Class Of 2020: Breanna Sinclaire—Opera Singer

When it came to curating this list, in the midst of a cultural upset, a global pandemic, and a civil war amongst the people—we were at a crossroads.

How do we create a Class Of guide when the world seems to be falling apart every single day, how do we honor people and their achievements when the conversation has so clearly turned.

Though in the SF Bay Area, we’ve seen a litany of small to large scale unrests awaken in the light of the brutal police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others. These protests have sprung other conversations about race, sexual identity, childcare, healthcare—the list goes on.

And much like the Bay Area does, there are few who lead the charge. Our Class Of 2020 honors and highlights examples who began to further change—whether it’s through their work, day-to-day, or digitally.

Every week (specifically Monday and Friday), we will be highlighting two of our seven Class Of 2020 and inducting them into our master guide of locals who trail blaze in the Bay Area.

The arts in the Bay Area have been a subject of what type of art that you do— Classical versus non-traditional. In the case of classical, it’s a set standard of ridges one must conform to. For Trans opera singer, Breanna Sinclaire—classical is but a word.

The multi-talented and recognized singer has been able to work on projects, be involved in the community, and give back like no opera singer in her pedigree. Hailed for her accolades and breaking barriers along with it, she understands that these are stepping stones for up and coming LGBTQ youth who want to follow the route of classical music and singing.

Sinclaire, herself, is like a shooting star in both the classical music and non-profit sector. Something about her presence makes people stop and appreciate whilst having only a moment to appreciate to the fullest. Packed with a busy schedule, this musicophile is constantly lending her powerful voice to a litany of shows yearly and around the country.

And in this moment of our country healing from the sad and corrupt deaths of many Black men and women in the US—Sinclaire finds herself at an intersection of using her classical training as stage for protest. We caught up with Sinclaire via email about her Class Of 2020 induction and how her work is evolving in the changing 2020 landscape.

Q

Thank you for allowing us to honor you as a part of our Class Of 2020. For those who may not know, please give us an introduction into your journey as a Transgender woman of color opera singer? The journey of Breanna Sinclaire?

A

I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, in a very religious environment. It was very difficult to come out. Music was my source of healing, and a compass to my own personal freedom. I sang in the church choir, I attended Baltimore School for the Arts and Tanglewood Institute. These safe havens kept me uplifted. Because I lacked the role models growing up, and grew up in fear of expressing my true gender, I did not muster up the courage to come out until my second undergraduate year at Cal Arts. It was the most liberating and powerful experience. The journey was difficult at first, but after much persistence, I finally got the support I needed to not only transition but also to study voice that reflected my gender expression. I’m beyond thankful to those who trained me and were by my side as I came into my own true being.

Q

How did you find yourself in the field of opera? Who, if any, were motivators for you to pursue this art?

A

My grandmother loved opera, and still does. When I was a young girl, she introduced me to the great singers—Leontyne Price, Grace Bumbry, George Shirle, and many more. She regarded these artists with such deep and contagious pride and respect. On my visits with her, she would play these great African American singers in her kitchen on the stereo. I was so drawn to the pure beauty and drama of the music; it gave me such peace of mind, especially while dealing with the toxic abuse of my father. She took me to see Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. From that moment on, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I began singing at the age of five, and luckily I was nurtured by my grandmother, mother, and schooling.

Q

Whilst not only being a Transgender woman of color opera singer, you’re also quite involved in the non-profit and activism space when it comes to LGBT and arts issues-whether San Francisco or beyond, how did you start getting involved and who were those you got involved with the most?

A

I moved to San Francisco to pursue graduate studies at the Conservatory. The city turned out to be such a safe haven for my transition; there I found the incredible community support to legally change my name, and receive medical treatment and surgeries. While studying at the Conservatory, I worked at the Stuff Antiques, where I met my wonderful adopted fathers, James and Will, who have treated me like their daughter. I then got a job at the San Francisco LGBT Center, helping Trans people secure employment. Through that network I was able to sing and speak at events.

 


Sinclaire performing with The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. Photo courtesy of Breanna Sinclaire.Sinclaire performing with The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. Photo courtesy of Breanna Sinclaire.

Sinclaire performing with The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. Photo courtesy of Breanna Sinclaire.

 

Q

How has working with music groups of so many backgrounds (whether it be in the LGBT and classical opera) bettered your perspective and what are key takeaways you’ve learned along the way? We know that for you, you have a viewpoint about tenors and the misogynistic quality it contains. 

A

I have better understood how music is such a community-gathering art form. Getting to perform with several gay men’s choruses throughout the U.S. and Canada has shown me the power of community and what these choruses mean to us, our history of justice, our continued fight for civil rights. The change we have made in the past 50 years has been incredible. Opera itself is such a high art form; it is pure and beautiful, and expresses such a heightened state of emotion, which is so innately human. In a time where emotions are being compromised by harsh political divides and being hijacked by digital media, we need connection now more than anything. Many art forms, opera included, have been traditionally set aside for a largely white, affluent audience; to ensure its survival and future, it needs to acknowledge its past and begin to carefully craft its future, by celebrating the vast world we live in that often is out of reach of that affluence. I am so proud to be a part of this expansion of the art form, and I can’t wait to see how our future will take shape.

Q

You’re setting a lot of firsts in your career, first transwoman to perform the National Anthem at a professional sporting event for the Oakland A’s, SF Giants, and San Francisco Deltas, how do you feel about the raving accolades? How do you stay grounded?

A

I stay grounded by engaging with my family and friends; spending quality time with my boyfriend, getting out of town here and then. I am extremely grateful for my accolades. I’ve spent many years struggling to get here, so they mean the world to me. I am proud to represent my community, and I hope I can continue to inspire any young BIPOC child, Trans or not, to be the best they can be and look in the mirror and be proud despite the circumstances that may kick them down. Someone once told me, “The road to heaven is paved in broken glass.”

Q

When you feel at your lowest—where and how do you find the strength to pull yourself up? If not, why?

A

COVID has taken a toll on many in 2020. I was supposed to sing in a brand new opera, Bound, in Toronto, in April. Like many artists, I was looking forward to being on stage. The team at At the Grain Theatre Company have been as optimistic as possible, planning for a postponed performance of our opera. “This too shall pass.” I think self-care is essential. We don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to relax. Going for a walk or even reading my favorite book has helped me, as I plan for life after COVID.

Q

And on the flip side, when do you feel the most powerful? Is it the big accomplishments or is it the small tasks of life?

A

Knowing that life is not perfect, but being able to withstand the challenges in life and not letting it break you is when I feel most powerful. You can grow so much from challenges; in fact, through discomfort and adversity is often how you grow the most. I haven’t stopped singing; I’m learning a new aria from Puccini’s La Bohème —”Donde lieta usci.” As my voice has gotten stronger through the transition, I can sing the soaring melodies with more ease and breathe support. It was a challenge but I felt empowered knowing I can tackle other soprano repertoire.

Q

What would you say to 19-year old Breanna in the beginnings of transition if you both were sitting down at the dinner table together? What words of advice or words of focus would you provide given the position you’re in today?

A

I would say, “Hang in there, love bug. It’s going to get better.” Heck, I would give myself a damn hug! It sounds cliché, but sometimes all you need to know is that life will get better. I can’t believe how many times I came close to giving up singing, especially when I was homeless in New York City in 2010, but God provides you with the gift and you manifest the plan.

Q

San Francisco recently, within the past few years, erected a district in San Francisco honoring our Transgender brothers and sisters, rightly naming it the Transgender District. In your eyes, what else could the city be doing more of for the Transgender community?

A

As a black Trans woman, housing and employment opportunities for us are a must. It’s not easy, even with training and education; we need to do more trans initiative work so that we can live successfully and freely, and give back to our communities. Also we must be active in our civic duties: VOTE!

Q

On a lighter note, what other ventures have you persuaded? Any new hobbies, exciting projects that you’re tapping into?

A

I’m working on some wonderful projects, but they are, shall we say, on the “D.L” at this time. I’m revamping my website and social media, working on musical theatre repertoire, as well as planning European engagements come 2021-2022.

Q

Who do you champion?

A

I champion my black trans sisters who are making changes in the community: Ebony Ava Harper, Nala Toussaint, Imara Jones, Raquel Willis, and so many more. We are pushing for liberation and human civility. I am beyond grateful for our leaders and activists that make sure our voices and stories are heard for the next generation of trans women, men and gender non-conforming folks. We are paving ways for the community. Thank you to Miss Billie Cooper, Miss Major, Veronika Fimbres; and a special honor to Monica Roberts, who recently passed away. She was a beacon of light in this world; she held my hand and uplifted my spirit in my worst times. I am forever grateful to her, and to these women.


Class Of 2020: Breanna Sinclaire—Opera Singer
Scroll to top