her 'Smutty, Glamorous, Warm' drag weekly: Tuesdays--Bingo at Albatross in Astoria 9-late; Wednesdays--Wabbit Hole Wednesdays: Interactive Night of Smut at Icon in Astoria 9-late, Sunday Brunch-L&W Oyster Co 12-3. And catch her Duplex cabaret debut: Open Season February 16th 7pm.
"This is the future liberals want": @Boubah360
All other photos: James Avance Photography