Who the F Is … Opera Singer Laurie Rubin?
Who the F Is … Opera Singer Laurie Rubin?
Our latest entry on a woman you should know: Laurie Rubin, a singer, writer, designer, and more.
Who she is: A mezzo-soprano, writer, jewelry designer, and arts executive.
What she’s accomplished: Laurie Rubin has performed all over the world, written songs, started a line of jewelry, and founded a performing arts school and festival. Oh, and by the way, she’s been blind since birth.
In an interview with our sibling publication Out in 2012, Rubin discussed the determination that’s enabled her to achieve so much. “When I was younger my family always supported everything I wanted to do, and they never told me that I shouldn’t be able to do something,” she said. “They encouraged me to do everything from snow skiing to water skiing and river rafting to just going full force into singing. That and my natural feisty personality, I just don’t like to be told I can’t do something no matter what it is. And I certainly also had enough support beyond family too with teachers, mentors, and friends.”
She recalled that she enjoyed opera from age 4 or 5; her grandparents often played opera records, she noted. She fell in love with the genre even more at age 11 when she attended a Broadway musical set in the world of opera — The Phantom of the Opera, of course — and she began taking voice lessons as a youth in New York City. Because of her interest in operatic music, “as I got to middle and high school, already different for being blind, the students had a difficult time figuring that they could relate to me, even though I felt that I was a pretty normal kid,” she told Out. “Opera and singing was sort of a way to connect with kids outside of school who were interested in the same things that I was since it didn’t really matter that I was blind or what everybody’s socioeconomic or culture background was since we all connected because we have this mutual love of music and opera. Because it was such a social force for me, I decided that I really wanted to go into this for the rest of my life.”
She has since performed at such venues as the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; Wigmore Hall in London; and Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, both in New York City. She’s essayed roles including the title role in Rossini's La Cenerentola, Mrs. Noye in Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, the lead role of Karen in Gordon Beeferman’s The Rat Land, Penelope in Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses, and Elle in Poulenc’s The Human Voice.
Having had her first same-sex relationship while a student at Oberlin College, she’s been out and proud ever since. Her partner in work and life is composer and multi-instrumentalist Jenny Taira. In 2008, outraged over the passage of Proposition 8, which temporarily rescinded marriage equality in California, they performed a concert of music by gay and lesbian composers and donated the proceeds to the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which provides services to LGBT youth. And although both are classically trained, they also perform as a pop duo called Pure Land. Pure Land’s first single, which the two women wrote, was “The Girl I Am,” released last year. (Watch the video below.) It offers a message of encouragement. “The song is all about no matter how awful you are made to feel or that you feel about yourself in those really awkward times in your life, you have to know that you have to believe in yourself so much that you get through that time,” Rubin told Out.
Another of their joint ventures is Ohana Arts, a performing arts festival and school for young people, which they founded in Hawaii, the state they call home. Taira is executive director and artistic director, and Rubin is associate artistic director. Ohana Arts’ latest project is Peace on Your Wings, an original musical about a 12-year-old girl suffering from leukemia in 1950s Hiroshima, Japan. Inspired by the life of Sadako Sasaki, it recognizes that even young people with life-threatening illnesses face typical adolescent drama. Taira wrote the music, Rubin the lyrics, and they collaborated on the book. The show had its world premiere last month in Kauai, and the next performance will be February 22 in Waimea, on Hawaii Island, a.k.a. the Big Island.
As if all this weren’t enough, Rubin is also a jewelry designer, with a line of handmade jewelry called the LR Look. She acknowledges that people may wonder how a blind person can create something so visual. “The answer is complicated, but I’ll give you the short story,” she explains on the LR Look website. “I am thankfully in possession of my four other senses, so I listen to people talk about color and which combinations look good together, I associate colors with smells, tastes, and textures, and I use a visual sense of color that I must have inherited from a past life or something equally unexplainable.”
For more information: In 2012, Rubin released a memoir titled Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight; it’s available here. More information on Rubin is available at the sites for Ohana Arts, Pure Land, the LR Look, and her own site; and the Out article is here.
Choice quote: “I really wanted to write about my experiences and relationships because I feel that would open people’s minds to the fact that of course I’m still a human being and the only thing that doesn’t work is my eyes.” — Rubin to Out, on why she wrote the memoir