meet Kala Maxym, lyric soprano (and TOI principal)

Kala Maxym


Kala Maxym has been making a yeoman’s effort across cyberspace (and beyond!), readying The Opera Insider for its fall launch. Therefore, some in the opera-sphere may not realize that Kala is an accomplished, classically trained performer in her own right.  

I couldn’t be more pleased to introduce Kala Maxymlyric soprano, to “operatoonity” readers.                 

When did you realize you wanted to use your musical gifts to sing opera?  Not till pretty late!  I did everything I could while I was growing up, and even into my college years, not to be a singer.  I chose the hardest major in college I could possibly think of (political science), but I guess I always knew that I couldn’t sideline music for real since I took it as a minor and sang in a pretty well-known choir in New York City.  I did not apply to conservatory for undergrad and did not have any expectation of majoring in music wherever I ended up going.  It wasn’t until I was working for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and got to my second year out of college.  I realized that if I wanted to try to make it as a singer, I would have to give it a go sooner rather than later.                  

What has been your greatest thrill/accomplishment as a performer to date?  Greatest thrill – wow, there have been quite a few.  I would say my year touring around the United Kingdom and France were highlights.  And I also loved putting together the two benefit recitals I recently did for Chilean Earthquake relief, one in New York City, in conjunction with the Permanent Mission of Chile to the United Nations and the Gabriela Mistral Foundation, and the other at the home of the British Ambassador to Chile in Santiago in May.  However, I suppose one of the hugest highlights was singing for Chilean President Sebastian Pinera aboard the Chilean Navy Vessel, Aquiles, while docked just off the shores of Robinson Crusoe Island . . . that’s certainly a first!                 

How did you realize the transition from mezzo to lyric soprano? Why did you pursue this training?  It was inevitable really, but I really appreciate so much that my teacher did not push me to make the switch before I was ready. My mother tells me that we were in Trader Joe’s one day, and I looked at her in utter amazement and said, “Ron thinks I’m a dramatic coloratura soprano. Can you believe it?” She told me she’d had a dream this would happen. Not that it all came true – I’m more of a lyric-cum-spinto it would seem, but still, it was a hilarious moment.  The transition itself started out pretty slowly really, just working on stamina and trying to increase my range, then it all just kind of fell into place. I started looking at some lyric soprano repertoire, and it all just fit so well I soon realized there was no way around the switch. I loved being a mezzo, and I will greatly miss some of the roles but equally I’m excited to start getting to know some of the heroines of opera.                 

What are your favorites? Roles, composers, performers, venues?  Favorites so far: Hansel to be sure. I love that opera so much!  I am a sucker for the “greats”:  Puccini is one of my favorites. I also love Mozart, and lately I’ve been more intrigued by the French romantics, too. I also am a great fan of Jake Heggie’s operas, though I do not typically sing a lot of “modern” music.  As for venues: I absolutely loved singing opera in the round as we did all over England in stately homes and in chateaus and villas in France. It is so intimate, and it makes you work so hard. You can’t get away with anything when the audience is so close so the experience is somehow even more real than when you’re on a bigger stage and far from the public.                 

Kala as Nefertiti in Philip Glass's 'Akhnaten'


Do you prefer classical or modern opera? Or no preference? See above! I prefer classical opera, but I also see that it is invaluable to have modern opera composed and produced. I think my voice lends itself to classical repertoire more easily, but I have had the pleasure of singing some more modern compositions in the song repertoire area and have had a blast with them as well!                    

Where do you see your performance career taking you in five years? In ten years?  I hope that I will be able to support myself singing, simple as that. I do not have any huge aspirations to sing leading roles at the Met in the next year (though of course that would be nice), but I believe I would be content singing five or six gigs per year, hopefully a nice blend of opera and recital work, working with inspiring individuals, always learning more and new things, and continuing to develop as an artist.  More than that, I can’t really say.                 

Any guilty pleasures or what do you do for fun?  Yes!  When I travel I read trashy magazines. I have never bought one in my life but when I’m waiting to board my plane, I devour them all!  For fun, I love to travel (and my sister, who’s a pediatrician, is moving to Tanzania to work with children with HIV and AIDS), so the next place on my list is Moshi, Tanzania. I also love cooking, and almost nothing beats reading my New Yorker with a glass of Malbec in hand.                   

Are you concerned about future audiences for opera? Building and sustaining them?  Of course I am, but with the response we’re getting from TOI and the audiences I have personally seen in the opera houses I’ve been in recently, I cannot say that I have personally witnessed this great decline in audiences that everyone is talking about.  I read recently that actually the decline in opera attendance is less than for classical music in general, and I believe that even though funding (both institutional and individual) continues to decline, opera lovers still love it with the same passion they always have, and I don’t see that changing.  I hope that is not too idealistic of me!                 

Anyone who Googles “Kala Maxym” may uncover a link for a YouTube video about being a bone marrow donor. When did you make this gift of life?  I added myself to the bone marrow registry when I was still in college because I couldn’t give blood (from having lived in England and Germany for too long during the huge outbreak of mad cow disease in the early 90s, I believe), and I never thought about it again. I actually don’t know how they found me as I had moved from New York to Washington, D.C., and then to Boston. I must have updated my information, but I remember getting the call in October of my first year at Grad School at The Boston Conservatory just as I was heading out to classes one morning.  That phone call really did change my life. I don’t feel like a hero, or a savior, or anything like that, just so very, very lucky that I was there and available and healthy and could help save this woman’s life. I am very hopeful that I will have the chance to meet her this September at the annual fundraiser for the Icla da Silva Foundation, with whom I have done some work here in New York.                 

Enjoy this YouTube video of Kala’s benefit recital for Chilean Earthquake relief:                 

YouTube Preview Image


Filed under Classical Music, Interviews, Performers