Recently, we asked our Twitter followers to fill up our TweetyJar with questions for Rigoletto star Quinn Kelsey.
Having made his ENO debut as Zurga in Penny Woolcock’s original production of The Pearl Fishers in 2010, the Hawaiian baritone has won criticial praise as Rigoletto in Christopher Alden's new production of Verdi's tragedy. 'The outstanding performer was Quinn Kelsey… a major Verdi baritone hope for the future' (Financial Times).
By singing the role in English have you discovered any new aspects to the character?
It took a small bit of time to embody the character in a language different from the original, if only for all the work I'd already done and all the ways my body had grown familiar with the workings of the Italian. Then again, being that the ‘different’ language is my mother tongue, there were ways in which I was able to delve deeper into my portrayal of the character than I had previously with the Italian. I wouldn't say that there necessarily are advantages to one versus the other. Both present healthy challenges to how one would create such a complex character, and I've learned much from the contrast between the two. I feel as though I've tightened my grasp of who Rigoletto is in this production and what he needs to say and do in order to make the whole story work from his perspective!
Would you like to sing any other twisted/baddy roles? Your Rigoletto is seductively dark. And do you enjoy singing contemporary roles too?
I'll sing just about any character. I think it's healthy to have to portray different mentalities. For a performer, I think it helps to exercise the imagination. Work the brain. Make the performer really have to think hard to put everything into the body that which encompasses the scope of any one role. In this production, Rigoletto is very dark and tormented, truly.
I do enjoy singing contemporary roles. Again, another great way to broaden one's perspective for stage performing.
What have you found is the most challenging aspect of singing this role?
The physicality is easily the most challenging. Rigoletto is one who expresses so much of his torment and sorrow physically. It all comes out of him. Literally pours forth from him. I don't think there's really any way around it. There must be a strong measure of physicality in this role or else all the emotions he feels just don't quite come across. It's not an easy thing to do, to move around the stage so much whilst singing all that intense music! But in my opinion, it's needed.
Are there any roles in particular that you have not yet taken on which you would love to?
Posa in Don Carlo, Renato in Un Ballo in Maschera, Don Giovanni and Almaviva (The Marriage of Figaro) I've only done in controlled settings; never on a real stage. I am also a fan of Russian opera and would love the opportunity to sing those baritone roles as well. And then, of course, there are roles like Scarpia and possibly the Dutchman, but those will have to wait some years.
How do you become in Opera singer in Hawaii?
You get yourself born to a classically-trained mother who joins the local opera chorus in Hawaii who then drags your father into it a few years later which inevitably leads to you and your sister making it to the stage where in 1995 the WHOLE family was onstage at the same time for Carmen. Mom sang Frasquita, one of Carmen's cohorts, you and dad sang in the adult chorus, and sis sang in the children's chorus. Growing up in a musical family definitely helped. And then it was mostly luck of the draw that the family made their way into singing for the local opera company. From there, it was an overall appreciation for the art form that caused Opera to become such a force in my life. Something that not just anyone could do, and little by little, support and encouragement grew and grew to where I realized I might actually have a chance to make something of this fun thing in which my family and I took a part every spring in Hawaii.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Nowadays, I take my free time rather seriously. The opera business is a challenging one, and I value my time away from the stage highly. I need the free time to center myself. It also helps to release pressure and chase away the stress of a long work week or the long singing job away from home for a month or two. Being a dirty American, I have a strong interest in loud American "muscle" cars, as they are called. Loud, red-hot engines and lots of carbon monoxide that can really waters your eyes. I also have a small fascination with leather work. The tanned hides and all that. These all aid in recharging me for the next job.
Best Hawai'ian eats in London?
That might be The Japan Centre at Picadilly Circus, as well as Kua 'Aina up in Soho, just south of Oxford Circus. It's a combo of the two, I'd have to say.
Thanks to @F1Annie, @OperaSchmopera, @Randy_Randy123, @RoryGreeno, @mezbets, @stuartskelton, Sonia Mitrou-Mawenu on Facebook and Caria V in our comments below for submitting questions. Keep an eye out on Twitter @e_n_o for details of our next TweetyJar.