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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, February 25, 2005

Home for the opera

 •  Soprano travels the globe to learn language of opera
 •  Baritone grew up in a musical Island family

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

For Hawai'i opera singers, who spend most of the year away from home, high-profile gigs often are accompanied by loneliness and isolation.

Soprano Lea Woods Friedman, a Punahou grad who lives in New York, with her parents, Sanford and Jill, at their Nu'uanu home.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Baritone Quinn Kelsey, a UH-Manoa grad who lives in Chicago, backstage at the Blaisdell Concert Hall with his parents, Chris and Debbie, who live in Manoa.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

That's why a performance like "Turandot," opening tonight at Blaisdell Concert Hall, is a treat for its homegrown stars.

For soprano Lea Woods Friedman and baritone Quinn Kelsey, two locally bred principals in the Giacomo Puccini favorite that wraps up the Hawaii Opera Theatre's 2005 season, coming home means a time for 'ohana, reflection and recharging.

"What's so wonderful about Hawaii Opera Theatre is that they support us, encourage us to reach for our dreams, nurture us, and tell us to get off the rock," said Friedman, 29. "Then they hire us back."

Friedman is singing the role of Liu, and has emerged as a self-made artist who ensured her career by studying and living in Italy for three years, making her mark in theaters and concert halls in New York and abroad. Hawai'i also has become part of her performing landscape.

Kelsey, 26, is a baritone performing as Ping, and he has become a performer to reckon with, earning a slot in the Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera (one of 23, from a field of 700 applicants) and now studying and training with the Lyric Opera of Chicago (one of 12, chosen from 500 to 600 auditioners).

"For me, opera is all about connections," said Kelsey. "The more that you do, the more you bond; the more you run into people you worked with, the more you reconnect. You need that bond, to be able to create ties with your colleagues. So much of what you do is by yourself, so you need that therapy, that civilization among colleagues."

Both jump-started their ambitions here, with blessings and support from HOT and family. "The opera helped us by forcing us to go away; I think we gain more respect if we go away and then come back," said Kelsey. "The more I come back, I feel it's my rites of passage, my coming of age."

While both Friedman and Kelsey previously have appeared in HOT productions, "Turandot" is their first together, though they both were featured in a 2001 Hawaii Opera Ball fund-raiser here.

Over lunch last week, following an opera preview at the Ho-nolulu Academy of Arts, Friedman and Kelsey shared stories about their careers. In separate chats with their parents at home (hers) and at a "Turandot" rehearsal (his), dads and moms filled in the blanks about what it's like to have a performer in the family.

Lea Woods Friedman


Age: 29

School: Punahou School, 1993; Cornell University, 1997

Ethnicity: Chinese, Russian, Jewish

Current residence: New York City

Turning point: Studying music for three years in Italy, ignoring competitions, learning language and culture

Hawaii Opera Theatre debut: Chorus for "Candide," 1992

Recent credit: Valencienne In "The Merry Widow," with HOT, 2004

Other credits: "Broadway Divas," with Indianapolis and Detroit orchestras; Gala Concerts in Shanghai, with Opera Hong Kong; Papagena in "The Magic Flute," at the Beijing Music Festival and with the Michigan Opera Theatre; Micaela in "Carmen," with the China Philharmonic and Guangzhou Symphony orchestras; and Valencienne in "The Merry Widow," with the Singapore Lyric Opera and Lyric Opera Malaysia

Next up: "Carmina Burana," in Shanghai; Musetta in "La Bohème," in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, Malaysia

Quinn Kelsey


Age: 26

School: University of Hawai'i Lab School, 1996; University of Hawai'i-Manoa, 2002

Ethnicity: Hawaiian, Filipino, Caucasian

Current residence: Chicago

Turning point: Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera, one of 23, from 700 applicants, selected for summer training

Hawaii Opera Theatre debut: Melot in "Tristan and Isolde," 2000

Recent credit: Marilyn Horne Foundation recital (including lyrics in Hawaiian), at Carnegie Hall, New York City

Other credits: Wagner in "Faust," with the Lyric Opera of Chicago; Yamadori and the Registrar in "Madama Butterfly," with the Lyric Opera of Chicago; Yamadori in "Madama Butterfly" and Marcello in "La Bohème," with HOT

Next up: Will compete in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, June 11-19 in Wales. He will return to the Lyric Opera of Chicago to cover some major roles on the main stage; Ping in "Turandot" in Chicago, 2006-07.

• • •


• An opera by Giacomo Puccini, produced by the Hawaii Opera Theatre

• Premieres at 8 tonight; repeats at 4 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and


• Blaisdell Concert Hall

• $29, $42, $58, $75, $85, $100; $30 special ticket rate for military/group night on Thursday. Military ID or minimum purchase of 10 tickets required.

• 596-7858

Featuring: Karen Huffstodt as Turandot, Warren Mok as Calàf, Lea Woods Friedman as Liù, Sun Yu as Timur, Quinn Kelsey as Ping, James Price as Pang, Jeremy Blossey as Pong, Laurence Paxton as Emperor Altoum

Directed by: Henry G. Akina

Conducted by: Tyrone Paterson