‘I don’t want an asterisk by my name’: Opera singer Lucia Lucas makes headlines, but has sights set even higher

Sitting in her graduate classes at Chicago College of Performing Arts alongside students who had attended Julliard and other prestigious music schools didn’t faze Lucia Lucas ’05 (Voice and Instrument) because she knew she had a crucial advantage.

At the more prestigious schools, performing opportunities typically went to graduate students. But things are different at Sacramento State.

“There were never more than a couple graduate students involved in the opera program when I was there, so undergraduates had to do the roles,” she said. “I went off to conservatory after Sac State totally prepared, and much more prepared than other people who had maybe more prestigious degrees.”

All of that preparation has paid off. Lucas is enjoying success as an opera singer based in Germany and performing worldwide. Most recently, she became the first transgender opera singer to play a lead role in a professional U.S. opera production when she portrayed the title character in Don Giovanni in Tulsa, Okla.

That moment earned her headlines as a milestone for the transgender community, but Lucas says her primary focus was delivering a quality performance.

“There was so much pressure on it, but basically all I had to do was my job. So in that moment, I’m not thinking about any history being made,” she said. “It was important, but it wasn’t important that it happened. It was important that it was good.”

Growing up in the Rosemont area of Sacramento, Lucas says she had difficulty communicating and expressing her feelings until she discovered music and began performing. When she arrived at Sacramento State as a student, she briefly considered majoring in engineering – both her parents are engineers – but was drawn to the University’s tight-knit performing arts community. She met her wife, also an opera singer, at Sac State. And when she performed in her first opera, Orpheus in the Underworld, she fell in love with the genre.

“It was singing with your full voice. I always felt like I was stifling my voice a little bit in other forms,” she said. “I really feel that opera has some of the most pure emotions in music form, so my appreciation and love for it has only grown as I’ve been able to grow as a performer.”

Robin Fisher, a Sacramento State professor of voice who worked with Lucas as part of the University’s opera program, says Lucas was an extremely dedicated and focused student who was still working to find her voice. Fisher encouraged Lucas to audition for regional productions, telling her she had the talent to make a professional career as an opera singer.

“Next thing you know, she’s singing with the Sacramento opera, which is a big deal.”

Classical music is challenging, Fisher said, because the performer has to infuse something written by someone else with their own message, meaning and sense of purpose. That Lucas has been able to do so successfully as a professional opera singer, she added, is a testament to her talent.

“It takes immense courage to really be yourself when you’re singing classical music, and I think she has found that way to communicate, that way to be true to herself, that way to sing authentically, and that touches people,” Fisher said. “That reaches people with universal meaning.”

Over a decade-long career, Lucas has performed throughout Europe as well as in Korea and the United States. She recently portrayed the role of Wotan in Die Walküre with Theater Magdeburg in Germany to critical acclaim, and this fall will return to the opera that started it all, Orpheus in the Underworld, with English National Opera at London Coliseum.

Lucas still is unsure how her transition has ultimately impacted her career, acknowledging that there likely are people who will not hire her solely on the basis of her gender identity. But, she said, “my sense of self is much stronger,” and, regardless of what others say, she has her sights set high.

“To not just be the best trans singer but the best singer in my voice category is important to me,” Lucas said. “I don’t want an asterisk by my name.”

Photo of Lucia Lucas by Josh New. Video via youtube.com/channel/UCxWgI4gQInFt65UzOiXwtog.

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Same experiment, new Rituals: Alumna-fronted band Rituals of Mine gears up for national tour, major-label debut

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Dani Fernandez, left, and singer Terra Lopez (’07, English) have signed a major record deal with Warner Bros. Records. Formerly Sister Crayon, the electronic duo will release their major-label debut as Rituals of Mine. (Photo courtesy of Raoul Ortega)

When Dani Fernandez and Terra Lopez started writing music under the name Sister Crayon a year after Lopez graduated from Sac State, the electronic project served as a much-needed creative outlet, a rich learning experience, and an intense, grand – and definitely unorthodox – experiment. It still is.

Back then, a major-label record deal was the farthest thing from the young performers’ minds. Eight years, six records, countless concerts, and a name change later, that which seemed so far away is now a reality.

In August, the newly christened Rituals of Mine hits the road ahead of its major-label debut, Devoted, after inking a deal with Warner Bros. Records in spring 2016. The band joins Sacramento rock legends Deftones on tour through some of the biggest venues on the West Coast.

“When we first found out, Dani and I literally cried, just because it was so unexpected,” Lopez says. “We’ve been working for so long and so hard at this, there’s been a lot that we’ve experienced, that there were a lot of tears. Happy tears.”

Lopez (’07, English) has been writing music for more than 15 years. In 2008, when she linked up with Fernandez, the band’s beat producer, the two began crafting rich, haunting electronic melodies layered with Lopez’s introspective lyrics and stirring vocals.

Their style has evolved over the years, but they remain pioneers of a burgeoning Sacramento electronic music scene that they helped shape. Rituals of Mine/Sister Crayon is among the best-known electronic artists – along with bands like Team Sleep and Death Grips – to come out of the capital region. They mix organic instruments, including live drums, with computer-produced compositions in their recordings and live stage show.

It’s no easy feat: Lopez says some practices are spent entirely on learning new programs and interfaces, tweaking production, and figuring out new ways to build their sound and presence.

“We definitely always stuck out and didn’t fit in to a specific genre or sound, and I think that’s still very much the case,” Lopez says. “We’ve always strived to not be pigeonholed in a specific genre, and because we’ve been a little outside the box, we’ve been able to tour with hip-hop artists, metal acts, electronic artists, ambient artists, rock artists … just all over the map.

“If music is genuine, there doesn’t really need to be a genre.”

That is never more apparent than when looking at Ritual of Mine’s upcoming tour schedule: They follow up their August tour with one of the heaviest rock acts (and now label mates) to come out of the River City with a showcase tour supporting indie mainstays The Album Leaf through September.

Their major-label debut, Devoted, originally released in 2015 under an independent label, is being remixed and remastered by producing legend Tom Coyne, who has produced albums for the likes of Adele, Taylor Swift, and The Weeknd, and will be out later this fall.

In addition to her music career, Lopez works as a publicist for national public relations firm Terrorbird, promoting other bands and artists. She says her English education from Sac State helped shape how she writes professionally in the PR world.

In eight years, Lopez and Fernandez have traveled a long road: The two have endured personal tragedy, band members coming and going, and moves to and from different cities, and they have fought to find their place in life and in a music scene that is always evolving.

At last, Lopez says, this great, strange experiment is paying off.

“That’s what Sister Crayon has been all these years: an experiment,” Lopez says. “And luckily, we’re so grateful that people have responded well, listened, and kept listening. The process has evolved so much, just as Dani and I both have. We just want to learn as much as we can and hone our craft, and be better always.”

Rituals of Mine kicks off its tour Aug. 23 in Fresno. Catch them closest to Sacramento at the Greek Theatre on Aug. 26 in Berkeley, and watch for Devoted, out later this fall.

Punk-rock legends trace origins to Sac State

From trashy horror flicks and macabre comics to skin-tight leather and ghoulish makeup, punk-rock pioneers The Cramps were masters of sordid kitsch and sleazy pop culture. They were also among the most influential and enduring rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time.

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Lux Interior (middle right) and Poison Ivy (middle left) on the cover of The Cramps’ first release in 1979. (Universal Music Group)

Few better embodied their era’s provocative punk-rock spirit than singer Lux Interior, an iconic frontman known as much for his music as for his wild stage presence and larger-than-life persona.

This year marks the 40th since Interior and his wife, guitarist Poison Ivy, founded the band, which recorded eight albums from 1980 to 2003, released dozens of singles, and garnered a massive cult following over their lengthy career.

Of course, Lux Interior and Poison Ivy went by very different names when they first met in 1972 when both were art students at Sacramento State. Back then, they were Erick Purkhiser and Kristy Wallace, and they met when Purkhiser and a friend stopped to give Wallace a ride as she was hitchhiking back to her apartment from the Sacramento State campus. The pair bonded over shared interests in kitschy pop culture, flea markets, music and art, even taking classes together such as “Art and Shamanism.” They began playing music and soon founded The Cramps.

Purkhiser graduated in 1973, and two years later, the pair moved to Ohio and then New York. There, they married and became a part of the city’s thriving punk movement. Outrageous, spirited, sometimes offensive, and wholly unique to the American music scene, The Cramps became regulars at legendary New York rock clubs CBGB and Max’s Kansas City before releasing their first EP, Gravest Hits, in 1979. Their first long-player in 1980, Songs the Lord Taught Us, became a huge hit with audiences riding the first wave of punk music. The Cramps blended 1950s-era rockabilly with hard-and-fast, edgy garage rock to form a style all their own, a genre known as psychobilly.

Though the band never reached a level of mega-stardom like fellow American punk pioneers The Ramones, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, or Patti Smith, The Cramps are widely credited as rock trailblazers who influenced countless musicians and bands, from Tiger Army to The White Stripes.

Lux Interior passed away in 2009 after one of the longest and most impactful musical careers of the past century. He is survived by Poison Ivy and a legacy — in all its leopard-clad glory — that profoundly changed music culture in ways still felt today.