Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey had two passions growing up: soccer and singing. Though a series of life events eventually led her to pursue classical music, her time spent as the only girl on sports teams worked in her favor, carrying over lessons from her time as “one of the boys” into her celebrated career. On April 15, Lindsey finishes another run of her signature role, Nicklausse, in LA Opera’s production of Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, alongside Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau.
Though opera-goers have established Lindsey as one of today’s leading interpreters of trouser roles, she never set out wanting to become a singer — instead, she feels that music found her, and that’s ultimately what drew her in.
“I didn’t start out with aspirations to sing necessarily, but I was always really fascinated with performers,” states Lindsey. Growing up, the Richmond, Virginia, native sang in her church’s choir, participated in school musicals and took regular piano lessons. And though music came naturally to the young singer, her active childhood extended far beyond the score — she’d also been playing soccer since age five, which she devoted equal, if not more, attention to.
“I had these two passions in life and soccer was sort of winning out at a certain point,” says Lindsey. As she matured, however, two knee injuries would eventually leave her unable to play, which she describes as a blessing in disguise.
“If that’s not a sign from the heavens, I don’t know what is,” jokes Lindsey.
And she was right to trust fate — following high school and her collegiate studies at Indiana University, she joined the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, where her professional career was fostered. After four seasons at the Met, Lindsey sang her first Nicklausse there in the 2009/10 season, which would ultimately become her most beloved role — upon completion of LA Opera’s production, she will have sung Nicklausse “seven or eight times,” much to her surprise.
“I never thought that Nicklausse would be the role that I would base my career on. I would have assumed it would be Cherubino or something else by Mozart, but probably not this.”
Apart from the Met and LA Opera, the rising mezzo has also sung the role at houses in Santa Fe, London, and Munich. With a myriad of productions under her belt, attempting to keep the character from becoming stale is a challenge in itself.
“When you’re returning to a role again and again, I sometimes find that more challenging than learning a new role, because the more productions you’ve done, the more discussions you’ve had about it in terms of various interpretations of the situation — it can start to feel a little muddled,” she shares.
Lindsey, however, is methodical in the process of keeping things fresh, by reading historical texts upon which the operas were based and evolving her ideas between the differences of male and female characters. And though her proclivity for trouser roles has already garnered her success, she doesn’t believe there is much difference between the male and female roles she’s sung. For instance, though her character switches from the female Muse to the male Nicklausse throughout Tales of Hoffmann, she draws inspiration from both genders in performances.
“I don’t think a lot about going from male to female. I don’t want to turn off the feminine and go full-masculine, because my general sense is that we all embody both feminine and masculine traits. It’s this energetic yin-and-yang that we carry in us,” says Lindsey. “Yes, men and women are different, but if I try to play a character too butch, it reads inauthentically.”
As Lindsey matures, so does her interpretation of Nicklausse, which she attributes not only to personal growth, but also from working with directors over the years who have changed her perception of the complex role.
“When I walk into rehearsal that first day, I really have to think to myself that I’m clearing that canvas,” Lindsey says. “We as singers can get very attached to our convictions about who we think the character is, and oftentimes the director has very specific directions that differ from our own. We have to be flexible in that case.”
From LA, Lindsey travels straight to Austria for the Vienna State Opera’s production of The Marriage of Figaro, and anticipates the release of her new studio album Thousands of Miles with jazz pianist Baptiste Trotignon, which debuts May 19 and follows with a recital tour. With her schedule jam-packed for the foreseeable future, Lindsey reflects on her success and keeping her feet planted firmly on the ground while singing with her childhood idols.
“Hard work is sadly only a small portion of it. There is a lot of luck involved — being in the right place at the right time, meeting the right person that wants to take that risk on you,” Lindsey recalls. “Even now I look at it all and still can’t believe I’m actually getting to do this.”
Listen to our Behind the Curtain podcast with Kate Lindsey on iTunes to learn more about her opera journey.
Arya Roshanian is a reporter based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in Variety and Opera News.
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