Say ’tello to Kelly Kaduce

Kentucky Opera nabs up-and-coming soprano for Verdi classic

You take Desdemona, the beautiful but tragic heroine of “Otello,” the Verdi grand opera to be presented by Kentucky Opera Friday and Sunday at the Kentucky Center. Yes, Desdemona is beautiful. And, yes, she’s desperately desirable. And this Otello fellow can’t help but go crazy for her. But Desdemona is unable to do anything about the fates that befall her. Otello and Iago, the protagonists, are men who can make things happen. But poor Desdemona, she’s just a victim.

Which might have been fine in the 19th century, but is not exactly a popular portrayal of women in an era of Hillary and Sarah, and 18 million holes in the Glass Ceiling.

“To be honest, just playing a flat-out victim would not be that exciting to me,” says Kelly Kaduce, the up-and-coming young soprano who will sing Desdemona for the first time in her career. Otello is played by John MacMaster, with Iago sung by Donnie Ray Albert. Garnett Bruce directs the opera, which premiered in 1887.

Image courtesy of the Kentucky Opera: Soprano Kelly Kaduce sings the role of Desdemona in Verdi’s grand opera “Otello.”

Image courtesy of the Kentucky Opera: Soprano Kelly Kaduce sings the role of Desdemona in Verdi’s grand opera “Otello.”

Kaduce says she found a different Desdemona in reading the Shakespeare play “Othello,” from which Verdi’s “Otello” is taken. “I think Desdemona has a little spice in her,” she says. 

Kaduce rented DVDs of performances of the play and the opera and found the deeper she got into the character, the deeper the character got.

“It’s curious how different the play is from the opera version,” she says. “She can be played very naïve and very innocent. But there is a verbal sparring going on in which she is quite witty and smart — and clever. She lies to her father about intending to marry Otello, for example. And if she is so sugary and sweet, how is it possible that Otello comes to mistrust her beyond all reason?”

The interesting part of all this is not the character — sweet or spicy — of Desdemona. It’s the delving into character. Today, the top opera stars are not only great singers, but also great actors. And it is Kaduce’s acting, to go with her singing, that has cast her as one of the up-and-coming stars of the operatic stage. She has the looks, talent and moves.

Executive Director David Roth says it is a coup for the Kentucky Opera to land Kaduce — partly because the 33-year-old soprano may be on the verge of opera stardom (she was on the cover of the July Opera News, for example), but also because Kaduce typifies a new breed of operatic performers who can act and sing. 

“I do not mean to discount her vocal talents, because they are tremendous,” says Roth. “But beyond this beautiful vocal instrument that has soaked golden tones to it is an incredible actress. She brings to her roles an intensity that goes beyond musical phrasing and lyricism. It’s truly an experience to see and hear her perform a role.”

And look the part. The era of waiting for the fat lady to sing is over. Desdemona is supposed to be beautiful, and Kaduce fits the role.

“I don’t know if I would qualify myself as beautiful. That would be a little forthright on my part,” says Kaduce. “But I do try to be fit. And I don’t know if being exactly waifish is a plus, but being fit is. Several roles I sing are ladies who are dying of consumption, so if I were to be a wee bit on the fuller side of the figure, maybe it wouldn’t be quite as effective.”

As for her renowned good looks, Kaduce offers a list of beauties who have graced the operatic stage. “But looks are certainly not something you can bank on,” she laughs. “You’ve still got to deliver the vocal goods.”

Roth noted that Kaduce has carved out a niche singing lead roles in new American operas such as “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Anna Karenina.”

“Now to see her take it to the next level and mature as an artist — to begin to take on some of these ‘warhorses’ is truly a treat,” Roth says. “One of the reasons Kelly came here is she really wants to look at some of this repertoire, but she wants to work on it in a safe environment before the big houses start asking for it.”

This is Kaduce’s first casting as Desdemona, and, Roth predicts, “having heard the rehearsals, it’s going to be a role that is going to make her a lot of money, and she is going to be a great success.” 

Kentucky Opera’s “Otello”

Sept. 26 & 28

Whitney Hall, Kentucky Center

501 W. Main St.


$40-$140; 8 p.m. (Fri.), 2 p.m. (Sun.)