Opera Spotlight: Quinn Kelsey

Classic Arts Features   Opera Spotlight: Quinn Kelsey
Quinn Kelsey makes his New York role debut as Sharpless in New York City Opera's Madama Butterfly beginning March 19 at the Koch Theater. The American baritone talks about the character and discusses how his Hawaiian upbringing led him to the opera stage.


"Music, singing is just something my family did, that we all know how to do. It's who we are, and we were known for it back home in Hawaii. I had the privilege of growing up in a musical family. Both my parents have a love for music. In fact, they met in college choir, singing a duet! I guess I can blame my being an opera singer on my mom, who was our church choir director, so she pressed me into service. After that, opera didn't seem like too much of a stretch. My mom started singing in the chorus of Hawaii Opera Theatre, then she dragged my father into it, and as soon as my sister and I were old enough, in middle school, there we were, too."

"Singing Sharpless in Madama Butterfly at City Opera will be my 'big role' debut in New York, since I got to sing Schaunard in Bohème at the Met in 2008. So I guess Puccini is kind of a Leitmotif in my career so far. I've sung the role of Sharpless just once before, at Hawaii Opera Theatre. But here's the cool thing: the Butterfly was Shu-Ying Li, who I'll be singing with again at NYCO. She is just amazing! She 'gets' that character so thoroughly that when she sings it, there were times when I forgot it's make-believe. It was hard for me to maintain my composure onstage."

"As a baritone, I often have to play an older, wiser guy, and I like that challenge. I try to observe older people, get the feel of it. Last year, in Memphis, I did my first Germont in Traviata, and my 'son' Alfredo was at least ten years my senior. But his body language was so youthful and the makeup people had done such a good job of aging me, that somehow it worked." "Sharpless is definitely the older, wiser one in Butterfly. As a diplomat, he represents the United States, and has to hold his fellow Americans in Japan accountable for their actions. He's repeatedly trying to warn Pinkerton of that. He's not stupid; he recognizes the cultural sensitivities and tries very hard to respect them. But I can't help thinking that part of him would just love to take Goro and wring his neck. And all along, I feel he knows there's going to be a disaster, and that it kills him that he can't get Butterfly to understand until it's too late."

"Having grown up in Hawaii, I definitely know something about the mixing of Eastern and Western cultures. The indigenous old Asian cultures show up in daily life, in customs and words and phrases, and just a certain sensibility. And then there's the powerful Western influence and values. Sometimes the two blend easily, and sometimes they clash. That's just the way it goes."


Mark Lamos's Emmy Award-winning production of Madama Butterfly performs March 19-April 18. George Manahan conducts.

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