Life as a Trans Opera Singer

June 15, 2019 § Leave a comment

170512 HGO's L’incoronazione di Poppea

Playing Nerone for HGO’s L’incoronazione di Poppea – photo by Laurent Compagnon


The National Opera Studio asked me what it was like, to be a trans opera singer – and how we could all make our industry better.

So I wrote them this – I hope you enjoy it.


An incredibly busy year

April 16, 2018 § Leave a comment

There’s a reason why there was no blogging for the rest of 2017…or for the beginning of 2018, and I think it’s a good one: I’ve been on book tour, on album tour – and writing and speaking everywhere else but here. Only so many hours in the day – and a lot to try to remember – but I’m finally remembering to fill everyone in on the blog.

2017 was UK based: book festivals, community events, training days, university conferences, scratch nights and book shops. The kind of things I’ve been talking about – trans lives, gender, change and hope – are all featured in the BBC Radio 4 show below  – and in the accompanying article.

Word of Mouth

CN Lester on language and gender identity

For the Photographer’s Gallery, I wrote about the challenge of the cis gaze – in the street, and backwards and forwards in time:

Being seen

And for the Barbican: the struggle to understand other trans people without collapsing their realities into our own.

Trans lives: whose words?


The highlight of 2018 so far has to be the trip to Sydney to speak to the All About Women feminist festival as part of a trans panel featuring Sally Goldner, Jordan Raskopoulos, and Eddie Ayres. I’m still processing how transformative the whole experience was – but the panel is on YouTube for all who want it:

Feminism Beyond Gender Binaries

And I had the best interview experience ever with SBS…

SBS CN Lester


The rest of 2018 is shaping up to be just as full: shooting an art project with Daniel Barter, recording the audiobook for Trans Like Me in May, getting ready for American publication in June , preparing for the most ambitious Transpose ever in December, and gigging/speaking around the country. And trying to finish my PhD.

Twitter and Facebook are best for more regular news – but I’ll try to update here more often. Enormous thanks to everyone who’s read this far – and in particular the people who’ve been reading for years, and the book besides. Onwards and upwards. And, finally, in white tie and tails…


Screen Shot 2018-04-16 at 19.26.44

credit to AbsolutQueer photography

The Lion-Faced Man

June 23, 2015 § 3 Comments

The last couple of months have been some of my lightest blogging ever – and there’s a pretty good reason behind that. I’m lucky enough to be friends with the wonderful Hel Gurney – performance poet, fiction/non-fiction writer, researcher and activist – and, last year, we decided to write an opera – Hel taking care of the words, I the music.

So that is what I’ve been doing. It was, unsurprisingly, intense. And now we have an opera, The Lion-Faced Man, opening with Tete a Tete Opera Festival at King’s Place this August, performed by incredible mezzo Alison Wells.




We had long wanted to collaborate on a piece exploring difference and looking. With The Lion-Faced Man, we felt there was an opportunity to tackle the audience’s assumptions and completely reverse them. Instead of watching a captive performer, the audience is made captive themselves – strapped into a viewing headset, unable to look away as Stephan Bibrowski, the lion-faced man, stares them down. The singer barrels through a litany of characters – doctor, ringmaster, narrator, side-show spectators, the titular man himself – one single voice contorting through speech and song to populate Stephan’s world. How does looking change the substance of what we see, and how are we changed in the looking? Where does biography end and fiction begin?

Hel and I will be discussing this in greater depth over the next couple of weeks – but I wanted to share the good news, and give a heads up for anyone interested in the UK – tickets are extremely limited and selling fast.

Any questions? Let us know. I’ll be back with a more regular blog next week – until then, it’s more opera for me.

Music, gender, sexism – stirring things up

December 10, 2014 § 10 Comments

The game is afoot.


Or, rather, it’s now officially afoot. If you’ve been following my music for a while, you’ll already know that I have a bit of a thing about how ideas around gender – and gender discrimination –  work in the musical world. So, from January, I’m taking that thing and turning it into a performance doctorate at the Centre for the Study of Music, Gender and Identity (MuGI) at University of Huddersfield.

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I hope it’ll pique the interest of some of you reading now. Why does one type of person end up symbolising ‘the composer’ or ‘the artist’, to the exclusion of others? Why do some pieces of music enter the canon and not others? What do audiences hear, when what they see is interpreted along culturally conditioned gender lines? How does the gender (actual or perceived) of the performer enter into this? How are we going to make things better?

I’ll be charting my doctoral studies online – blogging, livestreaming, discussions, surveys, audio, new manuscript editions – so do please watch this space for new links and content.


And before that?


This Friday (December 12th) I’ll be hosting a talk/discussion on gender and music at the London Feminist Library. Entry is free, the wine will be plentiful, and I’ll do my best to bring cookies. 7:30pm start time – bring your opinions, come join a lovely informal debate.

I’m following the theoretical with the practical – Saturday (December 13th) is a performance of Baroque music written by the often neglected, often maligned Barbara Strozzi. A poet, vocalist, composer – as well as a single mother, illegitimate child, unmarried woman – it’s fascinating/depressing to realise how so many sexist tropes leveled against working women today were leveled against Strozzi then.  Her music is witty, moving, catchy, inventive gold – if you haven’t heard her before, you’re in for something special. 7:30pm start at St Peter’s Vauxhall tickets £10/7 on the door – and 2-for-1 entry for those who came to the Friday debate.


When I was at school, I was told there were no women composers. When I was at university, I was told that there were no women composers worth bothering about, and that trans people of all kinds didn’t have a place in music. I’m really excited to get to do something that challenges those lies.

A break from your regularly scheduled blogging…

September 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

…to let you know that, with the academic year starting, I have space for three more students – who wants in?


For those of you who only know me as a blogger, or an alt. musician – like most freelance musicians, I also teach – voice, piano and composition. There’s more information on my classical training/career and alternative career on my website, but the short version:

  • I received my Bachelor of Music from King’s College London, and my Master of Music from Goldsmith’s. Vocal training with Alison Wells, Cameron Burns, Dai Miller and Emma Kirkby.
  • I’ve been teaching for more than ten years now – beginning informally, with choir coaching and student support when I was a student myself, and more formally for the past six years.
  • I teach all ages (youngest so far has been 4 years old, and the oldest 60), and absolute beginners to those preparing for university/higher grades/diploma. My teaching style is very much focused on foundational technique, with genre requirements/requests led by my students.
  • I have a particular interest in helping trans people to train their voices – on or off hormone treatments.
  • A lot of work with my students focuses on bodily and mental relaxation and confidence, and just generally having a lovely time making noises. I’m a firm believer in the ethos that music is every human’s birthright – and I love helping people explore their musical possibilities.
  • I teach from my home in Zone 2 South London – £30 for an hour’s lesson.


If that sounds like something you might be interested in – or if you know someone who might be interested – do drop me a line at

Thank you – regular blogging resumes next week.

Headshots for all

December 3, 2013 § 3 Comments

So this is the photo which lays bare my desire to play Tolomeo

So this is the photo which lays bare my desire to play Tolomeo

This Saturday I had a photoshoot with the absolutely incredible Dr J – go here for more information and glorious pictures – so here are my new headshots, both alternative and classical. I couldn’t recommend Dr J enough – fun, relaxed, beautiful results. You should totally book them now.

Alt shot 5 colour Alt shot 5 Alt shot 4 colour Alt shot 4 Alt shot 3 Alt shot 2 Alt shot 1 colour Alt shot 1

Classical shot 4 Classical shot 3 colour Classical shot 3 BW Classical shot 2 colour

November 9th 2013: Schoenberg, Schubert and Brahms

November 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

November 9th, 7pm

Schott Music

48 Great Marlborough Street, W1F 7BB

£12 (concert and reception) – please call 0207 534 0710 to reserve

All this and a Steinway

In less than a week I’ll be performing some of my all-time favourite classical music with the extremely talented Elspeth Wilkes (see bio below – she’s amazing) on piano – won’t you join us?


A chilly Autumnal night seems the perfect time for some lush German (and Polish) Romanticism, a glass of wine, and one or more Black Forest brownies. We’re pairing our favourite songs by Schubert and Brahms with solo works by Chopin and Brahms – and finishing the evening with the work of the Second Viennese school which is closest to my heart, Schoenberg’s Book of the Hanging Gardens.


Those of you who haven’t heard or studied this work before – it’s hard to express in a few words just how special this piece is. A good place to start would be with Schoenberg’s visual art, rather than his music. The hallucinatory colours, disintegration of order and piercing emotional scrutiny are common to both – as a synesthesiac, performing The Hanging Gardens feels dizzying – like falling through the back of your own head into a swirl of different kinds of darkness. It’s strange, and somewhat creepy, and utterly beautiful – like the best kind of nightmare. You don’t have to be an expert on atonal composition to love it – you just have to like the really of having your mind blown by something bizarre and wonderful and new.


The Red Gaze

The Red Gaze


The concert will be a little over an hour long – please stay to talk about music/art/baking etc. – can’t wait to see you there.


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