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Interview with Katherine Rohrer
by Tom Carlisle
You may call Katherine Rohrer (Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte and
Pauline in Pique Dame during the past summer season) Katherine
or you might call her Kat or even Kitty, as her boyfriend’s young
daughter does. But I would like to suggest a new moniker: Kitkat, in
homage to the
Kitkat Klub from the musical Cabaret because in performances she brings
that same sort of vivaciousness and excitement to her portrayals which
I associate with that show (but with no negative social undertones, please).
Katherine was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico, her father being a nuclear
scientist, who later moved the family to the Washington, D.C. area and
eventually winding up in central Florida. An only child, Kat has two
older cousins with whom she was raised and whom she considers her brother
sister. Surprisingly, no one in this whole lot was musically oriented.
Even Kat, at first, planned to attend medical school and was offered
a full scholarship at Harvard when, on a pure whim, she applied for singing
classes at the local college, Stetson University
(founded by the famous hatmaker) in DeLand, Florida. Kat was not accepted
into that class, but instead was admitted into the conducting course.
this she needed a “second instrument” (having not a single
instrument experience to start with), so she chose voice and started to
take singing classes. Katherine claims that for the first two years her
singing was so bad that the teachers kicked her out of every single class.
In her junior year she lost her voice as a coloratura soprano and had to,
as she puts it, go back to the drawing board. By her senior year, she re-emerged
as a mezzo-soprano and was graduated from Stetson University with a bachelor’s
degree in Musical Education. She went on to teach grade school for a
Kat next went on to graduate studies at the New England Conservatory
of Music in Boston and from which she received a MMus (Master of Music)
There she worked with Helen Modem but, more importantly, she met and
was tutored by John Moriarty, a conductor, coach, author of The Singer’s
Diction (a bluebook for singers), and founder of the Central City Opera
in Colorado. Craig Maddox, her first teacher, Steven
Lord in St. Louis,
and the conductor of the Boston Lyric Opera all played important parts
of forming Katherine’s career.
As a young child, Kat attended many performances at the Kennedy Center
in Washington and saw a few operas in the schools she attended, but her
first thoughts about a career in opera didn’t occur until graduate
Some of her role models are Tatyana Troyanos, Marilyn
Horne, Susan Graham,
Joyce Di Donato and Alice Coote. Kat’s favorite roles to date have
been Nina in The Seagull by Thomas Pasatieri for the San Francisco Opera
Center, and Tadeo in Handel’s Arianna in Creta with the Gotham
Opera of New York. Of course she loved doing Dorabella in June, having
that opera with the Western Opera Theater on their national tour. Kat
enjoyed every minute of that tour and says it was just like a boot camp
Katherine has a great appreciation for Richard Stilwell,
not only after working with him at Merola, but again on stage in Cosi
and also because
he and Frederica Von Stade premiered The Seagull thirty-three years ago.
Following her time with the Merola program, Kat was an Adler Fellow in
2003–04. For now Kat is pleased for all the Mozart roles coming her
way and would like to sing another Cherubino (as she did recently in Denver).
The roles of Nina and Tadeo have been the most demanding so far but she
enjoyed the challenges. As for the future, some day Kat would like to interpret
the role of Charlotte in Werther and prays that someone will stage Lizzie
Borden with her, as she claims to have more fun portraying evil
characters. Maybe this is why she is not too excited with the prospect
of singing Carmen
or Rosina in Il Barbiere (casting directors should ignore this last bit
if they happen to see it). She probably wouldn’t say no if offered.
Our own, indispensable Super Ursula Grunfeld was Katherine’s sponsor
during her Merola years here at the San Francisco Opera. Ursula has become
part of her family and Kat says that she will always be part of her life
and thinks of her as her West Coast mom. It’s wonderful to know
that you have someone out there in the audience who is supporting you
you all the way.
Katherine has been fortunate in her career so far in not having too many
unexpected things befall her during a performance, although a doozy happened
on her opening night in Cosi Fan Tutte, as she was consoling
Nathan Gunn on the chaise longue in the first
act finale, when it suddenly broke and she wound up on her derriere
on the floor. It was very hard for everyone on stage to keep their composure
after that. Another time she was singing in a concertized scene for Rosina
and Figaro from Barbiere; when she went to pull out the letter
from her blouse a part of her came out with it.
In September, Kat left for England to start rehearsals with the Glyndebourne
Opera Company in the world premiere of a work entitled The Tangiers
Tattoo in which she will portray an American CIA agent (and
as of now often in a bikini) until the end of October, after which she
will go on tour
the company in that role to seven cities in England. Next year in Lyons
she will sing Oberto in Handel’s Alcina in a production
seen here recently (Kat sang one performance here as
she will make her Carnegie Hall debut with Marilyn Horne.
The idea of an interview with Katherine came from the Supers who worked
with her in La Traviata last fall and found her so much fun to be with
onstage. In return she finds the San Francisco Opera Supers and chorus
very supportive of her and her work and she says that she has never seen
a more dedicated and hard-working group as we have here. Kat loves San
Francisco and thinks of it as her second home and the San Francisco Opera
as her house. Her final word is that she has a lot to learn and is looking
forward to doing just that.
For a more complete list of Kat’s opera rôles log on to the San
Francisco Opera Archives.