When Kelly Kaduce talks about opera, she describes something equal parts art, career, achievement, and aspiration. The Minnesota native—she grew up in Winnebago—has been singing opera since college, and her voice, vibrant and sprinkler-in-the-summer lively, has sent her to Symphony Hall, stages in Australia, and even the 1999 Met Council Auditions (which she won). The lifestyle demands constant travel, self-education, spotlight, and sacrifice—and perhaps this is why, although she performs globally and calls Houston, Texas her home base, Kelly regularly heads to Washington Street in downtown St. Paul, where the Ordway Theater welcomes her to the stage, elegant as midnight and effortlessly poised.
Kelly has reason to be the Minnesota Opera’s soprano sweetheart. This March she accepted an impromptu invitation to join their production of Tosca after one of the leads dropped out, taking to the stage with two days’ practice—singers usually rehearse for two to three weeks. Fortunately, it was a role Kelly had played several months earlier in Houston: singers perform the same opera many times over the span of their careers and are always refining and reevaluating their approach. Those who saw Kelly on stage (and awarded her standing ovations) are not likely to see this same Tosca ever again.
We caught up with Kelly to talk about her pilgrimages to Minnesota and how she sees the field of opera changing, both in her own life and as a performing art.
You perform all over the country—and internationally. What’s it like returning to perform with the Minnesota Opera?
It’s very comforting and calming to me. It’s where I grew up, and it’s where I studied. I know everyone who works at the Minnesota Opera, from the musicians to the administration.
The Minnesota Opera has a number of initiatives in place to reach a younger demographic, from mini concerts at breweries to pre-show events—but opera still carries the rap that it’s an art supported by an older generation. Do you think this is true, or do you see younger people coming to the opera?
Like any fine art, opera is not a popular venue that’s free and accessible to everyone like TV or the radio. So it does take a little effort on the part of opera companies to bring people in. There used to be a lot of traveling companies that would come perform in cities, It’s these older audiences who were exposed when they were younger, before the traveling companies ceased. But I do see it’s trending back toward the younger crowd, especially in Minnesota. People love the arts here. They love to go see it; they’re curious about it, and they like to support it.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The rehearsal process, when you get all the artists and stage directors and musicians together. It’s this collaborative meeting of ideas. Their ideas make new ideas for you, and everything culminates in one room. And people in the arts, and specifically in classical music and opera, are just interesting people. They’re unique, and it’s fun to be around them.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Travel. It’s not very glamorous. I’ve had to let go of a lot of that familiarity of family that comes with growing up in a small community [Editor’s Note: Winnebago, Minn., where Kelly grew up, has a population of about 1,500]. I have a four year-old, and I’m away more than the average parent is. On the plus side, when I’m not working, I’m at home all day, everyday. I also live in Houston now and have started singing with the Houston Grand Opera, and that allows me to be home a little more. Before we had our son, my husband and I tallied up how much we spent together and how much time we spent apart—we spent just half the year together.
Is it common for singers to take root and perform with a single opera company?
We’re all individually contracted per opera. In Europe, they hire a core group of singers that work specifically at one opera house. But a lot of times you develop a relationship with the companies; they like your work, and the audience in the area responds to what you do. So companies do what the Minnesota Opera does and hire local when they can—to save on housing and travel costs, but also because those singers bring with them a local base of fans.
What are you doing to grow as an artist?
It’s always a process of growth and discovery and improvement, which is why a classical musician can perform a piece over and over again. The first time you do a piece, you’re often fixated on the basics. Once you get the memory engrained in your body, then you can think in finer detail. And a lot of times you’re not going to repeat the same piece immediately, so by the time you return to it you’ll have grown up and formed different ideas about the music. It’s a never-ending play of ideas and creativity.
You performed one of Rusalka’s arias at the 1999 Met Council Auditions—which you won. What was that experience like?
I was very young. I was just starting the last year of my master’s degree, so I’d only been singing operatic style and studying seriously for six years. I decided to enter without planning on making it very far. And then I just kept advancing. I was so green, I didn’t know enough to be nervous or terrified. I just would go stand where they told me to and open my mouth and sing.
Is it common for opera singers to wait until college, as you did, to begin studying the art?
A lot of my colleagues often don’t come from classical music backgrounds. Our instruments are inside our bodies and our bodies—especially when we’re young—develop at an unreliable rate. Studying early isn’t necessarily going to give you an edge. Your voice could be classically different when you get older. Unlike instrumentalists, where an instrument is on the outside, we’re learning to master our inside instruments.
It seems like opera is one field where youth isn’t necessarily prized.
Trends and times change. There are young singers, but generally it takes a more mature mind and voice to be able to sustain the requirements of rehearsal, travel, learning the music. It’s hard to be able to master that right out of the gate. Someone who’s ‘young’ in opera is usually going to be in their mid-to late twenties.
What’s your favorite spot in Minnesota?
[When I was in Minnesota to perform Tosca] my friend and I went to Nye’s Polonaise Bar. Because it’s closing, we wanted to go for a last hurrah. We often go to French Meadow Bakery. And we always walk along the Mississippi River: it’s our favorite place to go for walks with the dog.
And your drink of choice?
A really good beer.