Prizm News / February 8, 2019 / By Krista Stauffer

“I am an artist who dabbles in many different genres of music, and that is definitely becoming more the norm out in the world,” says Lacey Jo Benter. (Photos by Djamel Hamdad)

Lacey Jo Benter is perfoming this weekend in the premiere of ‘The Flood,’ an Opera Columbus/ProMusica production.

By Krista Stauffer

Lacey Jo Benter is a Julliard-trained, budding dramatic soprano opera singer who’s originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and currently resides in Los Angeles.

She is performing the role of Alice in the world premiere production of  Opera Columbus’ and ProMusica’s “The Flood,” running this weekend only at the Southern Theatre.

Composed by Korine Fujiwara, with a libretto by Stephen Wadsworth, “The Flood” tells the story of human connection through loss and shared tragedy, centered around the devastation of Columbus’ Franklinton neighborhood in the Great Flood of 1913.
This weekend’s performances are the world premiere of “The Flood.”

Tell us about your role in “The Flood” opera.

My role in “The Flood” is Dr. Alice Strotmeier, who is a patient in the old Columbus State Hospital in the year 1970. The audience meets her as she is progressing through an exit interview administered by one of her doctors.

Alice is one of the most unique and exciting roles I’ve ever gotten the opportunity to bring to life. She is a complex, distraught and conflicted individual, and because of the uncommon nature of “The Flood” we get to see all of her idiosyncrasies unfold at various stages in and surrounding her life.

She is a human being who has gone through a great deal when we meet her, and we leave her knowing that there is a great deal yet to come.

Why is this story important for the Columbus community?

I think that this story is important for any community that has dealt with a massive trauma like the Flood of 1913. It was absolutely devastating, and the fact the Columbus was still on the map after that kind of blow speaks to the will and strength of the people who were living here at the time.

I think it’s distinctly special for Columbus because it is your story. It’s your history. While none of my colleagues nor myself are playing people who actually lived, the events and the settings in which these events took place all belong to you.

We’re telling a fictionalized version of a story that is woven into the fabric of your everyday lives, like the lives of all of these characters are woven together on the stage.

A scene from “The Flood.” (Photo by Amanda Bottoms, courtesy of Opera Columbus)

How has it been working with Opera Columbus/ProMusica and the people involved?

It has been nothing but an honor and a privilege. Opera Columbus and ProMusica, led by the equally incomparable Peggy Kriha Dye and Janet Chen, respectively, are incredibly special organizations. To have them both in one city is truly remarkable.

Columbus has blown me away by its devotion to art-making and art-makers of all different forms. Opera Columbus and ProMusica are exemplary art-makers individually, and the production they have come together to create is nothing short of stunning.

I couldn’t be more grateful or more inspired to be working with them, and I hope to do so a great deal more in the future. 

Lacey Jo Benter grew up in the Midwest and now calls L.A. home. (Photo by Djamel Hamdad)

What is it like being a professional Opera Singer and making a living as such?

It’s never dull. Being at such a starting point in my career, I tend to make my living every which way, including opera singing, but not quite exclusively so yet.

I am an artist who dabbles in many different genres of music, and that is definitely becoming more the norm out in the world. Between new works such as “The Flood,” opera standards like “Carmen” or “La Bohéme” and classic musical theater (even some not so classic) we’re all kept on our toes flitting back and forth between genres a lot of the time.

Many of my colleagues work in straight theater, some do studio work, I myself am starting to explore my singer/songwriter roots out in L.A. It is a time in which to be an opera singer means you have to be a versatile artist, and I think that’s why I find it so exciting. 

What is the LGBTQIA community like in the opera profession as a whole?

It is large and warm and incredibly welcoming. It is a rare occurrence that I am the only person in a rehearsal room who identifies as LGBTQIA. Not only that but because there is such a large presence of us within the field there is massive family of allies that surrounds us amongst our colleagues, music directors and administrators.

It’s just a wonderfully open, safe and caring community that I couldn’t be luckier to have fallen into. 

Where are your favorite places you have performed?

I’m not the most well-traveled opera singer, being at a turning point in my career currently, but I think some of my favorites include the Barbican Theatre in London, Opera Omaha amongst their huge and diverse art scene (much like Columbus’) and L.A. Opera’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

That theater in particular is where I truly got my start and I think it will always be home to me. 

Since you’ve been in Columbus, what excites you about the local LGBTQIA community in Central Ohio?

That it exists! And that it exists so freely and openly.

I’ve lived on either coast for just shy of a decade now—five years in New York and four in L.A. To be perfectly honest, I always do get a little nervous whenever I leave the perceived safety of the blue Meccas on either side of the country and head inland, but I am happy to say that I am always pleasantly surprised, and Columbus is no exception.

Not only is the LGBTQIA community present here, it is thriving, it is supported and it is such an overwhelming joy to see and experience that.

What have you enjoyed most about Columbus so far?

I feel like I’ve gotten to experience so much good stuff during my stay here. From the amazing coffee at Bottoms Up in Franklinton to the pastry at Pistacia Vera, to wandering around The Book Loft, to getting to see the fabulous Columbus Symphony perform, it’s truly been a whirlwind of joy.

Though I think my favorite Columbus experience has to be the night our fabulous local castmates took us to Sing Out Louise hosted at Club Diversity. What an astonishing night of song and what a staggering pool of talent here in Columbus!

I was so glad I was there to see these breathtaking singers. Columbus is lucky to have each and every one of you. 

What would you tell someone, especially who identifies as LGBTQIA, about pursuing a career in opera?

Do it. Be you. Know your instrument. Know who you are as an artist and what you want to say in the big, bad world out there. Know that you have the ability to lead and that your voice matters. To quote Martha Graham: “It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”

Krista Stauffer is an artist educator for CATCO in Columbus.