Posted November 18, 2010
Command performance: Opera stars come home to support young artists through duet recital

(Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago photo) International opera stars and University of Iowa graduates Katharine Goeldner and Kyle Ketelsen (center) star as fiery Carmen and dashing toreador Escamillo in Bizet's "Carmen" at the Lyric Opera in Chicago in October. The two, who also are Iowa natives, will perform a benefit recital for the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre's Young Artist Program on Friday (11/19/2010) in Cedar Rapids.

By Diana Nollen/ SourceMedia Group

Katharine Goeldner has graced the most celebrated opera halls around the world, but her favorite place to perform is Cedar Rapids.

The Sigourney native and University of Iowa alumna says singing with the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre is “just fun.”

“As I tell my colleagues when I’m suggesting people to (director Daniel Kleinknecht), ‘You will never have a better audience or have a more fun on a gig than in Cedar Rapids.’” she says, singing the praises of the organization she considers her home company.

“The colleagues are great, it’s not stressful, and with so many friends around, I love singing in Cedar Rapids.

“After that, I love singing in Spain, particularly in Oviedo, with the beauty of the area and the people. For acoustics, there’s nothing like singing at the Met” in New York City, she says. “Singing on the Met stage is as huge a thrill as there is for an American opera singer. That stage is very grateful vocally.”

Goeldner will be voicing her gratitude at home Friday (11/19/2010), as she joins with UI alum and Clinton native Kyle Ketelsen in a benefit concert for the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre’s Young Artist Program. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 310 Fifth St. SE, and will be broadcast live by Iowa Public Radio.

Both have performed with the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre over the years — Goeldner in “Carmen,” “The Barber of Seville” and “Salome,” and Ketelsen in “La Boheme” and the world premiere of “Too Many Sopranos.” 

For Friday’s concert, they will perform a mixed program accompanied by Shari Rhoads from the UI on piano.

Katharine Goeldner, mezzo-soprano

“We’ve put together a program of arias that we love or want to try out,” Goeldner says. “I’ll have some ‘Carmen’ arias and some German songs. Kyle will do some French songs he’s performing in a New York recital on (Nov. 14).”

They also will sing art songs and duets from “Cosi fan tutte,” “Mignon” and “La Gioconda.”

Both are big believers in what the opera company adds to the fabric of Eastern Iowa.

“Opera is hard to come by in smaller, non-major metropolitan areas,” Ketelsen says. “Everyone should have exposure to it. It allays the fears some people have of opera being an elitist, snooty art form. After shows, first-time viewers are always saying, ‘Wow! I didn’t realize how accessible it would be. It’s a lot like musical theater.’”

Goeldner says “there’s no comparison” between seeing opera live and on film.

“You get an immediate physical reaction to the voices going on. You’re part of the action,” she says. “You don’t get that through television or movie screens. Being onstage puts you through an emotional journey and the audience is part of that whole production.”

The two starred last month in “Carmen” at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, with Goeldner in the title role and Ketelsen as the toreador who captures her wandering gypsy heart.

Both have risen to international stardom since their undergraduate days at the UI, but have never forgotten their Iowa roots.

Goeldner, a mezzo-soprano who is in her mid-40s, lives with her husband and 16-year-old daughter in Salzburg, Austria. She is staying in Chicago, however, to perform in “The Mikado,” which opens Dec. 6.

Kyle Ketelsen, bass-baritone

Ketelsen, 39, lives in a suburb of Madison, Wis., with his wife and their young children, a daughter age 7 and son age 5. The bass-baritone once called London’s Covent Garden his home stage, but now is performing more often at the Lyric, which will suit him just fine in the long run.

“I have a voice type with a lot of longevity,” he says. “A lot of bass roles were written with an older person in mind — king, father, old man. As a bass-baritone, I have less wear and tear on my vocal chords than a soprano and tenor.

“My wife tells me I’m done at 60,” he says with a laugh. “If after all that time I’ve said the Lyric Opera of Chicago is my home, I’ll be happy. It allows me to see my family, and that’s the most important thing to me.”

Both performers know the loneliness of life on the road.

“This is the longest period I’ve ever been away — four months, nearly five by Jan. 22,” says Goeldner, whose family recently came to Chicago for 10 days during “Carmen.” “It’s not easy being an itinerant singer. … Skype has been a blessing for this business. All the singers I know depend on Skype, not just to talk on the phone, but to see your family.”

Goeldner and Ketelsen were introduced to opera by their families. Goeldner attended productions at Hancher Auditorium in her youth, while Ketelsen’s mother played recordings of opera’s best-known arias.

Neither intended to study opera as undergrads. Goeldner was aiming to be a teacher, but was steered toward performance. Ketelsen joined the National Guard and took two years of general education classes in Clinton before transferring to the UI, where he just wanted to take some voice lessons, but ended up on a performance path.

He still didn’t take it all seriously until he started succeeding in grad school at Indiana University.

“When you study music in the U.S., if you’re going to formally study, it’s geared toward the classical scene, and that means opera,” Ketelsen says. “I slowly realized I might be able to make a living at this. In my early 20s I didn’t get it. I didn’t study a whole lot. I didn’t practice enough and didn’t show up for voice lessons warmed up.

“When I was accepted at Indiana, I was still kind of naive and had no expectations. At Iowa I became a big fish in a small pond. Indiana’s the largest music school in the world. When I became a big fish in a big pond, I realized maybe I could to it.

“Every new achievement was a complete surprise to me,” he says. “Maybe it’s my Iowa roots — if you stay modest and work hard, the cream will rise to the top.”


  • What: “Curtains Up: Katharine Goeldner and Kyle Ketelsen in Concert”
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19, 2010
  • Where: First Presbyterian Church, 310 Fifth St. SE, Cedar Rapids
  • Tickets: $30 adults, $20 students college age and under, at the door or in advance at (319) 365-7401 or
  • Extras: Fundraiser for Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre’s Young Artist Program; champagne and chocolate reception follows; concert broadcast live by Iowa Public Radio ­
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