Monday, June 3, 2019

Spotlight On...Michael Kelly

photo by Dorothy Shi
Name: Michael Kelly

Hometown: Massapequa, NY

Education: Undergrad, Eastman School of Music, Grad, The Juilliard School, Post grad, Opernstudio with Zürich Opera

Select Credits: Recent appearances include: As One (Opera Idaho, NY City Opera), Fred in Kiss Me Kate (St. Petersburg Opera), Bernstein’s Mass (Mostly Mozart Festival), Messiah (Seattle Symphony), Sondheim’s Passion (Theatre du Châtelet), The Last Rose by David Del Tredici (Symphony Space), Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death by George Crumb (New World Symphony), recitals in Carnegie Hall, Neue Galerie, Kennedy Center in collaboration with celebrated pianists Kathleen Kelly, Malcolm Martineau, Jonathan Ware, and Brian Zeger. Michael can be heard on recordings for Naxos and eOne by composers Mohammed Fairouz and David Del Tredici, and seen in the documentary Secret Music about the life of Del Tredici. I am the curator of the newly-released baritone volume of art songs for NewMusicShelf’s Anthology of New Music.

Why theater?: The combination of words and music gets me out of bed every day. I love to communicate raw emotion through this medium, under lights, in a costume, or simply in an intimate setting, one on one with the audience. It all has the power to magnify and bring into focus things that mere words cannot express. I am consistently inspired to be the mirror that is held up to humanity. To share the kinds of stories that help us grow and better understand the more intense aspects of our civilization and our human nature.

Tell us about As One: As One is an opera written five years ago by the brilliant composer Laura Kaminsky and her co-librettists Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed. It tells the story of Hannah, a transgender woman searching for her true self. We see her at various points along her journey of discovering her gender path as she comes to terms with who she is. The piece is remarkably intimate with only two singers portraying Hannah before and after her transition, and a simple string quartet as accompaniment. As One manages to break down the barriers of fear and misunderstanding that many people have about the trans community by making Hannah’s story a universal portrayal of a human being brave enough to seek out her true self despite feeling “other”.
What is it like being a part of As One?: This is a role that I felt drawn to play since its inception. When it premiered in Brooklyn no one could have foreseen its immense success. It’s now the most produced contemporary opera in America with NY City Opera’s production being the 27th in just five years. It’s such a timely and needed story through a medium that has the power to open your heart to the trans community and their struggles. It brings me such joy to be able to spread this beautiful message of love and acceptance, and to have the opportunity to give back to my LGBTQ family. The trans experience is a unique one that needs to be shared, and the more exposure to their stories that the world has, the better the world will understand their needs and how to protect them from the many dangers they face. I believe that if every cis gender person had the chance to get to know a trans person, we wouldn’t need to fight for their protections at every level of government. But until that time, we must keep telling their stories.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I find inspiration everywhere. I try to diversify the kinds of art and music that I ingest. You just never know when something will spark an idea for a project or recital program or a cabaret. But I have to say, bold art, theater that takes risks (sometimes even risking to be simple), and music and artist that push boundaries are what really get me going. Glenda Jackson playing King Lear comes to mind immediately.  Opera singers Like Isabel Leonard and Anthony Roth Costanzo, who challenge traditional presentation of the art form inspire me. Musicians like Ani DiFranco and St. Vincent who play with words and style/genre make me hungry. Artists like Matthew Barney and Nick Cave who challenge the lines between art and theater inspire me to create.

What’s your favorite showtune?: “Move On” from Sunday in the Park with George by Sondheim. Gets me every time.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Björk. That is a creative brain that I would love to experience.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: My co-star in As One, Blythe Gaissert says Matthew Goode would play me. I love this choice. He’s gentle and intense all at once.  Two qualities I pride myself on. I have always joked that I would steal the title of the Barbara Gordon novel "Dancing As Fast As I Can" for the title of my movie.  But a more appropriate title might be Loud Noises, "Blinding Lights".

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The original cast of Sweeney Todd!  Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett... I believe that would have been life-affirming. Are you noticing a Sondheim obsession yet?

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I told everyone I know to go see Dialogues of the Carmelites at The Metropolitan Opera. It was the best thing I’ve seen there in a long time. Theater wise, I highly recommended Bridges of Madison County after I saw it, and I dragged my mother with me to see Angels in America and then couldn’t shut up about it for months afterwards.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I actually don’t have many vices. I live a pretty simple life and take very good care of myself. But I can’t say no to a delicious gelato.

What’s up next?: After opening night of As One with New York City Opera (on May 30th!) I head to Chicago for a recital with Kathy Kelly and Ariana Strahl. The repertoire is from the song anthology I curated last year. When we close As One I start rehearsals for a residency at The Crested Butte Music Festival. There I will be performing Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin with guitarist David Leisner and then performances of Ricky Ian Gordon’s Green Sneakers with the Voxare String Quartet. August brings me to Memphis for another production of As One and then the season begins in September with recitals and performances with my trio, Brooklyn Art Song Society, As One in Columbus, Ohio, symphony appearances and collaborations with composers Victoria Bond, Scott Wheeler, and Tobias Picker.

For tickets, visit For more on Michael, visit For more on As One, visit