Off Book: Kirsten Kunkle, Vol. 1 Ep. 3

April 30, 2021

Soprano, Artistic Director, Librettist, Recording Artist, Administrator, Educator, Coach, & more: Kirsten Kunkle

I come from a small city in Northwest Ohio. Ironically, there are a handful of opera singers that have come from Fremont, Ohio, which always leads to the “there must be something in the water” joke. My mother was a pianist, ballerina, and psychologist. My father is a jack of many trades, master of a few – none of which was music – and also a psychologist. People used to ask me if my parents psychoanalyzed me. No, they didn’t, but their profession lead them to do one thing that was incredibly helpful to me when I decided to pursue music. They supported me emotionally more than I could have ever asked or expected. My mother passed away when I was 25. She was my biggest fan and best friend. However, my father, although not a musician and not really fully understanding my love of opera, always tried to make sure he was there for me in any way that he could be. He’s incredibly proud of me, and I have always been so grateful for that presence in my life. 

My father, loving and supportive as he is, has always been waiting for my “big break.” My parents both highly valued education, and being doctors of philosophy, anticipated that if I went through school all the way to my terminal degree, I would be guaranteed the career that I desired. I, naturally, assumed as much, as well. School would teach me how to sing, and then I would have a fabulous opera career. It was never that easy. 

There’s a lot of “if I knew then what I know now” moments in my life. I didn’t fully understand until my 30s that I would have to actively pursue every opportunity that I wanted. I did some competitions. I applied for programs. I even did pay to sings after I had a doctorate, because I needed the performing credits. But, I never had a “big break.” I used to think that if I could just win a major competition – like the Met – then I would have a successful career that resulted in professional, world-traveling, opera jobs that would keep me busy enough and pay all of my bills. Well, I never did win a major competition. I got a few second places. I almost got a major Netflix show, with a callback that left me shaking because it was so good. I always tease people that if I could have made a career out of being runner up, I would be a household name. 

So, if none of these things gave me a big break, how did I get to do all the things I’ve done? I stayed present and interested. I made sure that people knew I wanted to be involved in their projects. I actually overheard people talking about their next new opera at a party, and I interrupted them and asked if they would write me a role. I was BOLD. I was FEARLESS. I was UNAPOLOGETIC. And because of that, I started to get some opportunities. When I got those opportunities (and yes, they did write me a role), I came utterly prepared, was a good colleague, and delivered for them. Then, I started branching out and doing more and more. I told pianists that I wanted to collaborate with them. I reminded conductors that I was available. When I had productions cancelled, I got with friends and started my own performances. 

I also delved very deeply into doing the work on my own. I made sure that when I chose collaborators, I chose wisely. The secret is, work begets more work… but you have to be willing to constantly hustle and do the work that needs to be done to get those opportunities. That means consistent networking, constantly being on top of your performing game, and when the world throws you a curveball, like COVID-19, you adapt. Adaptation is key to success. Another major key to success is being willing to be flexible. When we first were not able to sing, I started writing. I had always wanted to play Lady Macbeth in any capacity – Shakespeare, Shostakovich, Verdi, Pasatieri, it didn’t matter. I never had anyone cast me. I realized that there was a Lady Macbeth story in my mind that had not been told, and I very much wanted to share it with the world. So, I wrote an opera libretto. I found a composer and dramaturg who wanted to work on it. And from there, I had interest from a different composer for another libretto. Work begets work, but only if you are willing to be open to opportunities outside your preconceived notions, and only if you’re willing to keep growing and check your ego. One of my goals in life is to never be bored and never be boring. I think I’m doing pretty well with that goal.