Montana State University

From Munich to Montana, Kahler hits high notes in opera career

October 3, 2008 -- Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service


Olivia Kahler, an MSU student from Whitefish, has trained and sung with opera companies in Europe. She will make her American debut in the Intermountain Opera's "Die Fledermaus" set Oct. 10 and 12 in Bozeman. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
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If there is proof that the dreams of Montana youth are as diverse as the state's landscape, one need only look to Olivia Kahler who grew up in Whitefish with ambitions of becoming an opera diva.

Kahler, now a junior at Montana State University majoring in music performance, will take one giant step toward that goal next weekend when she sings the role of Prince Orlofsky in the Intermountain Opera Association's fall production of Johann Strauss' "Die Fledermaus" set for Friday, Oct. 10 and Sunday, Oct. 12.

At first glance, playing an 18-year-old prince might seem to be a bit of a stretch for the blond soprano who has modeled in London. However, the role of Orlofsky is one of opera's "pants" or "trousers" roles that feature female sopranos dressed and performing as men. But Kahler says she is grateful to not only have the challenging role, but also to sing for the Bozeman-based company.

"I feel privileged that I can sing with a professional company here while working on my degree at MSU," Kahler said.

It is not Kahler's first major operatic role. That came in Europe where she has been studying opera and musical theater for most of the last six years. She has sandwiched training in opera, musical theater in Europe and modeling in London with her education at MSU, where she is enrolled in the University Honors Program in addition to her music major.

It is a dizzying schedule, but an excellent foundation for a young woman who is focused on a career as an international opera singer.

"I have wanted to sing opera since I was about eight years old," said Kahler, who is now 24. She fell in love with opera when she saw "Phantom of the Opera" with her family in Vienna. Coincidentally, Vienna was Strauss' hometown, a center of great opera in Europe as well as the setting for his "Die Fledermaus."

The dream persisted during Kahler's Montana upbringing and received a big boost after she graduated from high school in Whitefish. Her father Richard Kahler, a doctor of chiropractic, sought new adventure and decided to move his practice and family from Montana to Munich. Kahler said while graduating from college was important to her, so was advancing her operatic career. It is a career, she says, where "timing is of the essence." And Germany, she said, was a wonderful place to begin her training.

"Lots of young opera singers go to Germany to start their careers because there are many smaller opera companies there (in which singers can learn their trade)," Kahler said. "The arts, in general, are quite popular in Germany and opera in particular is very well loved and supported -- especially the Germanic composers."

While Kahler studied opera in Europe, she also found time to enroll first at the University of Denver and later transfer to MSU. While at MSU two years ago, she sang in the chorus of the Intermountain Opera's "Manon Lescaut," where she said she learned of the quality of the Bozeman company that was started by professionals linked to the Metropolitan Opera Company. Then, Kahler moved to London to study opera and earn a degree in musical theater from the Bristol Academy of Performing Arts. While there she landed a role in "The Witches of Eastwick" and also did some modeling on the side.

"I am classically trained, but I love musical theater," Kahler said. She said the experience provided her with training in acting and movement, which she thinks will be an asset in her operatic career.

Kahler said she returned to MSU this fall when Linda Curtis, the Intermountain Opera's artistic director, offered her the opportunity to sing the Orlofsky role. In addition, she is continuing her studies toward her musical performance degree at MSU, studying under Jon Harney, MSU professor of voice. She plans to graduate in December 2009.

When Kahler isn't performing, she said she listens to a wide variety of types of music, including country. In fact, when she was in Bozeman two years ago she recorded a country album that hasn't yet been produced.

But it is opera that has her heart. In addition to working with Jon Harney, Kahler continues to study with coaches in Germany and London, even taking some classes over the phone. And she has begun to establish herself in Germany's opera community. This summer she sang the role of Despina in Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte" at the Pasing Fabrik Company. She also plans to sing in Germany during Christmas break.

Her eventual goal is to be a full-time opera singer and she would relish the opportunity to sing her favorite roles, including Mimi from "La Boheme" or Pamina from "Magic Flute."

In addition to Kahler, other MSU personnel involved in the production include psychologist Brian Kassar, who plays the jailer and sings in the chorus. And Kahler is not the only singer in the production who grew up in Montana with the unlikely dream of becoming an opera singer. The role of Rosaline will be sung by Bozeman native Sadie Dawkins Rosales.

"It's great to see Montana kids with this kind of talent," Harney said of Kahler, whom he calls "very, very talented." Harney points out that there are other Montanans achieving in the art. MSU music graduates Chris Bengochea from Culbertson, Derek Larsen and Jeff Kitto of Manhattan are also singing opera professionally.

"I am amazed at the talent that comes out of this state," Harney said.

Good tickets for "Die Fledermaus" are still on sale. To learn more, go to: http://www.operabozeman.org/index.htm

Jon Harney (406) 994-5768, jharney@montana.edu