Cuban-American soprano Elena Villalón is currently a third-year studio artist with Houston Grand Opera. A Grand Finals winner of the 2019 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Ms. Villalón most recently took home numerous prizes in the Hans Gabor Belvedere Competition, including 2nd Prize, Audience Prize, CS Prize, and the Wil Keune Prize. Her 2021-2022 season features a number of debuts encompassing a variety of both operatic and concert repertoire. Notable opera engagements include house and role debuts at Austin Opera and The Dallas Opera as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro and Tina in Jonathan Dove’s Flight, respectively, as well as continued collaborations with Houston Grand Opera, where she will create the role of Amy in the world premiere of Joel Thompson’s The Snowy Day and debut the role of Juliette in Roméo et Juliette. On the concert stage, Ms. Villalón appears as the soprano soloist in Poulenc’s Gloria with the Grand Rapids Symphony and in Handel’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day with Boston Baroque.
Highlights of the 2020-2021 season include digital collaborations with Houston Grand Opera in David T. Little’s Vinkensport, The Snowy Day, and Hansel and Gretel, as well as in HGO’s Studio Showcase as Sophie in Werther, the title roel in Lulu, and Poppea in L’incoronazione di Poppea. Scheduled operatic engagements during the abridged 2020-2021 season were to include performances as Sophie in Werther and Clorinda in La Cenerentola, as well as the covers of Bess in Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves. Ms. Villalón also appeared with Cincinnati Song Initiative and at the Rienzi Museum of Fine Arts as part of the studio recital series, and was featured in a concert of baroque cantatas and arias with the Mercury Chamber Orchestra.
In the 2019-2020 season, Ms. Villalón performed with Houston Grand Opera as Inés in Kevin Newbery’s new production of La Favorite and La Mujer in the world premiere of Javier Martinez’s El Milagro de Recuerdo, while also covering the roles of Pamina in Die Zauberflöte and Michal in Saul. In June 2020, she was slated to join Santa Fe Opera as an Apprentice Artist, where she was to make her house debut as the First Wood Sprite in Rusalka.
The 2018-2019 season saw Ms. Villalón named a Grand Finals winner of the 2019 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. That same year, she made her professional debut as a Gerdine Young Artist at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, where she performed the role of Barbarina in Mark Lamos’ production of The Marriage of Figaro and was awarded the Barbara and Stanley Richman Award. She was also named Audience Prize winner while competing as a finalist in Houston Grand Opera’s Eleanor McCollum Competition.
Passionate about art song and concert repertoire, Ms. Villalón has spent summers at the Tanglewood Music Center and at Songfest as a Colburn Fellow. At Tanglewood, performance highlights included the soprano solo in Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, Max in Oliver Knussen’s Where the Wild Things Are, the world premiere of Michael Gandolfi’s In America, concerts of Bach cantatas conducted by John Harbison, and concerts and recitals curated by Dawn Upshaw, Stephanie Blythe, Margo Garrett, and Sanford Sylvan.
Elena Villalón lives in Houston, Texas, where she enjoys (besides singing) sailing, sewing, cooking, causing mischief, and spending time with her dogs, Scooter and Spaghetti.
Kathleen Kelly‘s projects and repertoire are wide-ranging and diverse. From Mozart to commissioned works by her peers, she is both deeply experienced in the classical vocal canon and engaged in new creation. Her 2021-22 season finds her on recital stages in Washington DC, Lawrence, Louisville, and Cincinnati, on the podium leading a world premiere opera in Charlottesville, judging competitions in Lexington and New York City, and immersed in teaching residencies in Wichita, Fort Worth, Washington DC, and Houston. Most notably, Kathleen was featured alongside co-librettist and soprano Jennifer Cresswell in the filmed opera Interstate, composed by Kamala Sankaram and produced by Minnesota Opera and Helio Arts.
The first woman and first American named as Director of Musical Studies at the Vienna State Opera, Kathleen’s operatic experience is the backbone of her career. Trained at the San Francisco Opera, she joined the company’s music staff and moved from there to a long association with the Metropolitan Opera. She was head of music at Houston Grand Opera, and music director of the Berkshire Opera before moving to Vienna. Kathleen has conducted at the Glimmerglass Festival, Wolf Trap Opera, Arizona Opera, El Paso Opera, Opera Columbus, the Merola Program, and the Alexandria Symphony, and has been a visiting master coach for the prestigious young artist programs of the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Los Angeles Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Washington National Opera, and the Canadian Opera Company.
Kathleen’s recital career includes appearances at Weill Hall, Zankel Hall, the Kennedy Center, Vienna’s Musikverein, the Mahlersaal of the Vienna State Opera, the Neue Galerie, the Schwabacher Series in San Francisco, and the Tucson Desert Song Festival. Her recent collaboration with Jamie Barton has won wide acclaim, and her partners have included Christine Goerke, Michael Kelly, Troy Cook, Ryan McKinny, Amber Wagner, Albina Shagimuratova, Sorin Coliban, Ariana Strahl, Martha Guth, Karen Slack, and Jennifer Holloway. She has curated art song series for the Houston Grand Opera and the Vienna State Opera.
In demand as a mentor of rising artists, Kathleen has given masterclasses and workshops across North America, among others at the University of Toronto, the Schulich School at McGill University, University of Cincinnati, Baylor University, Vanderbilt University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Michigan, the Peabody Conservatory, University of Washington, Westminster Choir College, and Interlochen. She has served on the juries of the Wirth Prize at McGill University, the Dallas Opera Guild competition, the Kristin Lewis Foundation Scholarship auditions, the Cooper-Bing competition, the Richard Tucker Foundation, the Jensen Foundation, and the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions.
A published poet and essayist, Kathleen has created several new opera translations and libretti. Her poem “You” was chosen as one of five poems for Jake Heggie’s new cycle “What I Miss,” composed for Jamie Barton. Her poems have also been set by composers David Hanlon, Jamie Leidwinger, and Juliana Hall. Her English adaptation of Hansel and Gretel, commissioned by Tri-Cities Opera, is now in use alongside her chamber orchestra arrangement of the work. For Arizona Opera, she created a multilingual version of Emmerich Kalman’s Arizona Lady, and she wrote the libretto for David Hanlon’s Wolf Trap premiere Listen, Wilhelmina! Her English adaptation of Smetana’s The Bartered Bride premiered in 2019, and her English adaptation of La bohème commissioned by Opera Columbus premiered in 2021.