Vocalist - Soprano
Acclaim
Kelly Kaduce performs 'La Bohème' at Opera Pacific
The young American soprano, who makes her debut with the Orange County company, is on a steady ascent.

For young sopranos looking to make their way up in the opera world, "La Bohème" looms large. It's often called the "perfect" opera, not the least because it always sells well. By necessity, the smaller opera companies around the country (the large ones too, for that matter) are constantly reviving it and they need a steady supply of Mimìs, Puccini's consumptive heroine, to fill the bill.

Kelly Kaduce, the soprano who sings the role at Opera Pacific starting this week, has done plenty of work on that assembly line.

"OK, let's see, I used to have this all counted out," she says, when asked how many times she's sung the opera. "I think I may be on my eighth or ninth production, and I think I'm up into the 60s for my performances. I mean I've done it many places."

Not that she's complaining, though she wavers a smidgen when deciding whether or not she's tired of it.

"Ummm, no. I mean, definitely when job offers come in if it's between 'Bohème' and something else, I'll probably be more inclined toward the other, unless there's something really intriguing about the 'Bohème,' just because I've done it a lot. But I always enjoy coming back to it, because anything improves with age and the more you do it, it really improves."

Kaduce, 33, is a singer on the rise. Her big break came in 1999, when she won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. "Opera News," the most popular opera magazine, profiled her in 2004, extolling her "plangent, amber-toned soprano, glamour-girl looks and artless, affecting dramatic style." These days, her singing schedule is filled end to end - last year, she figures she was home for a total of six weeks; this year it'll be four - and not just with "Bohèmes."

Last season saw her perform in three new operas in succession - Ricky Ian Gordon's "The Grapes of Wrath," in its world premiere at Minnesota Opera; the title role in David Carslon's "Anna Karenina," in its world premiere at Florida Grand Opera, which she reprised at Opera Theatre of St. Louis; and then Tan Dun's "Tea: A Mirror of Soul," in its American premiere at Santa Fe Opera. For a singer swamped in Puccini, the new operas offered something she didn't expect.

"At the beginning I was free and people asked me," she says, "so I would agree. I really came to love it and enjoy it, because I felt less of a - is 'stigma' the right word? - about doing a new opera. You know, I felt I had more freedom, because nobody had heard it, nobody knew what to expect, and I had to be more creative up front, because I didn't have people to steal from who had done it before, productions, etc. And I enjoyed that challenge."

Stepping away from rehearsal at Opera Pacific's Santa Ana headquarters recently, Kaduce turns out to be an open and friendly sort, without the slightest hint of airs. She's a Midwestern girl who looks you in the eye, answers questions directly and laughs easily.

Born in Branard, Minn., then adopted and raised in Winnebago, Kaduce began singing in the local church choir, where her mother was organist. She continued to sing in the high school choir, but when she went to college, at St. Olaf in Northfield, she at first pursued a more practical degree, in physical therapy. Her musical studies were strictly elective until the music department faculty got wind of her talent and convinced her to change majors.

After graduating with a bachelor's in music, she went to Boston - "I actually followed a boyfriend out there," she says, laughing, "which didn't last very long" - and wound up studying music at Boston University. In her final year there, she won the Met auditions, and then undertook apprentice programs at San Francisco Opera and Glimmerglass Opera. She now lives (when she's there) in Texas with her husband, baritone Lee Gregory, the Schaunard in Opera Pacific's "Bohème."

Kaduce sang in film director Baz Luhrmann's Broadway-style production of "Bohème" in Los Angeles and gained special insight into her role, mostly through the director's grueling rehearsal process.

"We did exercises that actually I found very valuable," she says. "For example, we sang it in Italian, but we would paraphrase it in English while the pianist played. So we would work specifically on the acting and relating to the person you were with in that way. ... You obviously had to know it very well.

"Then, they would play the music and we would paraphrase, but we would have to stretch our words out like you would when you were singing but we would still be speaking. Then we would speak it in Italian, you know, straight acting, same venue, and then we would do it in Italian stretched out with no singing, and then he would add the singing.

"So it's actually very interesting. You see kind of how long you need to extend that thought. Even though when you may be speaking, the thought may last two seconds, but when you're singing it, it probably lasts for two measures, which equals maybe seven seconds or something."

Kaduce has also taken on other big Puccini roles recently, including Cio-Cio San in "Madama Butterfly" and Suor Angelica. She's been advised by singers-who-know to take it easy (young voices should) and tries to.

"I don't worry so much about Mimì. I'm not going to say it's not taxing, but I actually think it suits me quite well vocally for where I am. I do get concerned about 'Butterfly.' ... So, I did it once, and I felt it was really taxing and big for where I was at that point. But I didn't want to stop doing it because I enjoyed it so much. I really believe that technically and vocally you really improve when you repeat a role. Challenging yourself a little bit is a good thing. But I decided that I didn't want to do more than one a year.

"Funny, as soon as I did one, I got many calls to do 'Butterfly,' and it would be very easy to get 'Butterfly' after 'Butterfly' after 'Butterfly' lined up, which I think could be detrimental for me."

Kaduce's season ahead is a busy one. Directly after Opera Pacific's "Bohème," she's off to Malmo, Sweden, for three months worth of Gounod's "Faust." Back home briefly in January, she undertakes a series of recitals with her husband in February, then "Rusalka" (her first) at Minnesota Opera in March and "Butterfly" at Opera Theatre of St. Louis in May.

Though her favorite book is "My Brilliant Career," Kaduce claims not to think about hers all that much.

"I would love to be singing at big A houses (in ten years), I think it would be wonderful. But I don't have a whole lot of control over that so I try not to worry about that so much.

Instead, she says, she concentrates on keeping her eye on the ball: improving her acting and singing skills. The rest will take care of itself.

"You know, maybe by then, in ten years, I'll be able to do 'Butterfly' without feeling taxed at all."
Timothy Mangan, Orange County Register
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