Frederick Ballentine: Living His Best Sportin’ Life
Virginia-born gay tenor returns for Porgy and Bess
BY DAVID SHENGOLD
Frederick Ballentine is on
a roll. On Halloween, the
talented, engaging gay
tenor returns to the Metropolitan
Opera’s smash-hit production
of “Porgy and Bess” in the
fl ashy role of Sportin’ Life, which
has fast-tracked him to leading
parts in a few short years.
Just over 30, Ballentine has
played the opportunistic, hedonistic
character to the hilt at Glimmerglass,
in Cincinnati, Amsterdam,
and London, as well as for his
acclaimed Met debut on Opening
Night 2019. Raised in Richmond,
Virginia, he attended a performing
arts high school that has produced
many Broadway and opera talents.
He also completed a young artists
program (and had small roles) at
Washington National Opera. After
a few months of lockdown in DC,
Ballentine upped and made his
home in Berlin, his “happy place,”
coping with jet lag on his return
and looking forward to what he
describes as an extraordinary
onstage and backstage Met Porgy
GCN: So that 2017 Glimmerglass
show was your fi rst Porgy?
It was great but also so stressful!
We Black artists have an obligation
to uphold Black culture, and Porgy
is bound up in that — it’s given so
many people careers. A Porgy ensemble
is an incredibly supportive
family, but being onstage and
knowing that everyone has done
their part fi ve times and you’re
new is a lot of pressure! At the Met,
Camille A. Brown’s choreography
for the dancers is so physically intense
that I don’t think I could rise
to that level. But Camille did work
with me, giving me nuances for my
way of interpreting the character.
I got some fl ak for this in reviews,
but while everybody else is being
very realistic, my movement as
Sportin’ Life takes him away from
that: very stylized, almost vaudeville.
Camille helped me fi nd those
magical moments: how to make
the turn of the hat into something
In the Met’s “Porgy and Bess,” Frederick Ballentine’s Sportin’ Life tempts Angel Blue’s Bess with “There’s a Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon.”
GCN: Favorite moments in
Sportin’ Life’s role?
“Struttin’ Style” with Maria — with
Denyce Graves — is always awesome.
A lot of my favorite moments
onstage are parts when y’all aren’t
even looking at me! When all the others
are playing craps center stage,
I’m having a good old time with Angel
Blue (Bess); we’ve been told to tone
it down (laughs). Later in the show
(when Sportin’ Life is so shameful
to Bess, he doesn’t even look at her
as a human being) I love how my interactions
with Angel’s Bess can be
so snaky. And Angel responds to it!
Plus, any time I’m onstage together
with Latonia Moore…we cannot
help but trying to one up each other.
We’re that close.
GCN: He’s an outsider in many
ways. What’s his sexuality, if
any? Does it matter to you in
It matters to me that I relate to
every character as much as possible.
This was my fi rst leading
role, and I decided his sexuality
has to be fl uid. In my mind, he’s
a city boy who got into trouble up
north and decided to make his way
down south with as many drugs
as he could take. Sex doesn’t mean
anything to him. He’s trying to
get cash together the whole show,
and if he can bring Bess as a sex
worker back with him, that’ll settle
the future. If he could bring a
man back as a sex worker and had
to sleep with him in order to win
him over, he’d do it. Attraction isn’t
his priority: money is his priority!
People have gotten up in my face
on Insta and Facebook about playing
him. Someone even asked how
could I do “a minstrel show” — so
demeaning to our people. There’s
always a double-edged sword when
you’re talking about “Black” opera
with a white composer and librettist.
But who’s telling the story? I
am — we are —onstage. Any leg
up for people of color in this profession
is a good thing. This gets
the young voices out there to be
heard. For better or worse, Porgy is
one of the great American operas:
The music is stunning, the story is
heart-rending, and it’s going to be
around for a long time. And that
fuels the effort now to create new
works and tell our stories in a way
that we would actually tell them; I
am praying I get a ticket to see Fire
Shut Up in My Bones!
GCN: What are your dream
FB: I just came from doing the
Drum Major in Wozzeck in Kassel—
some of the wildest and craziest
shit I’ve ever done onstage, kind
of a macho, hypermasculine poster
boy. I get to wear this muscle-T and
show off my body, I get to be as vain
as I want to be! (Laughs) That’s my
stuff, the German repertory! Soon
I’m doing Max in Der Freischütz–
kind of the German anthem of
opera–and Loge in Das Rheingold.
I’d love eventually to do other
Wagner, Erik and Siegmund.
Not in the German rep, but Britten’s
Peter Grimes: I need to fi nd
a way to do it. And his Turn of the
Screw is so creepy and beautiful, I
would love to do Peter Quint.
PORGY AND BESS | The Metropolitan
Opera | Oct. 31 through Dec.
13 | Tickets start at $25
GayCityNews.com | October 21 - November 3 , 2021 21