Katie Kat is an emerging opera singer and self made ‘Opera-preneure.’ She was a NYFA Entrepreneur Bootcamp Scholar in 2012 for her work producing operatic recital performances for arts venues and private events. She has performed at The NYU Skirball Center, Lincoln Center’s David Rubenstein Atrium, The Teatro Caio Melisso in Spoleto, Italy, and is currently a featured performer with the off-Broadway show Speakeasy Dollhouse. A voice teacher and researcher; she recently gave a TEDx Speech on the necessity of singing, and makes it her mission to make opera accessible.
Recent roles include such operas as Dvorak’s Rusalka (Rusalka), Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (Marcellina, Countess), Cosi Fan Tutte (Despina), Weil’s Street Scene (Anna Maurrant), Menotti’s The Telephone (Lucy), Purcell’s Dido and Aneas (Belinda) and The Fairy Queen (Night, The Plaint).
Katie is currently in production of a CD of international lullabies. Themed performances available for booking include “Always; the evolution of love.”, “Siren; The origin myth- A telling of Dvoraks opera Rusalka”, and coming soon; “Saucy little rumor; Romantic Victorian-era cabaret and parlor music.”
1) Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a Lyric Soprano, a professional vocalist, teacher and voice researcher. I just graduated from NYU with my Masters degree in Classical Voice. It’s been a very long journey to get to this point. I grew up in the part of New Jersey that nobody thinks exists; on 33 acres of forest on top of a beautiful mountain. That is where I learned to sing. I had gotten into conservatories, but because I never had the funds to make that happen, I made my own way starting at County College of Morris in Randolph, NJ; which is still one of the best experiences I’ve had in any music program I’ve attended. The teachers were phenomenal and genuinely went out of their way to be sure their classes succeeded. I fought through health problems and transferring schools to finally get my Masters degree- All while developing myself as a performer and artist in any way I could; School productions, community and educational theater, and producing my own recitals. I began producing my own backing tracks in 2005 so that I could perform anywhere; bringing opera to audiences who may never have had the opportunity before. Now that I have a Masters Degree, I’m focusing on a recording and performing career, as well as continuing to research voice science and the possibility of returning to school to become a Speech Language Pathologist.
2) Why did you choose to become an opera singer?
I’ve always been a singer, but there are a few things which drove me to choose it as a profession. I’ve always been a very passionate person, which made me stand out among my peers and resulted in some unfortunately serious bullying which started as early as the first grade. Interestingly though, instead of retreating, I started humming to myself as a coping mechanism, and when I eventually started singing in choir my talent was recognized immediately. Singing became my sword and shield against the world. Singing soothed me and inspired me. I chose opera specifically because it seemed to be the highest level of discipline one could aspire to. It’s such a powerful art form and it’s deeply important to me to share it with people. The piece of music that made me want to be an opera singer is “The Song to the Moon” from Dvoraks Rusalka. I’ve always been an extremely romantic person with a deep connection to the moon. That aria resonated so deeply with me that it felt otherworldly powerful. I’ve devoted my life to developing my voice as my personal power, and helping others to do the same.
3) What exactly is a “Lyric Soprano?”
It’s a classification of voice under the German Fach system. It speaks to the timbre of the voice and somewhat dictates the roles a singer might play. There are other labels, like dramatic, spinto, soubrette, and coloratura. I like to think of them like flavors. Dramatic is your 70% cacao chocolate, spinto is sweet dark chocolate, lyric is your milk chocolate, soubrette is your caramel, and coloratura is vanilla. All voices are equally delicious; they just come in different flavors. I’m a lighter flavor lyric voice. So my roles are going to overlap just a little with those a soubrette might sing.
4) Who or what are some of your influences on either a personal or professional level?
Personally, My very first influences were my grade school teachers who recognized my talent. I never would have thought a career was an option without them. Another is my very first boss, George Akehurst. He was a pianist, guitarist, and violinist educated at Peabody Conservatory. The man looked like a Harley riding Santa Clause, and was just as jolly. He gave me my very first music studio job. I was his receptionist and apprentice teacher. I took only a few beginner voice students and he took an hour out of his own teaching time to teach me piano, violin, guitar, rock, classical, and jazz improvisation- and of course share stories about his rock band in the 70’s. George was just as comfortable shredding his Mexican Strat, as playing Vivaldi on the violin, or Jazz on the piano. And I was always amazed at how he could be tortured through hours upon hours of out of tune violin playing, and still have nothing but praise and warmth for everyone.
Professionally- There are a great many singers who influence me, but to narrow it down to those who give real inspiration to my career Kiri te Kanawa, Renée Fleming, Joyce Di Donato, and Barbara Bonny. I look to these women specifically for their spirit, and artistic interpretations. I’ve been told I sound like Kiri, and her interpretations are so refined and regal. Renée Fleming was the first opera CD my mother ever bought and that is where I first heard “The Song to the Moon.” Joyce Di Donato is an amazing interpreter, and I have such respect for her because she doesn’t hide the fact that she struggled with her career. She talks about it candidly, and it’s comforting to know that someone so brilliant came from humble beginnings and really had to work at it, like myself. Barbara Bonny is my go to voice when I’m looking for an interpreter of art songs. She has a beautiful voice, and it’s so difficult to be so technically accurate to the music on the page, and still fluidly musically expressive. She is always perfect.
I also have to mention that I’m very inspired by up and coming singers like myself. One is Baritone Jesse Blumberg. www.jesseblumberg.com I first saw him at City Opera’s VOX presentation of David T. Little’s opera Vinkensport, which is a brilliant piece in itself. Jesse is an amazing singing actor with a truly gifted instrument. He simply holds the audience in the palm of his hand. The other, I’m lucky to say, is my best friend; Mezzo- Soprano Roxanna Walitzki. www.roxannawalitzki.com. She’s a Lyric Mezzo with such an amazingly unique esthetic. Her voice is rich and haunting, and her level of knowledge and passion for atonal music is simply fascinating. I never gave it a second thought until I heard her sing it. She is doing some amazing projects right now, creating stunning music videos for classical music- which is really drawing in new audiences for the art form. I hope to jump on the music video bandwagon pretty soon myself.
5) What are some of your upcoming projects?
Right now, I’m making my first professional attempt at composition. I’m arranging melodies of international lullabies for a CD. The lullaby or slumber song is universal. Every culture and age has some beautiful, timeless, soothing melody. I have melodies from many different cultures and continents. It’s so important to be that this is a CD for everyone! Lullabies are part of the human condition. We all find ourselves in need of soothing, and we were all someone’s baby once.
And, as I said before, I’m looking to start making music videos. I have one still in production from this summer, and I’m looking to create videos for the lullabies as well as a video project telling the story of Dvorak’s “Love Song” cycle.
I’m also auditioning for competitions and roles with opera companies.
6) You recently gave a TEDx speech in Jersey City, what was the topic?
The talk was called “Finding your voice- The Necessity of singing.” It highlighted some of the truly amazing research happening in Speech Language Pathology, Vocology, and Music Therapy. I want people to see how essential it is to their well being to make singing a part of their lives.
7) What is vocology?
The standard definition of vocology is the science and practice of vocal habilitation. It’s a developing field of voice science combining music therapy, vocal pedagogy (voice teaching), and Speech Language Pathology. It’s something I’m deeply passionate about and continue to research through scholarly journals and published research. I have special interest in the neurology of singing, and I’m considering research based PhD programs in Speech Language Pathology.
8) So why is it so important for people to sing?
Singing is truly a superpower. For example- it is totally possible to break glass with the human voice- you can look up a man named Jamie Vendera on Youtube for your proof! Singing is becoming a more widely recognized tool to help wake people from comas, and it is a proven way to help rehabilitate people who have lost the ability to speak due to stroke and traumatic brain injury! But benefits for the everyday person are pretty amazing as well. It increases self confidence, self awareness, and produces endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin – all feel good brain chemicals. I think the most important benefit is that singing helps us to express ourselves when words alone fail. I hope to encourage everyone I meet to sing far more freely, and far more often.
9) What sets you apart from other opera singers?
Every voice is different, and I definitely have something worth listening to, but what sets me apart is my drive, passion, and dedication to making opera accessible and understandable. I believe that is essential to the longevity of the art form. I have a lot of passion, and a great deal to say through this music. I hope that comes through to my audience and inspires them.
10) Are you of the opinion that Opera is a “dying art form?”
I’ve heard that said, and been discouraged by it. With the closing of City Opera, the debate about opera’s dwindling audiences has definitely been rekindled. There is a huge stigma about opera being only for the rich and powerful- but this debate has been going on for centuries. Mozart is a perfect example. He wrote opera for both the upper and lower classes. The Magic Flute was written for a “lower class audience” and we know this because, at the time, opera for the upper class was written in the Italian language, but his Italian operas were sometimes controversial as well- The Marriage of Figaro was actually banned because of it portrayed the upperclass in an unflattering way, and shows The Count’s servants getting the better of him. In modern opera, Peter Sellers started directing opera to influence people with influence; His productions have been both brilliant and controversial. The artform has so much history. It’s important to preserve that, but the challenge and delicate balance is how to do that without letting it be antiquated, or compromising the integrity and power of the work. I’m a huge fan of The Met’s live broadcasts. Tickets are affordable, and I’ve gone in my Pajamas with a blanket and snacks and a soda. It’s really perfect. Still, nothing compares to the physical feeling of being in the presence of super power voices. Live performance is something that more people need to be able to experience.
11) How do are you going about that in your own work?
Instead of trying to convince people to come to me, I go to the people. Though I perform in traditional venues, I seek out places to perform where I’ll meet people who might never have experienced opera before. I sing opera at Conventions, Renaissance Fairs, Corporate events, in parks, and this lead me to be cast in the Off Broadway Show Speakeasy Dollhouse. The best complement I receive is when people tell me, “I never liked opera until I heard you sing.” These people inspire me so much to keep creating and improving. I always take extra time to make sure my audience knows how deeply I appreciate them. When my audience goes home and googles an aria or opera, or walks away humming a tune from what I was singing, I know I’ve done my job- and that is deeply satisfying. It’s not all about me and my voice, though I love sharing my gift, it’s about preserving the appreciation for an incredibly important and powerful art form, and, what I believe is a real-life superpower.
Katie Kat can be found on the web at www.katiekatopera.com
On Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/katiekatopera
And you can become a patron of her work in exchange for exclusive content at http://www.patreon.com/katiekatopera
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