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I Divo, in Demand

Joseph Kaiser could be the hottest thing to happen to opera since subtitles.

Photograph: Katrina Wittkamp

Joseph Kaiser inside the Civic Opera House

In faded jeans and a T-shirt with his two dogs by his side, Joseph Kaiser looks like an Abercrombie sportsman, the kind who takes a monthlong canoe trip to reassess his priorities. A few years ago, he did just that. “I came back with two decisions,” he says. “I decided I wanted to marry my girlfriend. And I decided I wanted to sing for the rest of my life.”

Two Februarys later, Kaiser married his girlfriend, Julie; they now live with their two sons in Lincoln Park. Meanwhile, the hot young tenor began racking up an impressive list of débuts-Lyric Opera of Chicago, New York City Opera, Aix-en-Provence-and is now solidly booked through 2009. Still in his 20s, he will soon be seen on screen as well, starring as the romantic hero Tamino in Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of The Magic Flute.

Kaiser’s lyric tenor is the real deal: It’s ineffably honeyed, with a laser-bright gleam on high-a trait that aficionados call “ping.” It has won him the endorsement of heavy-hitting conductors like Andrew Davis, Daniel Barenboim, and Simon Rattle. He will appear in Salzburg this spring and summer under the batons of the latter two, as Wagner’s Froh and Tchaikovsky’s Lensky. Fortunately, Chicagoans can see him in Chicago Opera Theater’s May production of Béatrice et Bénédict.

A childhood student of violin, recorder, and percussion in his native Canada, Kaiser stumbled upon opera singing after his sister began voice lessons. Ironically, the first opera he ever saw was The Magic Flute, staged by the Salzburg Marionettes. More than 20 years later, Branagh’s wartime update is considered an early prospect for Cannes.

Kaiser’s career as an international divo may be taking off, but at his home in Lincoln Park, you’re more likely to hear Stevie Wonder and Alison Krauss than operatic luminaries like Bryn Terfel and Anthony Rolfe-Johnson. Recently, that’s been slowly changing, as his son has started requesting one cut from the Flute soundtrack: Papageno’s aria “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja.” “It’s already hit 75 plays on my iTunes,” the proud father says, a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

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