As a classically trained pianist and former opera singer, Timothy Kennedy Jr. serves as artistic director of Buffalo Opera Unlimited, a company committed to showcasing local and regional talent.
Kennedy was born in North Philadelphia, where he discovered classical music at a young age. He spent 30 years in his hometown before moving here to take a job at Lutheran Coordinated Ministry of Buffalo as music outreach director. Kennedy went on to teach music at various schools throughout the area.
This year, the BOU season opens with Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” at 8 p.m. March 13 and 2:30 p.m. March 15 at University of Buffalo Center for the Arts.
Kennedy and his wife, Ellen, have been married 32 years. They live in a mauve Victorian in the Elmwood Village.
People Talk: What sparked your interest in classical music?
Timothy Kennedy: As a child I remember my father buying a piano for us. I have a brother and sister, and he started giving us piano lessons. I really took to it. We lived in North Philadelphia in what could be considered a ghetto, but I got to my music early and it took me away to another environment.
PT: Describe your passion for opera.
TK: I know I love it. I know I’m addicted enough to put it down a couple of times, thinking this is crazy and wanting to do something else. But I end up right back doing the same thing. That’s not rare. Singers do the same thing, but we don’t live in the type of society that supports opera. It’s not the Buffalo Bills.
PT: How is it attracting audiences?
TK: That’s a problem. It’s opera so most people don’t like it, but it’s always been a minority kind of audience, and most are senior citizens. That’s the way it is, but we do all what we can to attract the next generation. All opera fanatics agree, you’ve got to bring classical music back to the public school system like they used to. Now you won’t get everybody, but you’ll get some, and that will be your future audience.
PT: Hasn’t opera experienced a general audience resurgence through screenings of live productions at movie theaters?
TK: Yeah, it’s great. They call it HD, and people love it. What they don’t understand is that when you have something this phenomenal where people can go for $25 and see even the pimples on the performers’ faces, why should they spend $200 on a subscription to see live opera? Some opera companies have been hurt by it. Plus the technicians make it sound better.
PT: How challenging is it for an opera singer to find work?
TK: Ninety-five percent of us can not make a living from opera music, and those who have do about three or four jobs a year. You have to be very involved with the “respectable” opera companies or else you have to do something else. Most of the singers I deal with have 9 to 5 (jobs), and they study the roles in their spare time. It’s a labor of love.
PT: What are some of the job requirements?
TK: I mean you have to know – phonetically – how to sing in three foreign languages. You’ve got to take voice lessons for umpteen years. You’re not allowed to use a mic; your voice has to go over an orchestra.
PT: Would it be correct to call Buffalo Opera Unlimited a one-man company?
TK: No, I have too many people helping me. I would never do that. Plus it smacks of egotism, which I really try not to have because opera people have reputations for being divas and divos.
PT: How do you keep current on opera?
TK: I belong to an opera blog (www.parterrebox.com). I never thought I’d belong to an opera blog.
PT: What influenced your selection of “Cosi fan tutte”?
TK: It’s a comedy/satire about infidelity, seduction and life. When it was written in 1790, the audience wasn’t ready for that. I’ve put it in the 1950s. We’re doing it in English. I did this 28 years ago, but I started from scratch. I was doing productions for $1,000, $2,000. I had a piano only. I called it my adaptation period. Now we’re full scale.