This production of La Bohème is all about firsts. It’s our first new staging in 25 years, the first opera of the season, and the first time we’re working with some new, talented faces. Among those faces is Jessica Hogan, the first trans woman to be cast in a production with the LA Opera (and definitely not the last).
We got the chance to speak with her about why she loves opera, how she started performing, and what it feels like to be a pioneer on the stage at the Dorothy Chandler.
So, when did you get involved in opera?
I've always had an interest in opera since I was a little kid. I grew up with it in pop culture and in cartoons, but I always felt like it was out of my reach. My background comes from mostly acting, but as my previous self, I didn’t have that sort of confidence it took to sell yourself. I always felt like I was playing two different characters. I was acting like a man and then like the character I was supposed to be. As an actor, you really have to believe in your product, and I didn’t believe in the person I was. Now, that’s not the case. I sing with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, and LA Opera contacted them looking for trans performers. I went down for the audition and the rest is history.
What excites you about opera?
One of the things I've always appreciated is that it’s so grand and lavish, and everything is always so beautiful. Opera is a very beautiful art form. Not just in the singing but in the performance of it: the sets, all of it. Opera is like the highest form of theatre.
How is this production different from others you've been in previously? What about it is special?
I was able to get measured for my costume and got a proper fitting for the first time in my whole life. The costumes are beautiful. It’s especially hard as a trans woman going into a costume fitting. You’re always sort of thinking, “Well, how is this going to turn out?” I’m shaped a bit different than most girls and worry about how it’ll translate. But when I put the costume on, it looked great and that felt amazing. It’s also the first production I’m in where someone’s doing my hair and makeup, which is also so new and exciting for me. Everyone, from top to bottom, has been so incredibly supportive and understanding.
What do you love about La Bohème?
I myself am a tenor, but nothing can take my breath away like a soprano. It's probably going to be hard for me during the production to not get lost in [Marina Costa-Jackson’s] aria and pay attention to what I’m doing.
How does it feel to be the first trans performer cast with the LA Opera?
It’s both exciting and humbling at the same time. The excitement of the opportunity was what dawned on me first, and as time goes on, I started to really realize just the impact it has and the meaning that it has for people in the community. The door has potentially been opened for any other trans performer to come and audition and give it a shot. There have been so many auditions that I've gone to where I've felt pushed against for even trying, where they look at me and are like “Well, why are you even here?” But then to come here where everyone wants to know my pronouns and do everything the right way—it’s really heartwarming.
Why is that representation important?
I sing with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles and we go out and preform for the community during Pride. One of the highlights for me is when I see all the trans-identifying children at the shows. They come right up to the front and look up at us. We’re 30-40 trans individuals of all races, creeds, colors, professions, and when those kids look up at us, I just hope that they can see a future for themselves. They see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. They can be trans and be an actor, and be an architect, and be anything else they want to be. Being trans does not discount you from being anything you want to be in life. So, I think it’s important for that kind of inclusion because these kids can see someone like me and think, “I can be that and it can be okay.” It normalizes it. And it is normal. And it should be brought out to the world that way.
What did it feel like to be cast?
I ran out of the room and did everything I could to not hop on my phone and contact every person I ever known to tell them all about it. When I first got the role, I didn’t realize I was the first trans person to work with [LA Opera]. This will actually be my stage premiere in Los Angeles, too. I’ve done stage work in Orange County, but I’ve yet to do any live production in LA, and this is a pretty prestigious place to get to do that. I think the first time I just get to see the stage and stand on it, I'll probably cry.
We're so excited for Jessica to make her LA Opera debut. Catch her on the stage opening night (and all other nights) of La Bohème this Saturday.