Mezzo - Soprano  Kathleen  Kuhlmann

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Kathleen Kuhlmann is one of the success stories of Lyric Opera of Chicago.  She began as a student in the Opera School (now called the Ryan Center), and after learning her craft with small parts in the late
’70s, she left and became a singer of major roles.  As seen in the chart below, she returned in leading roles starting in 1984.

Kathleen Kuhlmann at Lyric Opera of Chicago

1976 - [Opening Night] Tales of Hoffmann (Voice of Antonias Mother) with Domingo/Johns, Welting, Cortez, Eda-Pierre,
                                                                       Mittelmann, Andreolli, Voketaitis; Bartoletti, Puecher (director), Frigerio (designer)
            Rigoletto (Giovanna) with Mittelmann/Manuguerra, Kraus, Mauti-Nunziata, Casarini; Chailly, Sequi (director), Pizzi (designer)
            Tosca (Shepherd Boy) with Neblett, Pavarotti, MacNeil, Andreolli, Tajo; López-Cobos, Gobbi (director), Pizzi (designer)
            Love for Three Oranges (Smeraldina) with Barlow, Little, Trussel, Titus, Gill, Tajo; Bartoletti, Chazalettes (director), Santicchi (designer)

1977 - Idomeneo (Cretan Lady) with Tappy, Ewing, Eda-Pierre/Shade, Neblett, Little, Shirley; Pritchard, Ponnelle (designer and director)
           Orfeo (Shepherd/Blessed Spirit) with Stilwell, Shade, Zilio; Fournet, Sequi (director), Samiritani (designer)
           Callas Tribute Concert with Vickers, Neblett, Stilwell, Gobbi (speaker), and others; Bartoletti, Fournet
           Manon Lescaut (Musician) with Chiara, Merighi, Nolen, Montarsolo; Bartoletti/Sanzogno, DeLullo (director), Pizzi (designer), Schuler (lighting)

1978 - [Opening Night] Fanciulla del West (Wowkle) with Neblett, Cossutta, Mastromei; Bartoletti, Prince (director), Eugene & Franne Lee (designers)
           Salome (Page) with Bumbry, Dunn, Ulfung, Bailey, Little; Klobučar, Poettgen (director), Wieland Wagner (designer)
           Madama Butterfly (Kate) with Hayashi, Merighi/Moldoveanu, Romero, Andreolli; Chailly, Overton (director), Ming Cho Lee (designer)

1979 - Love for Three Oranges (Clarissa) with Suliotis, Little, Trussel, Nolen, Gill, Tajo; Prêtre, Chazalettes, Santicchi
           Rigoletto (Maddalena) with Manuguerra/Elvira, Blegen, Pavarotti, Gill; Chailly, Sequi, Pizzi
           Andrea Chenier (Bersi) with Domingo, Marton, Bruson, Gordon; Bartoletti, Gobbi (director), Samiritani (designer)

1984 - Barber of Seville (Rosina) with Raftery, Araiza, Siepi, Bruscantini; Bartoletti, Sciutti (director), Peter J. Hall (designer)

1995-96 - Xerxes (Amastris) with Murray, Robson, Futral, Hagley, Langan; Nelson, Hytner (director), Felding (designer)

1999-00 - Alcina (Bradamante) with Fleming, Larmore, Dessay, Blake; Nelson, Carsen (director), Hoheisl (designer)

--  Names which are links refer to my Interviews elsewhere on this website.  BD 

It was during the production of Barber in 1984 that I had the chance to speak with her.  She and her husband invited me to their apartment for the conversation, and the discussion ranged from the serious to the humorous.

Part of this interview was published in the Massenet Newsletter in 1987, and now, as we head into 2016, I am pleased to present the entire conversation on this website.

We begin with the brief original introduction as it appeared in print almost thirty years ago . . . . .

This was one of those happy times when I went to interview my guest and then found out her immense interest in Massenet
Charlotte in particular.  I knew at that moment that her remarks would appear in this journal sooner or later. 

As we were setting up for the interview, we talked about her personal life. . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    Is it good to be married to your agent?

Kathleen Kuhlmann:    Oh dear, what a difficult question.  Actually it is because you can schedule your singing around your private life much better.  [Here, a brief phone call interrupts us, and upon returning she mentions going to a performance of another opera which is running during the same period.]

BD:    Are you good audience?

KK:    I don’t know.  I look for different things than the general public does, such as the difficulties and problems that one has in performing.  Most singers do that.  We’re probably more critical in a way, yet in other ways we are not as cruel as an audience can be if something is not going well.  We can sympathize because we know exactly what it’s like to be in a production that’s not good, or if it’s just a bad night for you.  No one wants to do a poor job on the stage and everyone is trying to do their best, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

BD:    Do you look at a performance differently if it’s one of your roles?

KK:    Oh yes.  Here in Chicago, they’re doing the same Ponnelle Carmen I did in Cologne, and ours was very different from the one here despite the same sets and the same director with his concepts.  The characterizations are different.  Ponnelle’s assistant had mapped out certain scenes, but then Jean-Pierre decided to change things when he saw how we reacted to certain things.  It worked out much better.  The assistant was trying so very hard to be true to the production, but he can’t take into account that you’re a different person from the last one who performed that role.

BD:    Do most producers look for these subtleties and variations in their singers?

KK:    Not always.  Some producers have a fixed character in their minds and often choose a singer that fits the mold.  The Intendant in Cologne picks particular singers for particular roles because he “sees” them that way.  But there’s nothing a singer can do about it if a producer tries to impose a character on you that doesn’t work for you.  I’ve seen it with others
a new cast member will be forced to do things like the previous singer, and it just doesn’t work.  It’s artificial.  You have to find the character within each person.  I don’t think there’s any one way of producing an opera.  It’s not black or white.  There are a lot of shades of gray.


BD:    How do you handle it when you’re asked to do things you don’t agree with?

KK:    When a singer is uncomfortable with something, normally a producer will see that and not want it to look bad.  A good producer will try to work around it, but not all of them...  [Laughs]

BD:    What happens then?

KK:    After the premiere is over with, everyone winds up doing what they want to do.  That’s not always the best, though.  The best opera ensemble is the one that’s worked hard for four to six weeks and really knows each other very well.  Then the basic positioning of bodies onstage will be that of the producer, but the singers can explore more of the interactions between their characters.  You also learn through other producers and productions so your performances when you return later can be better.  I did the Barber of Seville in Cologne and wasn
’t convinced of it the first time I did it.  I was uneasy about it because it was taken from such a serious point of view.  It was more like Nozze di Figaro in its social implications.  So it was difficult the first year because there was no humor in it.  In actual fact, there was humor; it was just that we hadn’t become comfortable in the production.  When it was revived the second year, I was far more convinced about it, especially having been in another production in another city which I felt had no backbone to it whatever.  In this production here in Chicago, she’s not so much a serious person.  Remember she is a young girl, and when one looks back when one was a teen-ager, you have your little moments of seriousness but you’re not really tragic all the time.  You have this hopefulness that things are going to get better, and you try to get things better and you try to get your own way.  Teenagers always try to get what they want.  They’re always anxious to obtain their freedom.

BD:    This character is nearly 200 years old.  Does it really speak to us today?

KK:    That
’s hard to say.  I can understand the character simply from the point of view that my mother is from Mexico and lived in the society where you didn’t have contact with the outside world.  As a young girl, she had to stay in the house and couldn’t talk to boys, and if somebody was interested they had to write letters which her aunt read.  Then the elders decided who you married and who you didn’t marry.  That was it.  So when I heard my mother speak about the situation, I could understand more of what it was like not to be allowed contact with eligible young men, to be someone behind bars looking out your window.  So it must be terribly romantic when someone comes to serenade you!  So you fell in love in the way most teenagers become infatuated for the first time.  I think that’s very true of Rosina.  She doesn’t really fall in love with this fellow who is serenading her; she’s in love for the first time. 

BD:    Is she looking for her ticket out of the dungeon?

KK:    I think she wants to get out, but I don
’t think she’s intending to use Lindoro to get out.  She does have strong feelings for him, and she knows that she has to get out because she knows she’s being held against her will.  There is all this speculation about Bartolo wanting to marry her, and she’s not interested in marring this old man.

BD:    So she would have refused to leave if she learns she is going to be handed over to someone else?

KK:    Oh, no woman wants to be compromised that way.  If she had allowed that to happen, she would have been a fallen woman, and in that time, what could she have done?  Things are different now...

BD:    What if Lindoro had arrived a week later, after her marriage to Bartolo?

KK:    In that case, Bartolo wouldn
’t have pressed marriage as quickly if there hadn’t been the danger that Almaviva was trying to get at her.  They just thought that this Lindoro was simply pacing outside the house, and when the situation developed, Bartolo needed to act at once.  I think he would have preferred to wait and see if she would ‘come around’ to marry him. 

BD:    Would Rosina ever have
‘come around’ to that idea?

KK:    Under certain circumstances, yes.  She says that in the opera when she feels she has been betrayed.  Some of that recitative is often cut, but she does say she wants vendetta against this fellow who has treated her so badly.  She says she will marry Bartolo, but right away because this fellow is coming back.

BD:    So she doesn
’t dislike Bartolo?

KK:    No, I
’m sure she doesn’t, but he is not a romantic figure in any way.  He’s a paternal figure.

BD:    How old is he?

KK:    That
’s hard to say.  He is Figaro’s father, and in those days someone was old by the time they were fifty.  I would imagine he’s between fifty and sixty. 

BD:    How old is Rosina?

KK:    She
’s supposed to be about fifteen or sixteen.  In Latin countries that is about the time a girl is expected to get married, though they could be promised earlier...  [Much laughter all around]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Do you like being a mezzo?

KK:    I’m fortunate being a mezzo because there are not great quantities of us.  There’s an awful lot of work, but it’s much more difficult being a soprano.  I would love to be a soprano.  If I could sing Bellini heroines I’d be thrilled, but I don’t have the range.  Take Adalgisa
that’s really a soprano role, and mezzos do it, but it’s too high for me.  Some singers have an incredible extension, and others know that the voice will not go any higher.  I know I don’t have any contralto quality to my voice.  My mezzo seems a little darker than some others who sing the same roles, but my tessitura is slightly lower than Maria Ewing or Frederica von Stade, or Teresa Berganza.  I find Mozart roles too high.  They lie right in the break, but the Rossini repertoire seems to be written in the best part of my voice, and I find it very comfortable.  I like doing the dramatic Rossini.  There’s an awful lot of repertoire being revived nowadays.

kuhlmann BD:    Is it good that all these pieces are coming to light again?

KK:    Oh yes.  Unfortunately, all that we’ve been left with are the few popular operas that are put on year after year.  There’s an awful lot of good music that we ignore because people have not developed their voices to sing this repertoire.  Sutherland and Horne and Bonynge did a great deal of this, and now it’s amazing to have someone like Samuel Ramey who is a bass with coloratura.  There was a time when everyone sang that way.  It wasn’t unusual, it was the norm.  But today we’re so into veristic opera and making bigger and bigger sounds.  People like to be bathed in sound.  I’ve noticed in Germany that they’re not so interested in what comes out of your throat.  They’re interested in volume and they’re interested in what you can do as an actress on the stage.  Often productions are far more important and you read page after page about that, and the singers are summed up in three lines.  All the singers together in those three lines!  Everyone is so wrapped up in the sociological or psychological implications of the production that they don’t notice what happened in the orchestra pit or on the stage vocally.  They’re just interested in the visual aspect.  That’s why they do all sorts of odd productions in Europe that have nothing to do with the operas the composers wrote.  I don’t see why you’d want to do an opera that was only eye-catching.

BD:    OK, is opera art or is opera entertainment?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interview with Arleen Augér.]

KK:    It’s both.  Ultimately it should be a combination of the music and the words.  The total effect should be unified, and the problem is what is most important.  In the beginnings of opera, the words were far more important than the music.  On the other hand, in some Italian cities today, opera for the public is a tenor singing a high note for several pages.  And in certain cities, various roles are associated with certain singers.

BD:    Do you feel under a burden to live up to the expectations of the audience that remembers a previous singer in your role?

KK:    It’s always difficult to go to a new opera house and sing any production for the first time, even if it’s a role that hasn’t been done recently by a “star.”  Nobody knows you and everybody is waiting to see what you’re doing there.  Every country reacts differently and looks for something different in the singers.  In Italy, they are mostly interested in the voice
often times just how loud you are and how long you can sing the high notes.  There are some places that are very interested in how you phrase.  I remember in Parma they were very quiet, as though they were trying to take everything in, and at the end they would let you know if you’d passed.  Apparently, if they don’t like you they talk while you’re singing.  So if they listen, they’re being kind enough to give you a chance.  But in Germany they are not interested in the subtleties of vocal interpretation.  They are interested in your acting on the stage, however.  It’s very important, even if you don’t speak a language to sing the language like you know what you’re saying.  You can’t do anything with the music unless you know exactly what you’re saying.  I think the idea of supertitles is fantastic.

BD:    Do you work as much on your acting as you do on your vocal technique?

KK:    I enjoy being on stage.  I prefer that to solo recitals.  I like large theaters but here in Chicago it’s too long and the public is just too far away.  You don’t have to worry about the sound, but you’re not present as a person.  You need a certain distance and you have to reach out, but it can be too far in a big house.

BD:    Do you become the character or are you portraying a character?

KK:    I always try to find something within me that can relate to the character.  I am always myself and try to be a natural character as much as possible, and that limits me as to what I can do.  I’ve not been schooled as an actress at all, but I enjoy that part of opera.  Ultimately, though, I feel one’s singing is far more important than one’s movement on the stage.  One tries to act with the voice, but when I listen to a tape of it I don’t find I’ve done at all what I thought I was doing.  You work and work on your technique and to bring color to your voice, and sometimes it just doesn’t come across.  But we expect so much more than we actually achieve.  I hope that there is something that I do onstage
either vocally or histrionicallythat touches somebody and that they can relate to.  When you’re in a very good production and have very good colleagues and a wonderful conductor, the audience has no choice but to respond positively.  But all those aspects have to come together, and it takes a lot of work.  I love the rehearsal period, and I enjoy working with a conductor who likes to coach and talk about the musical interpretation.  I find that the best part of performing.

BD:    As a young singer, how difficult is it for you to turn down roles?

KK:    Oh you have to!  The worst mistake any young singer can make is to have roles come too quickly or too heavily, and make a poor showing.  You have to be very careful to let people know what repertoire you are ready and able to perform.  Many singers go to Germany, and in five years their potential career is obliterated.  They have just over-done it.  It’s overwhelming when many houses invite you to sing.  When I was in the Opera School here in Chicago, we would sing at Grant Park in the summer.  We’d rehearse every day of that week, including two full orchestral rehearsals
one of which would be on Saturday morningthen the two concerts on Saturday evening and Sunday evening.  Back then I didn’t think anything about it, but I couldn’t do that now.  You really need at least two days in between performances to be your best.  Ideally, it’s best to sing just twice a week at the most.

BD:    How long does it take you to be rid of the character of that evening?

KK:    Oh, as soon as you walk off the stage!  You have to do that, otherwise you go crazy.  I learned that from Janine Reiss, who coached me in the roles of Carmen and Charlotte.  She said you must always be in control.  You must learn through the rehearsal period exactly how far you can go into your character.  You have to learn the limits of losing yourself.  If you’re too involved, the first thing that happens is that you lose control of your voice.  You yourself might think you’re emoting and being so emotional, but the audience doesn’t hear it.  They see someone who is not in control, and they’re cheated.  I recall that when I sang Charlotte, I let myself get so over-wrought at one rehearsal that I lost control of my voice at the end.  I was shaking and had so much adrenaline pumped into my system.  You must never let yourself get that carried away.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Tell me a bit about Charlotte.

KK:    Ooooo... my favorite role!  My dream is still to sing it with Alfredo Kraus.  I heard the opera for the first time on the radio in San Francisco with Aragall and Heather Harper, and saw it for the first time here in Chicago with Kraus and Minton.  I couldn’t believe the ending where he kills himself and the children are singing “Noël, noël!”  It’s so dramatic.  It’s a beautiful opera; it’s so real.  It’s a very romantic story, but there are always elements of the crises that Charlotte has in the opera that are true in anybody’s life
— making decisions that you think are right and finding out have only hurt people in the end.

Review/Opera; Reason on Holiday (but in Love Isn't It Always?)

Published in The New York Times, March 4, 1989

The Metropolitan Opera revived one of its more charming productions and introduced a fine mezzo-soprano when the company staged the season's first performance of Massenet's ''Werther'' on Thursday evening. Making her debut in the role of Charlotte, Kathleen Kuhlmann sang easily and sweetly and without strain, and she looked entirely at home in the role of the reticent lover. If we are to accept that an impetuous young man would commit suicide when rebuffed by a woman he barely knows, then Ms. Kuhlmann's Charlotte makes a reasonable cause.   (...)  [Also in the cast were Neil Shicoff, Bernd Weikl, Dawn Upshaw, and Renato Capecchi, conducted by Jean Fournet.]

BD:    Is it real, in this day and age, to portray someone shooting himself on the stage?

KK:    People do it all the time, though not always for a romantic notion.  Often now it’s because of drug or alcohol problems, or they’re just depressed.  Obviously there is something wrong with Werther from the very beginning.  He’s not a normal person.  He’s quite a romantic, but he must be a depressive type.  It’s interesting that the story is based on true event.

BD:    Could Charlotte and Werther ever have been happy?

kuhlmann KK:    That’s an interesting question.  I talked with Janine Reiss about that, and she was saying how very sad it is that you sometimes miss a person by just five minutes.  Perhaps if Charlotte’s mother hadn’t died, or if the mother had met Werther, perhaps things would have been different.  Ultimately, though, it might be that Charlotte and Werther would never have been happy together because he might not have been the right type of man for her.  It’s always hard to tell what would happen between two people who are in a situation where their love cannot be realized.  One often builds up a real romantic image of love in a situation like that.  It’s wonderful to long for a romantic ideal, but usually you can’t live in that atmosphere for long.  It’s like a bubble that bursts.  One has to get on with living, and there has to be something more than just a romantic love in live.  The whole situation with Charlotte and Werther is kind of a forbidden love, and that’s why it’s all the more attractive.  They often make Albert out to be rather a dry and uninteresting character, but I find his music in the first act to be beautiful.

BD:    Is she happy with Albert?

KK:    I think she would have been far more happy if she hadn’t had Werther writing these letters to her, making her feel guilty.  He obviously makes her feel guilty.  He’s always talking about the times they had together and how miserable he is now.  That is a terrible thing that he does because she is married, and since he says in the first act that she has to be true to her vow, he should leave her alone.  But he doesn’t.  So he torments himself, and he torments her.  It’s masochistic toward himself, and sadistic toward her.  But it’s not something that he’s aware of at all.  That’s why he’s such a tragic figure because he’s so weak.  He’s a weak romantic.  That’s why he kills himself
because he can’t relate to the real world at all.

BD:    Is Charlotte better off once he’s gone?  What happens in the (unwritten) “fifth” act?

KK:    I don’t know.  It’s hard to say.  Obviously, Albert has felt threatened since he sends the guns to Werther.  One always feels that there’s a suspicion that he knows what Werther has in mind.  But I think that he wants the whole problem settled.  He knows that Werther is in love with Charlotte, and he probably realizes that there is a strain in their relationship despite how hard Charlotte tries to keep things as smooth as possible.

BD:    Does Albert think there has been a bit of fooling around?

KK:    He doesn’t know, and he doesn’t want to risk it
especially when he is away so much.  He had been away and perhaps Werther had been there.  I don’t think that Albert would doubt Charlotte’s loyalty at all.  I think that he is afraid because of the state that Charlotte is in that something could happen.  He just wants an end to what’s going on because he loves Charlotte very much.

BD:    Is he afraid that Werther might commit murder and then suicide?

KK:    No, I don’t think so.  One doesn’t see any sign of that at all.  I don’t think Werther is the type of character who could kill anyone except himself.

BD:    Is Charlotte a nice woman?

KK:    Oh yes.  Unfortunately, she’s a woman who’s been brought up to do her duty.  It
’s this whole idea of the mother on her deathbed telling Charlotte to marry Albert because he’s a good man.  Of course, Albert is a wonderful man.  He’s probably the best man the family has ever known, and they know that he loves Charlotte and will be a good husband.  In those days, what more could you want?  So it’s not a terrible promise that the mother asks Charlotte to make.  I’m sure that Charlotte is quite happy to make that promise at the time, but the complication arises when Charlotte’s romantic feelings are stirred.  Werther’s very poetic, and she’s carried away.  When her father says that Albert is coming back, she realizes that she had forgotten about Albert at that moment.  She wasn’t true to him in her subconscious.  She realizes that there’s something else that she’s missed.

BD:    Is it lust in her heart?

KK:    It isn’t even lust for Werther.  It’s romantic love, and that’s something she’s not known before.  Since her mother died, she’s had to take care of the children and she has played the mother.  That’s in fact what Werther falls in love with.  He falls in love with the young girl who feels so strongly about her duty, who has all these children flopped around her, playing Mama and she’s barely a girl herself.  That’s what Werther finds so beautiful.  He loves the family life, and always speaks of the children and what joy it gave him to be with them.  He was attracted to her for those reasons, but she tried to do her duty.

BD:    So how can you bring that character to the audience of the 1980s?

KK:    You just try to make these characters live, but I don’t think one has to relate them to any particular type of person.  They are what they are, and what they are can exist in anyone.  It doesn’t have to be a Charlotte/Werther woman/man relationship.  It can be duty to your job or family, or your duty to yourself.  Often you have very high ideals and you feel you must always act in a particular way because it’s the right thing to do.  Then you realize, after you’ve done it, that you’ve only hurt yourself.  That happens to anyone.

BD:    Is Massenet’s music perfect for this character?

KK:    For Charlotte it’s fantastic.  Charlotte is a difficult character because in the first two acts she’s very restrained.  She’s a very simple person and very thoughtful.  She obviously loved her mother very much and was very distressed at her death and how the children reacted to her death.  She didn’t know what to do to console them and explain what death is.  How do you explain to youngsters what death is?  We all have that problem, and we don’t even really understand what it is.  But she’s simple and enjoys simple things, and Werther causes her to be more distressed.  At that time it wouldn
’t be easy to be married and have to work out what married life is while you’re still infatuated with someone else.  I assume that all that married life entails would be a shock to some young women in that period.  She is developed more in the second act, but still she is restrained and always trying to keep her cool, and tries to keep Werther from expressing what he feels for her.  She doesn’t want to risk her marriage.  Every time Werther tries to say something to her about how he feels, she says, “I’m Albert’s wife and he loves me.”

BD:    So she’s more afraid of her own feelings?

KK:    She’s absolutely afraid of her feelings as well, but it
s clear that he is going to try and stir these feelings in her.  He doesn’t go away when she gets married.  He could have stayed away from her, but he doesn’t.  Obviously, she has very strong feelings for him and she tries to suppress them, but finally she feels more and more guilt because she has sent him away.  His letters say, “If I don’t come back, cry for me.”  She feels at the end that she’s put the pistol in his hand, and the opera is written so that she has.  She is the one whom Albert says must hand the pistols to the messenger.  She does that and fulfills this terrible premonition.  She feels she is the one who kills him because she couldn’t accept what was true.

BD:    So she has to pick up her life after it’s all over for Werther?

KK:    Yes.  You don’t know at that time what kind of scandal there would be.  In the story, she’s in the apartment with him when he dies.  How will the society of the time react?  How will Albert react?  She has no idea. 
The majority of the audience in Cologne doesn’t go to see Werther.  We ran it for two seasons and we had a certain public that came for every performance.  But it is not a sell-out opera and never will be.  There was a time when it was laughed off the stage.  It had never been shown in Cologne.  In Germany, you have to be very careful about German stories set by non-German composers.  Gounod’s Faust is not called “Faust” but “Margarethe.”  Werther is a very touchy problem, and it’s accepted more because someone like Alfredo Kraus has made it his role.  Domingo has sung it in Munich.  Neil Schicoff made a fabulous success of the role, and there’s not a mezzo around who doesn’t want to do Charlotte.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad Charlotte.  It’s something that every woman can identify with.  The really difficult role is Werther.  The moment he walks in he must sing gloriously.  Charlotte has two acts to warm up.  There is only a little, very comfortable singing in the first two acts.  It’s the third and fourth acts that become very difficult, and the audience doesn’t warm up to you until you get to the third act because your character has to be so restrained.  But every country enjoys different operas.  You have to be very careful about the operas you put on.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Do you enjoy making records?

kuhlmann KK:    I haven’t made very many.  I enjoyed doing Bersi in Andrea Chenier [shown at right] because I had done the role onstage.  It was very well prepared.  We had the coach who had worked with us there every day there was a recording session.  I learned an awful lot.  I also enjoyed going to Dresden to be a Valkerie in Maestro Janowski’s recording of Die Walküre.  The orchestra is incredible, and it was nice to be singing with such a lovely group of young singers.

BD:    Are you preparing any other Wagner roles?

KK:    Maybe I would like to do Fricka and/or Waltraute, but no other Wagner.  I like things that are on the lower side.

BD:    Do you like playing a man onstage?

KK:    I don’t like playing boys.  I don’t mind playing a man, but that’s very different.  I don’t feel comfortable playing a boy, and don’t think I have the figure for it.  I don’t have a younger brother, so I don’t know what boys act like.  I wasn’t a typical teenage girl.  I was a bit more serious, I suppose.

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  Too serious?

KK:    [Smiles]  In a way, perhaps.

BD:    Did you miss your childhood?

KK:    No, but I didn’t have a typical teen-hood.  I may have stayed a child too long.  I didn’t go through my teens until I was in my twenties!

BD:    You are a product of the Opera School of Chicago.  Was that the right start for you?

KK:    I think so.  I had had no experience whatsoever in opera before I came here.  I had studied with my teacher in San Francisco for  5½ years, and this was my first stage experience.  Some people thought I should have left after two or three years, but I decided to stay a fourth year because I felt I need to.

BD:    When did you decide to become an opera singer?

KK:    When I was in college I was a science major.  I always liked to sing and had been in a couple of musicals, so I took a music elective just for fun, and people said I should take singing lessons.  I went with one teacher and wasn’t very happy so I stopped the lessons.  Then my father ran into someone who knew a teacher and I went with her.  After a couple of years with her, she said I might be able to make a career of singing.  I didn’t believe it at all, but I wanted to develop my voice.  I won some scholarships and eventually heard about this program with Lyric Opera.  I auditioned, and they didn’t take me the first year.  I re-auditioned the next year and they accepted me.

BD:    Is that harder, to re-audition?

KK:    I didn’t want to, but my teacher and her husband thought I should.  So I did and I was accepted. 
When you’re starting out, there’s always a certain amount of pressure.  They don’t know you, they just know what has been said about you.  They have to see if they haven’t made a mistake by engaging you.  But coming back to Chicago is nice.  I left here as a promising young singer and I wonder if they’re expecting a huge transformation.  I don’t know if in that time I’ve progressed in a direction that has taken me away from where I was headed when I was here.  There’s no such thing as an overnight success.  It takes a long time to develop as a singer.  It takes a long time to find out what it is that you want out of a career as well.

BD:    I am glad you found out, and that you have come back to us once again.

KK:    Thank you so much.  I am very happy to be back in Chicago.


To read my Interview with Susan Graham, click HERE.

To read my Interview with William Christie, click HERE.


To read my Interview with Thomas Allen, click HERE.

To read my Interview with James King, click HERE.

To read my Interview with Jeffrey Tate, click HERE.

To read my Interview with Hans Werner Henze, click HERE.


To read my Interview with Donato Renzetti, click HERE.

To read my Interview with John Cox, click HERE.

© 1984 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago, on December 8, 1984.  The transcription was made and much of it was published in the Massenet Newsletter in January, 1987.  The entire conversation was slightly re-edited, photos and links were added, and it was posted on this website at the very end of 2015.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.