The West Australian Opera has named 2012 The Year of the Diva. And that it has been, with Electra, Pearlfishers,and Lucia Di Lammermoor gracing the stage this year. Puccini’s masterpiece, Madam Butterfly opens at His Majesty’s Theatre this month, completing the diva inspired line-up. The ‘diva’ in Butterfly is American Soprano Kelly Kaduce who stars as the iconic and dramatic heroine, Cio-Cio San (Butterfly).Kaduceonly arrived in Perth a few days ago, and I spoke to her from her hotel about opera, Butterfly, Japanese-ness, and Vegemite.
Can you tell us a bit about your first experience with opera in general?
‘I didn’t grow up with Opera, I grew up in a very small town in the state of Minnesota, it’s a big farming community and my only experience with music was really with my family and in the community; at the local theatre and the church and school… It wasn’t until I got to college that I began to get some experience with Opera, and I remember the very first opera I went to. It was in Minnesota, and I didn’t really know that much about Opera at that point. I showed up, and it was The Barber of Seville. If you’re familiar with the Buggs Bunny Cartoons – there’s a section where Buggs is giving Elmer Fudd a haircut, and the music is from Barber of Seville. And I was like ‘Oh my God, of course I know Opera’. So that was my first experience with it. But really I got interested in it because I love to sing. I’ve been singing ever since I was a little kid, and I just kept pursuing it, and taking lessons, and it just evolved into this opera career for me!’
What was your first experience with Madam Butterfly?
‘Well, I’ve been doing it on and off for the last few years [since 2004]. My first experience was in my home state of Minnesota, they had contacted me to do the role. And it’s a notoriously difficult role to sing. It’s very long, and then once you reach aptitude the soprano hardly ever leaves the stage and she has four arias in the whole Opera, and each aria gets grander and grander as the Opera goes on, and bigger and bigger, so it’s very difficult to sing. So I was kind of cautioned against taking it, but I just love Puccini, I’ve always sung Puccini since I first started singing, and I had the opportunity to do it with this director Collin Graham, who was a very (he’s since passed away) well know director… and he spent a lot of time in Japan, so it was an opportunity for me to do Butterfly with someone who knew a lot about the culture, and had been in Opera for so long (He was Benjamin Briton’s preferred director) and, so I jumped at the chance, and I’m really glad that I did. I developed a kind of several year relationship with Colin, did Butterfly with him and many other productions since then, and we just kind of fell in love with him. And he’s since passed away, but we named our son after him. We really bonded with him, and I’m really glad I had that first opportunity with this role, and to do it with him.’
Did Colin Graham have a big influence on how you have performed the character over the years?
‘He was an amazing man. He lived many lives. At one point he was a Born Again Christian, at one point he was a body builder, at one point he had a motorcycle and drove it around the United States, and he was knighted…he was an amazing man. He influenced me in that production, the original production (and I think the first time you do a role you pick up things that stay with you for your lifetime of performing that role) and his concept of Butterfly, and directing in general, was that he always did things simply and beautifully, and it got to the heart of things and I was so happy for that. I always have this base to work from that is really genuine, and I’ve really learned a lot about the culture through him. I mean, I’ve only been to Japan once, and it was for a week. How much can you pick up? Actually, also, the last time I performed Butterfly I had a Japanese Suzuki, and she taught me even more. It was amazing what I picked up from her as well.’
I’ve been going to the opera since I was4, and was always the youngest person there. Now I’m 30, and I’m still the youngest one there – is it a similar situation in other places?
‘Yes, it tends to be similar. In the US (where I’ve worked primarily)… what they do, especially in the lifetime of my career is that they really make an effort to reach out to the younger generation. When we have our final dress rehearsal, they will invite local high schools for free! So we’ll have a whole auditorium full of 12-18 year olds, sometimes even younger.Some opera companies have started these clubs… It’ll be a group of 20-30-somethings who get subscriptions to the opera and other arts events and they will have an evening for them, and they’ll create a party afterwards where the artist will come and socialise with them and so they’ve made real attempts to broaden the audience base.’
Do you think the story of Madam Butterfly appeals to audiences of all ages, and also first time opera goers?
‘Absolutely. It was based on a true story, and it’s such a great story that it was remade into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber called Miss Saigon… it’s a basic story of the clashing of cultures and what happens when we don’t respect each other’s differences.’
Can you tell us about Cio-Cio San and her story in a nutshell?
‘She’s a 15 year old girl, she’s a Geisha (which I jokingly compare to being an opera singer).It’s a highly trained art, they start by the time they’re 7 or 8 training. It’s the middle of the war, and there are a lot of soldiers from various cultures in Japan. To sum it up, she marries an American Soldier, and he has the idea that it’s a temporary marriage. She thinks it’s permanent. And over the course of the evening, you see her hopes disintegrated to the point where she’s destroyed.’
I read on facebook that you’ve bought a jar of vegemite!
‘Yes I did!’
How has that experience been for you?
‘I haven’t even tried it yet, but I’m very excited. Whenever I get to a place I’ve never been I like to find things that are local and try them out. And one thing that I’d heard of is vegemite, so I thought ‘I have to buy a jar and try it!’
Do you have any advice for aspiring opera singers?
‘Oh my goodness, okay! Being an Opera Singer is not nearly as glamorous as you think when you start out, so it’s very important that you love the whole process of singing. It’s an endless process which has many, many, levels. It’s a lot of hard work!’
Madam Butterfly will be playing at His Majesty’s Theatre from October 23.
Madam Butterfly Image: James Rodgers