the Met. My first time. The show:Don
Giovanni. Kyle Ketelsen is Leporello. He’s the
sprightly, vocally-magnificent Leporello who comps me a
ticket. The always positive colleague who sometimes
drinks 5-shot americanos. The family man who shares his
spare room, buys me breakfast, and lets me ask him tough
questions at 8 A.M. the morning after his penultimate
performance. In other words, he’s awesome.
Here’s what we talked about:
Christiaan: You came in as the replacement for John
Relyea, and I’d like to know what was done to get you up
to speed. What was the rehearsal process like?
Kyle: Well, it was a short rehearsal process to begin
with, so I didn’t miss anything. And everybody except
Marina Rebeka was new to the show. So, it’s the first
revival, and it’s kind of standard; we had six days of
rehearsal. They called me on Monday and said, “Can you
be here on Wednesday; rehearsals start on Thursday.” And
we had about ten days, of which we rehearsed six
stage-wise. I rehearsed six hours every day, and then we
had a sitzprobe, the next day we had an orchestra dress
on stage – which is rare, I guess. Normally here, they
don’t do that. They’re not going to give you an
orchestra dress on stage; they just kind of throw you up
at the last minute and it happens. But I’ve done that
before. And then we had three days off and we opened.
Quick and dirty. But thankfully it’s not a very
technical production as far as the singers are
concerned. I mean, there are some things, like fire,
where we just have to sit there; we don’t have to
rehearse anything. I just rehearse covering my face so I
don’t get, you know, Michael Jacksonned. Were you even
born when that happened?
C: I don’t think so, but I heard about it. I loved MJ.
K: Yeah, we liked Michael Jackson, too.
been through short rehearsal processes before; do you domuch
review on your own after rehearsal, or does it stick
K: It does stick pretty well, but yeah, I do a little
bit of that. A little bit of that. But, I mean, at this
point it comes pretty quickly, you know?
C:It must be
nice having done it so many times, you must start to
anticipate basic staging moves that typically happen in
K: Right, that’s true.
any particular parts that were challenging?
K: Uh, challenges… Well, no, not really.
liked the interpretation.
K: Oh, good. It’s actually very similar to the one I did
in London that’s on the DVD – they had this rotating
truck on stage that could be rearranged to create
different scenes. There was a lot of coming in and out
of it and going to the top of it, and even the costumes
remember the wigs with the long hair.
K: The wigs, the green coat, the baggy pants, even the
hat. I remember I had this hat that was all beat to hell
– I thought it was going to be my hat – and it looked
like it had been run over by a semi a couple times. But
they ended up changing the hat. But, I mean it was a
pretty standard, traditional production, so nothing out
of the ordinary, really. So, Gerry [Gerald Finley] has
done this more than I have, and I’ve done it a number of
times, so you bring your standard repertory of moves and
sometimes they apply and sometimes not. And they’re
always changing with the combined knowledge of all your
past productions. All you can retain, at least, for over
reminds me of another question I had… It was so fun for
me to finally see your Leporello.
K: Thank you.
C:I love how
you portray Leporello as a “bravo uomo” [good guy] who
still sort of enjoys the ladies your master throws your
K: Yeah, it’s such a rich relationship between Giovanni
and Leporello; it can go in so many different ways. I
think Leporello’s caught between worlds – Giovanni
couldn’t really do anything without Leporello, but does
Leporello even really have any lady friends? I think so.
But it’s piecemeal, you know? Here and there, you might
have a girlfriend. There’s that line right before the
graveyard scene where [Don Giovanni] says “she mistook
me for Leporello.” So there’s sort of a sense with the
ladies that we’ve been here before. Leporello likes to
play the gentleman, but he’s not really. He’s a peasant;
he’s a servant.
the banquet scene at the end, you were very separate
from the debauchery that the Don was creating, and it
made you look very chaste; like a good guy.
K: Yeah, I think that’s Mozart and DaPonte. Leporello
still has to sing the message at the end. And the
Commendatore doesn’t address me, even though I still
have free will – maybe he considers me just another
victim of the Don.
facets to Leporello that you’re proud to have picked up
over the various productions you’ve done?
K: Yeah, I mean, I like the childish nature of him. You
can see it – it comes out in some of the lines. He tells
the Don, “What you’re doing is really bad; you should
change.” And [Giovanni] gets pissed off. Or, I’ll say,
“Yeah, I’ll stay, but leave the ladies alone.” And, he’s
not going to, of course. I like to give him a sense of
childishness at times. And also a quality of no
inhibitions. In the trio in the second act with
Giovanni, Leporello, and Elvira – at some point,
Leporello is enjoying it. He doesn’t always know things
you should or shouldn’t do… like sometimes I’ll be
picking my nose [mimes nosepicking, then looks around
the restaurant]. I probably shouldn’t do that.
So, he’s being repulsive, but she still digs it?
K: Yeah, I do like being kind of caveman-y. Like, he
doesn’t know any better. I have kids, and you know, they
would try to get away with things if they could – If we
didn’t say, “Clean up your plate,” they wouldn’t do it.
They would grow up and have certain adult things that
they’d do, but then they wouldn’t clean their plates.
And I think that’s childish. Their friends would be
like, I think maybe you should tidy up a bit. So,
Leporello picks and chooses. And then in the sextet in
the second half he’s damning Giovanni, saying it’s all
his fault, but he [Leporello] is just trying to save his
own skin. Which is childish, as well. But he is, in this
production at least, sincerely sad that Giovanni is
gone; sort of freaked out, like what am I going to do
C:How do you
keep your physical energy up, since your Leporello is
such an active guy? Do you do anything specific
K: Drink lots of water. Nothing specific. I make sure I
have a good meal. But, you know, I could have eaten
crap, and I think I’d get through it. And also, I make
sure I stay in shape off the stage. If I think of it,
I’ll have something like a banana along the way to get a
little energy, but by the time curtain rolls around it’s
usually worn off.
you look forward toGiovannibecause
of the banquet scene – you get to have a meal. Are there
other parts you look forward to in this opera?
K: Well, I haven’t done it in a while, but Colline inLa
Bohéme, because there’s Café Momus, and so you just
nosh, have a full mouth and sing a little bit. But yeah,
I’m kind of joking because I actually don’t eat that
late. But I make an exception – I mean, I swallow a
little bit, but most of it I spit out.
spit take. I just had a rough experience with one of
on the night of my final dress rehearsal, I accidently
spit almond milk on a cello.
K: Haha. I bet he was pissed.
was pissed and I was pissed. I felt so bad – that’s the
kind of thing I hope only has to happen once in life, if
at all. I felt so terrible that it’s now ingrained in me
to be extra careful about things like that. Wish it
didn’t happen that way.
So, I’m curious about the statues – how many different
types of statue have you had to deal with?
K: Well, most times it’s the actual singer up there.
Then there’ll be those productions where there’s no
statue, there’s no singer up there; it’s in your head
and it’s in Giovanni’s head. So, there’s a big
suspension of disbelief that happens there. Although, in
the design presentations at the beginning of the
rehearsal period, I like to put my faith in the
director, and it usually makes sense. Whether it
actually works on stage or not is another thing, but it
can make sense in theory. But I think this might be like
it’s not a ton. Orange County, Madison…
offers me the last sausage on his plate] You’re not
going to have that?
K: I’m trying to cut down on fat and cholesterol.
[I eat it] Delicious. Have you worked with directors who
rely heavily on your interpretations for the staging?
K: Well, they probably don’t come into the rehearsal
period with that in mind, but the more they see from you
the more they borrow from you. And, most of them realize
that it’s a collaborative effort and that they’re not a
dictator, although sometimes that is the case. Sometimes
that’s very much the case, but usually it’s not. So,
sometimes you can suggest things, and they’ll say,
“Yeah, yeah; let’s go with that,” if it goes along with
their concept. Usually it’s no problem to do that. And
then, especially once the show gets up and running, you
get on stage and everything’s kind of coming together –
that’s when I really start to relax into the role, and I
start adding more things. And then you add certain
things and they say, “that’s great,” or they’ll say,
“let’s taper that a little bit; that doesn’t fit with
how I see the arc of your character, or there’s too much
motion in the corner and you’re drawing attention from
Elvira,” or whatever.
after opening night?
K: Um, no. I’m not talking about here, necessarily. It’s
the same everywhere. You add something, you suggest
something, and if they want it they take it and if not,
no big deal. I like to think I give a director more than
he’s expecting; you know what I mean? Because so often,
like the director here [Michael Grandage], opening
night, said, “Thank you for the humor! That’s something
we didn’t have last time.” And it’s very much a process
for me. I don’t show up and just do everything the first
day; I have to let it layer and build. And so usually
one of the first days of rehearsal I say to the director
be patient with me; it’ll take a while and then it will
become much more of a complete character.
probably want to understand the director’s concept first
and let that sink in for a while.
K: Yeah. But a couple directors in particular were
concerned at first. Like, and they wouldn’t tell me at
the time, but like, Dmitri Tcherniakov. I told him,
through his interpreter, the first couple days – and we
of rehearsal, which is kind of standard in Europe,
unfortunately. I said, “I might not be all that stellar
right now, but it takes a while, just give me some
time.” And then he’d come back after rehearsal and he’d
be like, “Oh, you’re so, you’re so funny, oh, you’re so
great.” And, you know, I’m doing it three more times –
his production – in Toronto, in Aix [en Provence] again,
and in Madrid. But anyways, at the end, he told me you
know, through his interpreter, he said, “I was nervous
at the beginning.” We’d be in rehearsals – although, you
know, he’s kind of like a tormented genius type.
probably wants it to be perfect right away.
K: Yeah. Oh yeah. Because in his mind, he knows exactly
what he wants. He never, like, referred to notes or
anything. So we had six weeks of rehearsal, six hours,
sometimes eight hours a day of rehearsal. Every single
day. And he went like this, and just didn’t stop. It was
like attending a lecture. There were many rehearsals
where we staged for two hours and forty five minutes,
and then we sang for fifteen minutes. I mean, I remember
a few where we staged, and then there werefiveminutes
left in the rehearsal, and the music staff was like, “we
should probably go over this musically.” And then Dmitri
would be like, kind of begrudgingly, “okay, we do, we
do.” The music staff, we had a harpsichordist and a
pianist, and they read book after book in rehearsals
only. It was a little tough.
familiar with that style. It’s hard to keep your energy
up when you’re sitting there and listening, and then try
to remember everything they said.
K: Yes. Yeah.Yep.
work with Michael Grandage on this show, then?
K: Yes. But sometimes with the remount – the revival –
they’re not around. I’ve done three David McVicar shows,
and he was not at one rehearsal. I’ve known him
otherwise from meeting him around and just being in the
same places, but…
what it’ll be like with the tour of Dmitri’s show?
K: No. He doesn’t leave things like that to chance. He
will be there, you know, like, fine-tuning everything.
What I’m trusting is that he knows me now, he knows what
I can do with it, he knows he can have a little faith,
and he doesn’t have to micromanage so much. Let’s see;
Michael Grandage was here the first day, he presented
his concept quickly, and he was very good to work with.
He’s used to Broadway. He’s a Broadway producer. He’s
doing Evita now, and it’s still pretty new to him. The
one thing he really appreciates is that we all know our
roles from memory. Because on Broadway a lot of times,
everybody has the music with them. But he’s just
pleasant as can be; very friendly, very nice. And he has
very good ideas and he’s very good at conveying his
ideas. He has one of those minds, which I do not have,
where he’s able to visualize what he wants and then put
that into very specific verbiage in a creative manner.
It’s not like I’m describing a car engine to you; he’s
telling you what he wants and giving you analogies. And,
he’s a Brit, and they have such better vocabulary than
we do. I mean, within one week of rehearsing my first
show at Covent Garden, which wasThe
Magic Flute, speaking with the kids, these
schoolkids and the words they’re using – I mean, I
understood them all, but they’re talking and I’m
thinking, “Wow, we [Americans]areinferior.
It’s called English, it’s not called American. You speak
yeah. I had a friend give me all these English sayings
because we were playing Count Robinson as…
a British count, so I had a British friend give me a
bunch of phrases to use.
K: Could you add them into the show?
director [Amy Hutchison] wanted me to add British
K: Oh, really? What’d you say?
“Hello? Is anybody home? Signor Geronimo, what ho?”
K: What ho!
were fun moments where the British accent could creep
into the Italian recitative. It was a fun show. And, I
thought it [Cimarosa’s Conte Robinson inIl
matrimonio segreto] was a really good study for theLe
Figaro] count because both are chasing women, they
have arias in a similar musical style, and
K: And the stature.
similar poise. So, I liked it a lot more than I thought
I would. It’s actually not just a second-rate [Le]nozze
di Figaro. The music is actually different – and
quite pleasant. It’s slightly different from what people
would expect to hear. There are some slightly different
cadences and melodic twists than [the ones] Mozart
[would write], and you hear it, and you’re like, “Oh,
that’s intriguing. And it works.”
K: It’s cool to discover things that are of the same
kind of vein but still do their own thing.
yeah. And the thing is that it’s all just very, kind of
“pleasant” music, so it could be that a hardcore
K: Want something more dark.
a lot of C major, and G. A little bit of E-flat and D.
K: Oh, god. Was it written for a children’s orchestra?
Right. No, I don’t think so.
K: Funny. That’s cool. Very cool. So did you write all
these [interview questions] last night? I noticed you
sent them in the email at 2:15 [a.m.], and I thought you
either took a really long shower, or stayed up and
just took a quick shower and then had to get these
thoughts down while they were fresh. This is definitely
going to go down as one of the all-time great memories
in my memory bank.
K: Well, you’ve still got a lot of memories to put in
just that, I mean, well, whatever. I know you don’t like
ego inflation, and I don’t say any of this to suck up,
but just that you would do that for… I’m kind of, I
mean, we know each other and stuff, but I’m not like… It
was just very nice of you to let me stay with you and
get me a ticket.
K: Well, you know, I enjoy doing things for people who
will appreciate it. Occasionally I’ll do something for
someone who doesn’t acknowledge it, and I think, “What
is wrong with you?” No, I mean, I’ve always enjoyed –
I’m not sure you call it mentoring – but something along
those lines. That’s why I always leave question and
answer time with masterclasses, that’s why I have my
email address on my website. I get emails from various
students, and I’m just happy to help. I remember being a
student at Indiana [University-Bloomington], and I had
so many questions; so many questions. And nobody was
there to answer them. I mean, I studied with Tozzi, but
he hadn’t been in the business for twenty years, and
Arroyo and Zeani and King, you know, same thing. We
didn’t even have a stage motion class.
we didn’t either.
K: It’s the largest school of music in the world, and
there’s no stage motion class. We didn’t have an acting
class. Like, if you want to act, go to the theater
K: But you did coachings to prepare for your roles,
there were one or two to get you ready.
K: What? I can’t believe there’s no coaching.
to pretty much learn it on your own. But your movement
class comment reminded me of a scene you did last night,
because your bow was really good.
K: There are a couple bows. Was it after the trio, where
Elvira is coming down, after I pretend to be the Don?
was it. It was a great bow.
K: [Laughs] Thank you. I’m so glad you said that. You’re
the first person who has said that, and that’s what I
was going for.
C:It made me
think – because we have movement classes at the [BU]
Opera Institute now – somewhere along the line, “oh,
yeah, Kyle had a movement class, too, somewhere in
there. Because that’s a ballet bow right there.”
K: I’m sure I just picked it up somewhere along the way.
It might have been at IU. I’m sure it was in a rehearsal
somewhere. The director might have been like, “no, no,
put your feet this way.”
had a good offset body angle, where your shoulders and
hips were canted in an elegant way.
K: [Laughs] Only you would notice that. That’s funny.
Normally, I would try to be more florid and funny in
that scene, but last night I didn’t go overboard with
K: You always like to add things of your own. There are
certain things I like to bring to every performance.
“Poverina, quanto mi dispiace…” and I like to aim that
towards Giovanni. And the good Giovannis pick up on it
and they’re like, “uh, shut up.” Gerry [Finley] is one.
I mean, he’s tremendous. And you can just tell, you
know, last night after the show [backstage]. I mean,
that’s how he is. He’s just a great guy. Nice Canadian
chap, you know.
the nicest thing when we were leaving. “Enjoy your
K: That’s something that I’ve always searched for
because I’ll say things like, “Keep singing,” but that’s
good; I’ll have to keep that in mind.
just so specific, and it just made me realize what a
kind heart he must have. So I took it down in my notes
late last night.
K: I will note that one, too. Yeah, he’s a sweetheart.
people like you guys. I think people like you are going
to keep opera alive. Audiences now come to expect so
much contact. With Twitter and Facebook, there is no
wall anymore. And it’s people like you who embrace that
and are willing to reach out to the fans…
K: Yeah, and if for no other reason than just spreading
your own name.
People enjoy it so much more when they feel like they
know someone on stage.
K: Yeah. It used to be sort of reserved for people who
would donate to the opera – they would get to have the
up close and personal look. Anybody can wait outside the
We continued to discuss the health benefits of walnuts,
dark chocolate, cacao nibs, and chia seeds. Then we got
onto comedians with messages – Kyle is a big fan of
Ricky Gervais and Chris Rock; who have messages like
“stay with your wife and kids,” something that is very
important to Kyle.
The Met was as grand as I dreamed it would be – a huge
set, wonderful dancers, fantastic acting, and singing
done right. I was totally absorbed in the story of lust.
A heartfelt thanks to Kyle for making my first time
seeing a show at the Met a memory I will treasure for my