Tenor Nolan Kehler: featured 2017 Halifax Opera Festival artist

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Albert Herring in Britten’s Albert Herring

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The most embarrassing song on my playlist is “The Rose” by Bette Midler. And I’m not ashamed. It’s one of the best songs ever. Deal with it!”

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Where are you from? How did you first get interested in opera or musical theatre? 

My first exposure to musical theatre came in middle school, after watching a local production of “State Fair”. It was funny, it was engaging, and it was in the beautiful setting of a southern Manitoba theater. All I wanted after that was to be in a show. My family have supported that dream ever since.

When did you start studying voice? Where are you studying now?

I was a bit of a late starter – only in my senior year of high school after I had decided I wanted to pursue music at a university level. 5 years on, I finished my undergraduate degree in vocal performance at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, studying under David Klassen. This fall, I’ll be starting my Masters in Music in vocal performance at the University of Victoria, where I’ll be studying with Ben Butterfield.

What came first for you, theatre or music?

Definitely music. Before singing, drumming was my main thing. I still do plenty of drumming work for bands in the Winnipeg area, doing recording and live gigs! It helps me to be a more well-rounded musician, as well as exercising my creative muscles in different ways.

What are your dream roles?

You mean aside from Albert? Oh geez, where to start… Tom Rakewell in “The Rake’s Progress”, Sam Kaplan in “Street Scene”, and Lensky in “Eugene Onegin” are shows I would really love to do. I’d also really love Romeo in the Gounod version of “Romeo et Juliette”, and maybe a Werther sometime down the road. All that said, I’m not picky! Put me in, coach – wherever!

 What arias, songs or entire roles belonging to other voice types would you like to perform?

Good question! I don’t know… I’ve always loved the swagger of the “Largo” aria, and probably also “Look! Through the port” from “Billy Budd”. On the soprano side, I’ve always loved the Messaien “Chants de Terre et de ciel”, and I also really wish that Strauss had written more for tenors… these are just drops in the bucket. I can’t complain too much though – tenors really do have some fabulous rep!

Who are your favourite performing artists?

I think Jonas Kaufmann’s style of singing is absolutely sublime – the low frequency that he produces is just outstanding. Like being sunk in a warm tenor bath. I’ve also loved watching what Andrew Haji has been doing at the COC! Outside of the opera world, I really enjoy artist doing different things in music on the whole. Guys like Prince, Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean are artists I love watching because they’re doing innovative things in their genres and bending the rules. As an artist, I think the biggest challenge is walking the tightrope between being innovative and interesting and being accessible, and I always look for that in the art that I take part in. That’s also what I strive to bring to the table with productions that I’m a part of.

What’s the most embarrassing song on your phone/tablet/streaming playlist?

“The Rose” by Bette Midler. And I’m not ashamed. It’s one of the best songs ever. Deal with it.

How should we as interpretive artists deal with works that are racist and/or sexist? What can be done to make opera relevant to the next generation?:

I think it all comes back to walking that tightrope between accessibility and novelty. If you innovate the opera genre too much, you run the risk of losing the key elements of opera that make it great and unique. I think the innovation comes in how the classic shows get marketed and portrayed. We’re seeing more and more interesting companies changing the setting in which opera is performed, new interpretations of older works, and the broadening of the repertoire to reflect the modern era as well. Shows like “Louis Riel” are fantastic because they look at the history of our country, and that is something that is relevant for opera-goers that will keep the genre vibrant. As far as racism and sexism goes in shows, I think the answer is simple as far as I’m concerned: cut it. I did a Magic Flute production with Manitoba Underground Opera last summer where the sexist parts were taken out altogether and Monostatos’ aria was completely cut because of its racist overtones. Music just has so much potential in our culture to speak social truth that I think keeping those portions in the repertoire doesn’t reflect well on opera.

What are you most looking forward to about this summer?

I’ve never been to Nova Scotia! I’m so stoked to take in the best of what the province has to offer in young artists, as well as getting the opportunity to sing a role I love so much!

Thanks, Nolan!

Are you a participant or staff member this year? Why not submit your own answers to our questionnaire!

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