With a Tony Award for The King and I and five additional nominations, Kelli O’Hara has become a mainstay on the Broadway marquee. The soprano made her Broadway debut in 2000 as a replacement in Jekyll and Hyde, and has gone on to headline musicals including The Light in the Piazza, South Pacific, The Bridges of Madison County, and Nice Work If You Can Get It. But in spring 2018, she’s trading Jason Robert Brown, Adam Guettel and the Gershwins for Mozart.
As previously reported, O’Hara is set to sing the role of Despina—the spunky, mischievous maid—in the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Così fan tutte. She made her Met debut in Susan Stroman’s 2014–2015 production of The Merry Widow, but this will mark her first time singing a non-English (here, Italian) at the house. Performances begin March 15, 2018.
On Sunday, April 9—with just under a year to go until her bow at the Met—O’Hara entertained audiences at the 12th annual Opera News Awards, a ceremony presented through the publication run by the Metropolitan Opera Guild that honors artists who have made significant contributions to the art form. In a room that sat several members of opera royalty, including this year’s honorees Robert Carsen, Christine Goerke, Matthew Polenzani, and Fredrica von Stade (the fifth—the Met’s music director designate Yannick Nézet-Séguin—was unable to attend), the Broadway star sang a trio of showtunes from her theatre career, and shared how she felt about returning to the opera world.
“I got my degree in opera almost 20 years ago and left the dream to go to acting school," she said after performing South Pacific's “I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy.” “But people still dream. And I appreciate you letting me back into the group. I’m going to work very hard.”
While discussing the balance between her classic musical theatre roles and her blossoming opera repertoire, O’Hara tells Playbill, “Anytime I can diversify the types of work I do, I feel like I am growing and learning—and hopefully becoming a better artist overall. Singing Despina next season is a dream opportunity and one I will never take for granted.”
Speaking further to the idea of being let back into the group, O’Hara added, “It scares me in such a positive way because I am driven to work hard and earn my spot. I hope more crossover work can happen because artists never have just one dream. We dream endlessly.” She used the term “crossover” again when introducing “To Build a Home” from Bridges of Madison County, explaining that it fit her voice—possibly because she told Brown, “Either write me something I can sing, or I don’t want to do your show.”
Carsen, who was honored for his work as a director, could also be considered a “crossover” artist. His production of Der Rosenkavalier—a staging that stars Renée Fleming and highlights the acting chops of its singers—opened at the Met April 13, while his Chicago production of My Fair Lady, starring Richard E. Grant and Lisa O’Hare, begins April 28.
“The people on the stage are involved in the same degree of emotional commitment and desire to communicate with the audience, so it’s just another form of the same thing,” Carsen explains. “I direct musical theatre, play, and opera. I don’t see them as separate. Art is all that’s left when politics are gone and other people who are supposed to be looking after us have gone. Art is what we have—it’s the heritage from one generation to another.”
As Carsen prepares to premiere his My Fair Lady, its signature anthem could be heard in the Plaza Grand Ballroom during the Awards from O’Hara—perhaps to give a taste of what will be heard next door at Lincoln Center as she sings on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House.
Take a look at her performance below: