A Small Town Girl with a Big Voice
by Katie Honnette on February 1st, 2009 in Features
A glamorous soprano and an award winning opera performer, Kelly Kaduce remains grounded in her hometown roots.
She has portrayed David Carlson’s Anna Karenina, Desdemona in Verdi’s Otello, Mimì in La Bohème and had the title role of Madame Butterfly. Kelly Kaduce has a long repertoire of signature opera performances. Among many international opera houses, she’s played in the Florida Grand Opera, the Opera Theatre of St. Louis as well as the Boston Lyric Opera – always drawing a crowd. Kelly has also performed with the Minnesota Opera four times. For every show, her hometown of Winnebago, Minnesota, has arranged for a bus to take people to the Ordway Theater to see her perform. “I don’t think many other singers can boast of hometown support like that,” Kelly says.
Growing up in southern Minnesota, Kelly’s favorite pastimes were playing the piano and singing. “A small town doesn’t have as many distractions as a big city would. I had to be creative to entertain myself and I did that with music,” Kelly says. While she now performs in operas throughout the United States, Kelly’s first stage experience was playing Annie in the community theater production. One of her favorite memories from childhood was in fourth grade when her mom decided to help her get in character. “Of course Annie has distinct hair: red and curly,” Kelly explains. “Well, my hair was brown and straight. My mother decided that I should get a perm. That took care of the curly issue. Well, red hair…a little more difficult. I recall my head bent over the bathroom sink and my mom trying to dye my hair with some kind of temporary red color. It didn’t work—thank God! It was hard enough to go to school with the permed hair, can you imagine if she had succeeded in making it red too! I guess that was my first experience in suffering for my art.”
Although Kelly always wanted to be a singer, she didn’t decide on opera until after her sophomore year of college. “When I started my first year of college, I was so excited that I could take voice lessons and get a credit for it. I think my voice teacher recognized something in my voice and encouraged me to take an hour lesson instead of the half hour. I thought, Wow! I can take a whole hour and get even more credit! As I started improving, the voice faculty at St. Olaf College encouraged me to make my major in music. Well, that was all the coaxing I needed. I think from that point on I had decided I would be an opera singer.”
In her personal life, Kelly Kaduce admires her parents Bob and Jan Kaduce for their hard work ethic and their generosity. She also admires her husband Lee Gregory for his endless patience, kindness and intelligence. In Kelly’s career, she admires Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. “She is a singer who passed away a few years ago whom I only met once. She felt so passionately about her art and music. She would even go as far as refusing interviews and shunning personal fame because she felt personal fame interfered with the audience’s ability to believe her as a character. In other words, she did not want people coming to the opera to see her. She thought it distracted from the experience as a whole. She wasn’t interested in being important, she was interested in doing what she loved: making music.”
Kelly says there is a “visceral satisfaction” she feels when singing. “As an opera singer, we spend a lot of effort and study learning how to project without a microphone. It is a controlled, yet beautiful, form of yelling to a certain extent. As a result, there are a plethora of sensations that run through your body. It is difficult to describe, but you can almost feel your voice vibrate from head to toe. If you do it right, you can feel it ringing throughout your entire body. I find this absolutely thrilling and almost spiritual.”
In addition to singing, Kelly also enjoys the escape that comes from playing a character. “Sometimes it is a welcome vacation!” she says. “Every time I have a performance, I get to be someone else for about three hours and enjoy the whole dramatic arc of that character.” Some of the portrayals Kelly enjoys most are those that have a large character arc, “like the role of Marguerite in Faust,” Kelly explains. “She begins as an innocent young girl and through the corruption of the devil; she winds up crazy and kills her own baby by the end.”
While Kelly has a desire to work at the major opera houses in the world, she feels it’s more important to focus on things she can control. “One goal that has been constant is my desire to constantly improve my craft. I am always trying to refine my singing and acting technique and improve my language skills and musicianship. Those are goals that have never changed.”
Kelly clings tightly to her small town roots. Although she and Lee reside in Texas, they frequently return to her hometown of Winnebago. “Remembering where I have come from keeps my feet firmly planted on the ground and keeps my life in perspective. Being in the entertainment industry can easily inflate your ego,” she says. “I am proud of the fact that I can change the trap on a sink (my family is in the plumbing business), walk beans and de-tassel corn among many other things. I feel like I have a little something extra.”