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INTERVIEW: Kelly Kaduce of The Shining

Wendy (Kelly Kaduce) and Danny (Alejandro Vega) Torrance meditate on the strange turns that their life has taken in The Shining. Photo by Ken Howard.

Soprano Kelly Kaduce is Minnesota-born and raised, but since graduating from St. Olaf’s she has traveled and sung all across the United States. The month of May finds her back at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, where she is currently starring as Wendy Torrance in Minnesota Opera’s hit new adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining. Earlier this season, she also sang star roles in Rusalka and Tosca, earning rave reviews (including stepping in as the titular Floria Tosca on short notice) and a reputation for being a joy to work with and listen to – something of Minnesota Opera’s own Triple Crown.

The Twin Cities Arts Reader caught up with Kelly to ask her about her career, the singer’s life, and a few local connections.

Tell us a little bit about your vocal studies. You went to St. Olaf’s here in Minnesota and studied voice with Penelope Bitzas at Boston University, receiving a master’s degree there. What was your experience like with these programs and what has your vocal training been like since then?

I went to St. Olaf with the original idea of majoring in biology. I was interested in being a physical therapist. Once I arrived and saw the list of courses available, I got very excited about all of the music classes, in particular, voice lessons! I couldn’t believe you could take a voice lesson for a class credit!

For me, singing and music was just a hobby that I loved [before that]. The idea that you could make a serious study of it seemed like a cosmic mistake that worked to my advantage. So in a matter of three minutes, I decided to do a double major: one in biology so I could find an actual job, and one in music just because I loved it!

Soprano Kelly Kaduce.
Soprano Kelly Kaduce.

After my sophomore year, the music faculty encouraged me to focus solely in music and that was all I needed to hear. Next came a summer at the College Light Opera Company in Falmouth, Massachusetts. There, I learned I could learn music really quickly and I also met other singers with serious hopes to be professional opera singers. I met a boy that went to Boston University. We dated and I headed out to Boston after graduation from St. Olaf. [Then] I started studying with Penelope Bitzas privately while working an office job to pay the bills. I auditioned at several different schools for a Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance [and] ended up going to Boston University so I could continue to study with Ms. Bitzas.

The second year of my master’s degree, I started doing a lot of outside auditioning and entering as many competitions as possible. One of those competitions was the MET National Council Auditions. There are several rounds. I entered with the expectation of not advancing, but merely to get an idea of what this enormous competition was all about. I kept advancing! Before I knew it, I was in NYC singing on the MET stage with orchestra! I was too green to have any fear at that point.

That is basically the birth of my career as an opera singer.

Are there specific people who stand out in your career as mentors, and if so, why? 

Anna Mooy [at St. Olaf] was my first mentor. She was my very first voice teacher. She taught me to sing with vibrato and introduced me to my first opera arias.

Penelope Bitzas was my most important mentor. She is a tough-nosed technician and gave me the foundation and character that I have built upon.

Soprano Kelly Kaduce.
Soprano Kelly Kaduce.

My other important mentor was Colin Graham [the longtime Artistic Director of the Opera Theater of St. Louis]. We first met when he was directing a show in which I had a featured part. He saw something in me – probably my crazy laugh as a dead ghost. I [then] sang my first Madama Butterfly under his direction at Minnesota Opera. I was too young to sing that demanding part, but did it anyway. It was the best decision I ever made! I learned so much from him and wound up doing his Butterfly several other times!

I [also] sang the world premiere of Anna Karenina, which was Colin Graham’s libretto. He was scheduled to direct it, as well. Unfortunately, he passed away before rehearsals for the show began… I was able to see him one last time in the hospital to say good bye and thank you and to tell him how much he meant to me. My husband and I ended up naming our son after him.

How frequently do you take voice lessons (as opposed to coaching sessions) at this point in your career? 

I still take voice lessons, but now I study with my husband. We don’t always do formal lessons, but we do frequent tune-ups. He’ll warm me up for a show or we will work through a specific passage I am having difficulty with. He also attends the majority of my performances so we can critique and discuss things afterwards.

Turning back the clock a bit, 1999 was a big year for you – finishing your master’s, winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, singing at Glimmerglass Opera…from an outsider’s perspective, this may seem very linear and very deliberate. How planned did things feel at the time? When (if at all) did you start to feel established as a singer?

I touched a bit on this in the first question. I wasn’t really prepared at all! I was very green and simply putting myself out there.

Perhaps some people are fortunate enough to be very deliberate in planning their performing career. I didn’t find that to be the case. You can prepare yourself to sing certain arias and roles, but no one can truly control how your efforts are received.

What is your “day of show” routine like? Are there particular things that you do/don’t do, drink/don’t drink, etc?

Show-day routines have changed a lot since having a child!

I do my best to get a good night’s rest. I usually work in some exercise. The type of exercise depends on the role I am performing. In this case, for The Shining, I run 1-3 miles. I need to get my heart rate up before I get on stage so the physical exertion during the performance doesn’t feel like such a shock.

I [also] don’t drink alcohol when I have to sing. That includes the rehearsal period and never [drinking] the day before a performance. It just dries out my vocal cords and isn’t worth the discomfort.

I always review the entire score and warm up vocally. I don’t eat too much before the performance but always bring a snack to have at intermission. Lastly, I drink a lot of water – all the time.

You’re currently represented by Barrett Artists. How long have you worked with them and how did you first become associated? At what point in your career did you get an agent?

I have worked with Barrett Artists my whole career! They expressed interest in representing me after they heard me sing at the MET competition in 1999.

I signed with Barrett Artists shortly after the MET competition; I asked around about them and they had a great reputation. I’ve been with them ever since…they have really built my career from the ground up.

Your husband, Lee Gregory, is also a very active singer – and also on the roster at Barrett Artists. Do you get to sing together or see each other sing very often? 

We do not get to sing together that often. It happens so infrequently that we often rearrange our schedules to accommodate the opportunity. We are singing together next fall in I Pagliacci at Virginia Opera. I am singing Nedda and Lee is singing Silvio.

You’ve premiered a lot of roles in new operas – The Girl in Central Park, Roshasharn in The Grapes of Wrath, the title role in Anna Karenina, and Wendy in The Shining, to name a few. Who are some of your favorite contemporary opera composers and why?

To single out favorites is difficult. Each composer has their own unique style and there are many elements that I love. I am like my grandmother in the respect that I like all music, doesn’t matter what kind.

Anna Karenina, written by David Carlson, has been my favorite new opera to perform. I loved every aspect of it.

Describing the sound of a voice is something of an art and sometimes an interesting game of word association. What are some of the more memorable ways that you’ve read your voice described?

This is a tricky question, because I don’t read my reviews. The most memorable description of my voice was not a word, but rather a painting! I have a small 5×5 painting in my music room and all it is is a glossy, beautiful dark blue. It was given to me by Sebastian Spreng, a painter who told me he sees voices as colors. He painted mine after hearing me sing a double bill of Suor Angelica/I Pagliacci in Miami.

Besides visiting family, what are some especially Minnesotan things that you enjoy when you’re in town?

If it is winter, we always try to cross country ski, and now that we have a five-year-old, sledding is added to that list. You can also always find us running or walking along the paths at the Mississippi River. We recently found Elsie’s Bowling Alley, and there are a few restaurants that we always try to visit. We also usually make a visit to the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital as well. Our son was born prematurely and spent his first three months in that NICU. We have gone back almost every year to do NICU follow-ups and visit with the excellent doctors and nurses that took care of us.

Basil Considine