Whether old adages or worn clichés, “the more things change the more they stay the same,” and “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” almost always ring true.

That’s certainly the case with the story behind Gregory Spear’s opera “Fellow Travelers,” presented by Florida Grand Opera at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center. 

Based on a 2007 novel, “Fellow Travelers” is the love story between two gay men in the 1950s during the height of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s reckless campaign to root out communists in American society and an ensuing “lavender scare” to out the “sexual deviants” who might undermine the security of the government. 

Sound familiar? Nearly 70 years later, state governments are passing laws that ban “inappropriate” speech (“Don’t Say Gay”), ratcheting up pressure on public employees and castigating political opponents as groomers who desire to harm young children. All unsubstantiated and set against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Back then, the Soviets had rolled tanks into Hungary to quell popular uprisings.) 

The parallels are unmistakable. Sure, same-sex marriage is legal and LGBT people have fought for and earned a place in society and culture, and yet their security feels unbelievably tenuous against this right-wing onslaught. Accusations were largely confined to whispers and innuendo back then, today they’re broadcast globally via Twitter with little responsibility or repercussion — especially after Elon Musk completes his purchase of the social media channel. 

At times during the FGO performance, the lines between the conditions created by McCarthy’s ambitions and modern demagogues like Gov. Ron DeSantis blur and cannot be ignored. A lesser production might not have been nearly so successful in provoking such thoughts. 

New Zealand baritone Hadleigh Adams is Hawkins Fuller, a state department bureaucrat, who happens upon young intern Timothy Laughlin (Andres Acosta) in a cruisy Washington, D.C. park on the afternoon of Senator McCarthy’s wedding. The sparks fly and quickly erupt as the men fall in love, all while struggling to avoid the notice of their nosy colleagues. “Hawk” is surprisingly carefree with his lifestyle while his “Timmy” must still deal with Catholic guilt and the moral consequences of his choices. And they know that McCarthy’s protégé, gay attorney Roy Cohn, will soon be the latest victim of the mob. 

The production is clean and crisp, set inside a massive colonnade that softens the hard edges of mid-century government-issue office furniture and the harsh fluorescent lighting is filtered by metal blinds. The cast changes the sets disguised in drag trench coats, amplifying the cold bureaucratic atmosphere. 

Yet, the chemistry between Adams and Acosta transcends their environs, amplified by their soaring baritone and tenor voices. They performed these same roles in a pre-pandemic production several years ago and it’s easy to feel like an unwanted interloper during the several steamy lovemaking scenes. 

Spears’ score is lush and romantic, also antithetic to the setting on stage. His musical vocabulary is rich and colorful, relying extensively on the brass and winds in the orchestra to provide unusual timbres during the most emotional points. Conductor Emily Senturia is nearly as interesting to watch as the singers, shifting between meters and offering deft cues from the pit. 

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, FGO certainly took a risk with this opera. At a time when the reliable patrons are just looking to get out of the house and enjoy live music again, General Director Susan Danis took a risk with a contemporary opera and one that blatantly addresses a potentially controversial subject.  

As always, audiences were treated to a top-notch production, but in “Fellow Travelers” they got so much more. FGO should be commended for championing opera and also bolstering the LGBT community with an appropriate message during this crucial juncture in the culture wars. 

Now, let’s just hope history doesn’t repeat itself.