Opera's Next Wave
In June of this year, just as Quinn Kelsey was about to make his role debut as Ezio in Attila at San Francisco Opera, his singing received an endorsement from no less an authority than Ferruccio Furlanetto. In an interview with Marina Romani posted on Musicalcriticism.com, Furlanetto, who was also appearing in Attila, said, "In today's complete lack of Verdian baritones, [Quinn Kelsey] represents a hope for this type of voice. From the first day I arrived [in San Francisco for Attila], I said to myself, 'How beautifully he sings!' He has already been contacted by some of the most prestigious opera houses, and I'm not surprised. His type of vocality has been missing for a long time, basically from the times of Cappuccilli and Bruson. And I've had the chance to sing with both of them, so my ear is well trained! This voice type has a peculiar nobility of timbre. And Kelsey has the right color, a beautiful technique — all the right qualities."
Kelsey's generously scaled singing has whetted the appetites of Verdi-lovers beginning with his season in San Francisco's Merola Opera Program (2002) and his three-year term in Lyric Opera of Chicago's Center for American Artists (2003–06). A native of Honolulu, Kelsey started singing as a teenager in the chorus of Hawaii Opera Theatre; he has returned to HOT in recent years for principal roles. Last January, HOT welcomed Kelsey for Amonasro in Aida, a role he has also sung in Chicago, San Francisco, Vancouver and Bregenz. Kelsey's growing credits as a Verdian now include Rigoletto in Oslo and Toronto and Count di Luna at San Francisco Opera and Dresden Semperoper — the last engagement also featuring the Leonora of Kelsey's wife, soprano Marjorie Owens. Kelsey made his Met debut in 2008, as Schaunard; bowed at New York City Opera in 2010, as Sharpless; and was first heard in London as Zurga in ENO's 2010 Pearl Fishers.
Kelsey begins the coming season with September dates for Mahler's Eighth Symphony with the Nashville Symphony. He will be reunited with Furlanetto in October and November at Lyric Opera of Chicago, when he sings Paolo to the Italian bass's Fiesco in Simon Boccanegra. Later in the 2012–13 season, Kelsey sings Rigoletto for Zurich Opera, in a new Tatjana Gürbaca staging, conducted by Fabio Luisi; he also appears in recital in Oslo and travels to Frankfurt for his role debut as Guy de Montfort in Les Vêpres Siciliennes.
What makes Kelsey's Verdi singing so compelling is not just the size of his voice or the finish of his technique, although both are impressive. It's his heart. Most baritones snarl their way through Rigoletto's "Cortigiani," grabbing applause by communicating the killing force of the jester's anger. When Kelsey sings the aria, you hear the pain behind the anger; the man's vulnerability is evident in every phrase. It is a much more human presentation of Rigoletto's character — and a much more satisfying one.
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