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Opera star

Q&A with Tribute Award recipient Dr. David Kelleher-Flight

Campus and Community |

By Lisa Pendergast

At the age of 35, David Kelleher-Flight, B.Mus.’04, has already commanded the stage at the legendary Carnegie Hall with his rich baritone voice.

Following graduation from Memorial, Dr. Kelleher-Flight completed a master of music from the Manhattan School of Music and a doctor of musical arts from State University of New York at Stony Brook. His resumé boasts more than 50 leading and supporting roles in opera and musical theatre.

In addition to performing, he is the vice-president of the Light Opera of New York, is a faculty member at the State University of New York at Suffolk County and he maintains a private studio in Manhattan.

Dr. Kelleher-Flight is this year’s recipient of the Horizon Award for exceptional achievement by a Memorial graduate 35 years of age and younger.

LP: How did you discover your passion and talent for opera?

DKF: I started singing with the Newfoundland Symphony Youth Choir during elementary school. Then I went to Holy Heart of Mary high school and I spent a summer at a music festival called the Tanglewood Institute in Massachusetts, home of the Boston Symphony, and that was probably the first time that I was around other young opera singers. It made me aware of what a career like that would really be. So that was my first real exposure to the world of opera at age 17.

LP: How did your time at Memorial University influence your career?

DKF: When I first went to Memorial, I did not actually know that I wanted to be a singer. I did a year of general studies and I was somewhat resisting going to the School of Music. I started taking voice lessons with Dr. Caroline Schiller in my first year, but I wasn’t really in the department. Ms. Leslee Heys was also very inspirational to me, she actually taught me keyboard harmony. They both encouraged me. When you are around people who believe in you, and motivate you, you start believing it. And I would not have been able to do any of this without my parents. It was the support of these people who made it all possible.

LP: How did it feel to step on the stage at Carnegie Hall for the first time?

DKF: Satisfying! For every musician, I think that Carnegie Hall is one of those pinnacle places that people talk about all the time. Living in New York City, you see Carnegie Hall all the time and you can’t help but think, “That will happen one of these days.” When it did finally happen for me in 2010, it was definitely a rewarding experience. Singing can be a very difficult career and you really need to take these accomplishments and successes as they happen and enjoy them. And every time you step on that stage, it still feels that good. It never gets old.

LP: Do you have a favourite role or opera production that you have been involved with? What makes that one your favourite?

DKF: I tend towards repertoire that is lighter. Opera tends to revolve around the penniless dying of consumption or someone that is in a jealous rage. There are a lot of hot-blooded people in opera! I tend to gravitate towards works that are more comic and tongue in cheek and a little less life and death.

I did a production in 2011 of The Fortune Teller and it was an operetta about mistaken identity that is kind of funny and you don’t have to watch a third act of a soprano on a bed dying. I really enjoyed that role.

Dr. David Kelleher-Flight playing the role of Sandor in Victor Herbert's The Fortune Teller.
Dr. David Kelleher-Flight playing the role of Sandor in Victor Herbert’s The Fortune Teller.
Photo: Submitted

LP: You are already the vice-president of the Light Opera of New York, on the voice faculty at the State University of New York and you run a private studio in Manhattan. What will you be working on next?

DKF: I am so grateful to be able to do what I love to do. I’m hoping to be able to do it for as long as possible and continue to have as much fun as I am having. I am very lucky that my career is not exclusively performing or teaching or producing. The delicate balance of all three really allows me to indulge all of my artistic whims. Hopefully I will be able to continue that balance. I’ve been told that eventually you begin to focus in one area, but I would really like to continue to work in all those areas on the finest stages I can find. It’s not so much what I want to do next as I am basking in appreciation for this wonderful dynamic.

New York City Opera is doing Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, based on The Girl of the Golden West which is set during the California’s Gold Rush, at Lincoln Center in September. This opera has very few women, there is the lead girl, who everyone adores and everyone else is a miner. I am currently in rehearsals to play one of said miners.

LP: What advice would you give to current Memorial music students?

DKF: To find your passion, you need to be having fun. As Mary Poppins would say, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – SNAP – the job’s a game!” I can’t steal her words, but if you can follow the things that you love, it’s amazing how that path lightens up.

The School of Music has grown, the facilities have improved and the alumni base is there. We are fortunate that these alumni, and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in general, are very generous with their time and they are encouraging. There are a lot of resources available if you look for them, a whole network of support.

Dr. Kelleher-Flight will be honoured during the 36th annual Alumni Tribute Awards on Thursday, Sept. 7, at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland in St. John’s. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online.  For any inquiries, please email or call the Office of Alumni Affairs, Public Engagement at 1 (877) 700-4081.

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