‘Fellow Travelers’ – A Gay Opera About Forbidden Love During McCarthyism And The Lavender Scare.

After the events in Orlando I was looking forward to getting away from Florida and immersing myself into another city.  This past weekend was Stonewall Pride in Wilton Manors, Florida, which I had mixed feelings about missing, but I had already planned to travel to Cincinnati and attend the world premiere of a new opera, “Fellow Travelers.”  I was going into the opera a little blind, but at least I had a tuxedo in tow. What I did learn about the opera before going was:


Based on the 2007 novel by Thomas Mallon, ‘Fellow Travelers’ takes place in 1950s Washington, D.C., and follows Timothy Laughlin, a recent college graduate and devout Catholic eager to join the crusade against Communism. A chance encounter with a handsome State Department official, Hawkins Fuller, leads to Tim’s first job in D.C. and—after Fuller’s advances—his first love affair. As McCarthy makes a desperate bid for power and investigations focus on “sexual subversives,” Tim struggles to reconcile his political convictions, his love for God, and his love for Fuller—an entanglement that will end in a stunning act of betrayal.

On June 17, 2016, Cincinnati Opera presented the world premiere of ‘Fellow Travelers,’ with music by Gregory Spears and a libretto by Greg Pierce. The world premiere production, which will have performances through July 10, is directed by Kevin Newbury, conducted by Mark Gibson, and presented in partnership with the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). The opera was developed and co-commissioned by G. Sterling Zinsmeyer.


Before I attended the opera, my very first opera, I didn’t watch either of the videos below and read half of the description above.  Sometimes, if I have to much prior knowledge I get overly critical.  If you’re like that, skip over the two YouTube clips, but if you want to hear from some of the integral people in the creation of the opera, please watch.





The following piece, “Our Very Own Home,” performed by baritone Joseph Lattanzi, was recorded at the Opera Fusion: New Works ‘Fellow Travelers’ workshop performance on November 26, 2013.




What did I think of the Opera?  In the first video, it was said that this was to be “a tender beautiful story between these two men, but it ends very tragically because it is an opera” and the hope was that the audience “would fall in love with these characters.”  I and fellow opera goers experienced a range of emotions throughout the two acts.  So much was portrayed on stage and audience members rode the rollercoaster along with the characters.  

The fluidity of the production was exciting to watch.  Each cast member had their role and did it wonderfully.  Often, there are extras and small supporting roles that you think, well, we could do without those, but there was no fluff.  The Jarson-Kaplan Theater stage and the set design were minimal and multifunctional and it was a joy to watch them being utilized to their fullest.  Even though the theater seats 437, it felt like you were one of 20 people in a very intimate setting while this tragic love story unfolded in front of you.


It was a great experience and my emotions were bouncing all over the place from love, hatred, disgust, compassion, and joy.  I noticed tha the opera resonated with everyone around me, no matter what flavor they were.  It was a powerful performance and truly an event I will not forget.

What I will mention is my plan to unplug from the world with a weekend away from Florida and all the emotions didn’t go as planned.  The world premiere of “Fellow Travelers,” the story of The Lavender Scare, the ridicule of men loving other men, it showed us the struggle was real then and unfortunately, the struggle is still going on today.  The emotions were still high, but being in Cincinnati, Ohio actually helped me process one of the worst emotional weeks I have ever had.  Cincinnati is a welcoming, art rich, loving, and accepting city that I will need to return to soon.  Cities have a pulse and a feel and this city’s pulse was strong.  Keep an eye out for my future blog about where to stay, what restaurants need to be visited, what bars are worth a visit, and what other things there are to see in Cincy.

If you’re interested in seeing “Fellow Travelers,” you will have to visit Cincinnati, Ohio before its last showing on July 10th.  You can find a link to tickets below. 

June 17, 21, 23, 25, 28, 30, July 6 & 8 • 7:30 p.m.
June 19 & July 10 • 3:00 p.m.
Aronoff Center for the Arts • Jarson-Kaplan Theater
Opera Insights are held one hour before curtain in the Aronoff’s Orchestra Level lobby.

Music by Gregory Spears
Libretto by Greg Pierce
Based on the 2007 novel by Thomas Mallon
Developed and co-commissioned by G. Sterling Zinsmeyer

Content advisory: Fellow Travelers is intended for adult audiences and its story includes a love affair between two men.

Sung in English with projected titles
Approximate running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes, including one intermissio

For tickets, you can go to CincnnatiOpera.org

I would like to thank the Cincinnati Arts Association and Todd Duesing, Director of Operations at the Aronoff Center, as well as the great Julie, Susan, and Andrew at Source Cincinnati.

3 thoughts on “‘Fellow Travelers’ – A Gay Opera About Forbidden Love During McCarthyism And The Lavender Scare.”

  1. The New York Times reviewed a

    The New York Times reviewed a performance during which a few number of patrons left in the first act when the two main characters began kissing and removing their clothes. (They remained clothed in boxer shorts.) http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/21/arts/music/review-fellow-travelers-cincinnati-opera.html?_r=0

    I only lived in the city for five years (1989-1994) but that period of time was very difficult. I've returned to the city very few times since then and this production was the first opera performance I attended there since 1994. There was an atmosphere of terror everywhere, just not in Cincinnati because of the AIDS crisis. HIV was not something you lived with–there was no "positive" or "negative" or "undetectable." You started losing weight, sweating, growing lesions, became a leper, abandoned and then you died.  

  2. “Cincinnati is a welcoming,

    "Cincinnati is a welcoming, art rich, loving, and accepting city that I will need to return to soon." Well, this has not always been the case and the hate is not ancient history. The "Queen City" was previously best known for its obsession with stamping out obscenity, real and imagined: prosecuting the director of the art gallery that displayed Robert Maplethorpe's photos in 1989, publicity staged raids of Larry Flynt's properties, its "Equal Rights Not Special Rights" campaign of hate against gays and its continuous harassment and targeting of gays for arrest in the 1990's and beyond. Jaywalk at 2 a.m? Jog through a public park at 10:01 pm. that closed at 10:00 and you would be arrested and put in a paddy wagon and interrogated to name names of the queers in town. Yes, Cincinnati may have changed now, but the Cincinnati I know is a city of hate. But like the rest of the country, the city appears to have come a long way. But even now some OPERA attendees at this production have bolted from their seats at the sight of two men kissing on stage despite the numerous "warnings."        

    • Yes,  the city has changed

      Yes,  the city has changed quite a bit in the last 10 to 15 years.  I'll mention that in another blog next week. 

      I didn't hear of the people leaving the opera.  I'll have to look that up.  


Leave a Comment