Caricature of Kevin Burnette as Dulcamara by Joseph Sanabria.
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Past Event

San Diego Opera: The Elixir of Love

...Continuing with our interview of opera singer Kevin Burdette.

San Diego Reader: Are you married?

Kevin Burdette: I am. I met my wife while working at a law firm in New York — well, wait. I’ll tell you a little about my background. In undergrad I was pre-law all the way. I spent a year abroad after my junior year and I went to Vienna, Austria. I’d always done music on the side, sort of avocationally, but in Vienna music is the lifeblood of the city. I went to the Vienna State Opera every week and got standing room tickets which were three bucks at the time. I realized that music doesn’t have to be an avocation, if it’s what your passion is, it can by your vocation. When I got back for my senior year I decided to apply to law school and to graduate school for music. Law school deferred and grad school didn’t. So I went to grad school at Juilliard in New York and then was accepted into the young artist’s program in Paris and kept deferring law school. Then I got my debut at New York City Opera which is where I cut my teeth. I ended up deferring law school at Columbia for six years. After six years I believe I was focusing on the negative aspects of a singing career, which are manifold. You know, you’re on the road and you don’t get rich doing it and it’s a hard time having a social life. As in any career there are negative aspects of it and I was focusing on them. I thought perhaps I was so negative on singing because law school was still out there. I went to law school and I was in New York so I was able to sing and be in law school. I graduated in 2007 and went to work in commercial real estate for a big New York law firm. You don’t sing and work for a law firm in New York. I would take vacation time to sing but there was no taking four weeks off to go sing Donizetti in San Diego. After about two years I got a couple offers to sing. One was to sing Mozart in Buenos Aires at the Teatro Colon and the other was to make my Met Debut in Strauss’ Elektra. I got a leave of absence from the firm, went to Buenos Aires and then while I was at the Met I thought, “Oh yeah, this is a lot more fun.” So, in 2010, I came crawling back to opera.

SDR: Do you also paint and write poetry or something?

KB: [laughing] NO, but that’s where I met my wife. She was a lawyer at the law firm.

SDR: So you still get to talk law?

KB: Oh yes, it’s fascinating...at least to lawyers.

SDR: Besides opera, what do you listen to?

KB: 80’s pop such as The Cars, The Violent Femmes, Psychedelic Furs, you know, stuff like that.

SDR: I lean toward the 80s as well. I’ve made a serious effort to engage with current pop music but I just don’t find much that resonates with me.

KB: I’m with you. I have a niece who is 23 and she’ll send me a newer pop song that she’ll think I like, based on my tastes. I like some of it, I get the grove but I don’t get hooked.

SDR: Do you listen to symphonic music?

KB: I do listen to symphonic music. That was my introduction to classical music. I grew up in Knoxville and went to the monthly concerts by the Knoxville symphony. I really got into it. I got into the DG recordings with von Karajan and Berlin. I still listen to his cycle of Beethoven Symphonies from the 1960s. I’m into the Strauss tone poems. I heard the Cleveland Symphony play and Carnegie Hall a couple of years ago. They did a Viennese and German concert and Franz Welser-Möst was conducting. He’s Viennese and to hear his interpretation of that music took me straight back to von Karajan when I was in high school and I found myself crying because it was so amazing.

SDR: That’s the familiarity with the artform and the music that opens something inside of us. When we’re in at a concert and we hear a performance that is better than anything we ever thought to hear it adds to our experience of — of life.

KB: That’s right! It informs your life experience absolutely. It increases your life’s vocabulary. That’s a bit touchy-feely. I’m in California though, I can get away with that, right?

SDR: Yes, yes you can. We’ve got covens of crystal-wearing Wiccan adherents all over the place.

KB: Benjamin Britten once gave a speech about classical music. He said that for classical music to be successful it requires a triangular structure. Each leg of the triangle needs to do its work and pull its weight. One leg is the composer, the people who create the music. Another leg is the performer who takes the creation and make it our own. The third leg is the audience. The composers have to do their research and their work, the performers have to do their research and their work and the audience has to do their research and their work. All three need to happen to have a successful concert.

SDR: What do you think about change the word “work” to “love”, this is So Cal, you know.

KB: But that’s right. It’s not so much work as something we all love. It’s like a great big love-fest. Part of that love is opening yourself to the music and letting yourself go with it.

Audiences can feel the love at San Diego Opera’s Elixir of Love starting February 15th at the Civic Theater.

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