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Though she’s best known as one of opera’s leading sopranos, Patricia Racette has a long-standing, deeply felt connection to other musical styles.


On this full-length concert special of Articulate, we explore the life and art of Patricia Racette, the supremely talented singer and storyteller.

Patricia Racette: Enchanting the Muse

On the next Articulate, we explore the life and art of Patricia Racette— a supremely talented singer and storyteller.

Though she’s best known as one of opera’s leading sopranos Patricia Racette has a long-standing, deeply felt connection to other musical styles. 

(Patricia Racette singing “Guess Who I Saw Today”) 

You’re so late getting home from the office. 

Did you miss your train? 

Were you caught in the rain? 

No, don’t bother to explain. 

The jazz standard, “Guess Who I Saw Today” has been in Racette’s repertoire since long before she had first-hand experience of being brokenhearted. Indeed, from a very young age she’s been drawn to a certain depth of feeling. 

Patricia Racette: I used to play guitar and write my own songs, for example, and I used to go to the Hallmark store and read cards, you know, just read the sentiments on the cards, whether it’s an “I’m sorry” or “I love you” or whatever. And I would literally get ideas for songs to write, not textually literal, but emotionally. Because I was 9 years old when I was doing that. I don’t know, there was something that just connected me to pain and pathos. I was able to be empathetic to a situation I had not lived, but I somehow understood. 

 AJC: As children we have a great ability to go inside story. If you watch very young children listening to even a fairytale, they’re living it. This has been a very important component of how you perform, that the storytelling and living inside the story is really important. 

 Racette: It’s been crucial, essential for me. You know, a piece like “Guess Who I Saw Today” is a whole world, it’s a whole universe that’s happened within that three-minute song.  

 (Patricia Racette singing “Guess Who I Saw Today”) 

Can I fix you a quick martini? 

As a matter of fact, I’ll have one with you. 

For to tell you the truth I’ve had quite a day too.  

Guess who I saw today, my dear? 

I went in town to shop around for something new 

And thought I’d stop and grab a bite 

When I was through.  

I looked around for someplace near 

And it occurred to me 

Where I had parked the car, 

I’d seen a most attractive French cafe and bar. 

It really wasn’t very far.  

The waiter showed me to a dark, secluded corner 

And as my eyes became accustomed to the gloom 

I saw two people at the bar. 

Who were so much in love. 

That even I could spot it clear 

Across the room.  

Guess who I saw today, my dear? 

I’ve never been so shocked before. 

I headed blindly for the door. 

They didn’t see me passing through. 

Guess who I saw today? 

Guess who I saw today? 

Guess who I saw today? 

I saw you. 

Racette has been a celebrated opera leading lady for more than three decades, both on America’s premier stages and in great opera houses around the world. But one thing that has set her apart as a performer is her love of a good yarn. 

Racette: They’re so interesting, the storytelling possibilities on a grand scale and on a very intimate scale, like a song. So, for me, I was able to weave myself into that existence and that’s where the appeal of opera came to me. Not the singing of it, not the virtuosity of it, but it was through the storytelling and that’s been sort of the connective tissue for me in all of my singing in life, for as long as I can remember. It was cathartic when I was younger and it remains cathartic today. I mean, I feel transported to another place in that storytelling. 

AJC: Are you always aware of when the audience is stepping into story with you, both in jazz, both in show tunes, and in opera? 

Racette: Yes, I think I am aware, I think any performer’s aware. I mean, it can be literal and practical and say, “Oh, that’s when the candy wrappers stop getting unwrapped and somehow all the coughing stops,” and you can tell when a performance moment has captured an audience. And it’s not just an individual, but in some ways an audience makes one individual entity and you can feel the energy in a very cohesive experience when you’re performing and it’s magical and it’s humbling because you know you’re able to enter their lives for that moment and affect them in an intimate way. 

AJC: And they’re holding you aloft? 

Racette: And they’re holding you aloft, it’s an amazing, I love live performance for that reason. It’s an amazing, amazing experience. 

In 2018 Racette had her most intimate operatic performance ever with Opera Philadelphia’s staging of La Voix Humaine, a one-woman show with a tragic ending that offers the audience only one side of a dramatic phone conversation. 

Racette: I, as the performer, get to decide what the other half is, some of it is obvious and some of it is very ambiguous, which I think ambiguity makes for fantastic theater. 

AJC: And there’s nothing in the script saying you’re hearing this? It’s all left to you to hear? 

Racette: No, it’s all left to you to hear it. Sometimes “oui, oui”, you know, “yes, yes.” So, wow, that leaves, you know, “elle,” which means, “she.” I’ve named her Veronica in my own mind, but that’s neither here nor there, but when elle is listening is I think when you get more of the story than when she’s speaking. And when she’s speaking, it’s so layered, she might be saying one thing and meaning something altogether different and it’s all in the delivery, so the richness as a performer, as an interpreter, as a singer, as an actor, is just endless, it’s endless. You have all this opportunity to layer what you’re saying and you’re not restricted by what your colleague is doing or any– because it’s me and the phone. 

 Whether leading a cast or as a lone star, Patricia Racette can command any stage. In 2013 she made her first foray into cabaret with Diva on Detour, covering songs from stars including the beloved French chanteuse Edith Piaf. 

Racette: I can’t even imagine doing a cabaret show without doing some Piaf of some sort. There’s something so raw and visceral. I think it was really just a natural course that music took in her, you could hear it in every fiber of her vocal treatment. 

AJC: Ugly beautiful. 

Racette: Ugly beautiful. Just pretty and polite has never turned me on, frankly. I love ugly beautiful, I love, again, I wanna just say visceral, there was something so powerful every time you hear anything she’s sung. And yeah, maybe sometimes it would be a little, this would be a little out of tune, this would be a little, but it doesn’t matter, the delivery, was just so connected and so authentic and so it’s something that always appealed to me. 

AJC: Do you have to unravel part of who you are to deliver a song like “Mon Dieu”? 

Racette: No, no, I don’t have to unravel. For me, I try and digest what I think is happening, literally, or what happened when Piaf took in that breath and made that sound. I’m not interested in imitating her, what I’m interested in doing is perhaps taking the same process of connecting it to something very real and visceral within myself and it’s in that delivery that I honor her as a chanteuse and the music and the spirit of that music, that’s sort of the approach. And really just being connected, not just the meaning of the text, but the flavor, the delivery of it is also almost as important. 

Patricia Racette has also explored the repertoire of the legendary American singer Judy Garland. Her interpretation of the classic ballad “The Man That Got Away” from the 1954 remake of “A Star is Born” is especially close to Racette’s heart. But she says, there’s something in it for everyone. 

 (Judy Garland singing “The Man That Got Away”) 

No more that all-time thrill 

For you’ve been through the mill 

And never a new love will 

Be the same. 

Racette: I work with a lot of young students and sometimes my task always seems to return to one thing and that is connecting your personal experience to what you’re singing. Piaf, Judy Garland, they do that. I endeavor to do that in every single thing I sing where you feel like you’re not just hearing the piece as it should be heard, but you’re hearing my version, my comment on humanity in that piece, my comment on the human condition in that piece and that’s what we’re hearing with Judy or with Piaf, we’re hearing something that’s uniquely their artistic voice, their interpretive universe in that piece. And that’s what moves us.  

 (Patricia Racette singing “The Man That Got Away”) 

The night is bitter, 

The stars have lost their glitter. 

The wind grows colder 

And suddenly you’re older 

And all because of the man that got away  

No more his eager call 

The writing’s on the wall 

The dreams you dreamed have all 

Gone astray  

The man that won you 

Has run off and undone you 

That great beginning 

Has seen its final inning 

Don’t know what happened 

It’s all a crazy game  

No more that all-time thrill 

For you’ve been through the mill 

And never a new love will 

Be the same  

Good riddance, goodbye 

Every trick of his you’re on to 

But, fools will be fools 

And where’s he gone to  

The road gets rougher 

It’s lonelier and tougher 

With hope you burn up 

Tomorrow he may turn up 

There’s just no letup the live-long night and day  

Ever since this world began 

There is nothing sadder than 

A one-man woman looking for 

The man that got away 

The man that got away  

Patricia Racette’s secret sauce is her willingness to pour real emotion into the music she sings. And though she believes in being completely vulnerable on stage, she believes some parts of her life should stay private. 

Racette: There is a part of me that is not for public consumption, for sure. And those super close to me are the only ones who know that, that know more about what it takes for me to get here. That process, you know, Beth, my wife, for example, knows, oh, so very well. 

Mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton and Patricia Racette have been married since 2005. They made their relationship public in Opera News magazine back in 2002 But they were in love from the moment they met at a party in the spring of 1997. 

Racette: The chemistry was so electric, so much, it was almost disturbing for me ’cause I like to be in control of things and I felt very much out of control. 

AJC: Oh, it’s the best. 

Racette: It’s the best, it’s the best, but it was, you know, the scary falling in love thing that you just don’t walk away from, you don’t run away from, but needless to say– 

AJC: The pure fear of the unknown? 

Racette: We had a summer fling in 1997 and it’s still going on today. When, for whatever reason, we’re not able to be physically in the same space together when she does come back or I go back into that space and we are together it feels like my life went from this complex, nuanced gray to full-blown color. 

Wherever she or her wife are in the world, whoever they may be surrounded by, Patricia Racette says that every time she sings a love song she is, in her heart, singing it to Beth. “Come Rain or Come Shine” is a particular favorite.  

(Patricia Racette singing “Come Rain or Come Shine”) 

I’m gonna love you, like nobody’s loved you 

Come rain or come shine 

High as a mountain or deep as a river 

Come rain or come shine 

I guess when you met me 

It was just one of those things 

But don’t ever bet me 

‘Cause I’m gonna be true if you let me 

You’re gonna love me like nobody’s loved me 

Come rain or come shine 

Happy together, unhappy together 

And won’t it be fine 

Days may be cloudy or sunny 

We’re in or we’re out of the money 

But I’m with you always 

I’m with you rain or shine 


On the next Articulate, Marina Benjamin writes to parse the questions that loom largest in her life. It’s self-examination, yes, but never self-obsession.


Marina Benjamin: You have to touch base with what it is to be human at some level, to make it resonate with someone else.


Stefan Sagmeister has spent the past 40-odd years demonstrating how graphic design can make even the most abstract ideas tangible and he does it with his own unique style, his own idiom.


Stefan Sagmeister: Graphic design is a very, very living language that expands on a constant basis.


And Donald Nally, conductor of the groundbreaking chamber choir The Crossing, doesn’t just want audiences to listen, he wants them to also think and about real-world issues and events.


Donald Nally: When we talk about deep, clear horizon the intention, through the careful placement of words, the careful choice of poet and composer, and the way in which we approach the presentation of it, is not to say oil in the Gulf of Mexico is bad, ’cause we all know that, right? That’s just affirming people’s morals, I want to do the opposite, right? I wanna challenge people’s ethics.


Join us for the next Articulate.