Richmond’s operatic sweetheart, Kate Lindsey

Just because she loves us so much, mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey returns to her hometown for a night with the Richmond Symphony.

In the late 90s, no one at Monacan High in Chesterfield County knew that they were walking amidst a future opera singer who would one day be lauded on multiple continents. Except that that’s a total lie. This Monacan alumna was right there, and we all knew exactly how far Kate Lindsey was going to go.

Guys, I am not kidding. Ms. Lindsey (or “Kate,” as she prefers to be called) is now a celebrated mezzo-soprano to whom the Richmond Symphony’s Altria Masterworks Series has dedicated one entire evening. It doesn’t surprise any of us, as Teen Kate was like a golden beam of light who starred in every play, headed every committee, and had something genuinely nice to say about every single person.

Turns out she is still as quietly gracious as she ever was. And today, just as in 1999, I am an enthusiastic fangirl.

I spoke to Kate as she was making her way down to Richmond on an Amtrak train, and was once again surprised by how much I did not want to punch this perfect person. She opened by telling me, seemingly without irony, how good it was to hear my voice, which sounds a little like the voice of a teenage dude on speed, and apologized for having to speak quietly so as not to disturb the other passengers.

GOD FORBID, Amtrak, that your passengers should have to hear Kate’s melodious tones pouring out words of wisdom.

I reminded Kate that we had voted her Most Likely to Succeed1 and asked her to sketch out her journey from that moment to her actual, successful position. She gave me the facts and figures—a degree from Indiana University, a coveted spot in the young artist program at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, three years of classical study, a manager, a growing career, a European manager, a further growing career, and here we are.

But how does one, with the whole world ahead of her (as our high school commencement speeches promise us), choose singing classical music as their profession? For Kate, it began with an ACL injury in the ninth grade. “I’d been in chorus, but never thought of myself as a musician. I always considered myself an athlete, especially when I looked at all of the other musical kids who all seemed so confident,” she remembers. “I kept thinking, ‘I have no clue what I’m doing.'” But, torn from the soccer field, she cut her losses, plucked up her courage, and tried out for the school musical. And that was it.

“It really changed everything,” she insists. “I learned a lot and grew a lot. Afterwards, I would still be nervous auditioning things and never felt quite on par with everyone else around me, but that was really a turning point in my life.” A friend dragged her to a voice lesson shortly thereafter. The teacher took one listen and insisted on making Kate a pupil.

After more than a decade performing on some of the world’s most eminent stages, Kate still considers herself an introvert, but the kind of introvert who has grown to be fascinated by what she can accomplish in spite of her own nerves. “Performing accesses something very different in me—the process, the study of it, and the challenge of it. You become vulnerable and exposed but incredibly liberated at the same time.”

Kate’s voice teacher exposed her to a world of vocal music about a trillion times richer than the musical theater instruction she was getting in school, and shortly thereafter, she saw her first opera, Danizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. But it wasn’t until she got to college and began performing—despite those butterflies—that she felt she truly grew into a full-fledged opera lover. “And once I found it, there wasn’t much turning back.”

I turned on NPR one Sunday a few years ago just in time to hear the host of the opera show say “And here’s mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey, with her debut at the Met.” Without one shred of doubt that it was Richmond’s Kate Lindsey, I listened to the whole thing. David Fisk, executive director of the Richmond Symphony, saw Kate perform in Boston in 2012 and was similarly transfixed. Understandably, he asked her right then and there about heading south once again to do a special evening for her hometown fan base. They settled on a program of some of Kate’s favorite arias and a selection of folk tunes by Canteloube, a program she speaks about with enthusiastic affection.

With a career on the rise like she’s the protagonist of some sort of Golden Age film, it’s hard to imagine that her family, who has since moved out of Richmond, isn’t bursting with pride. But Kate very quietly but very firmly refuses any kind of limelight. “I don’t really want to buy into something that’s not real. I’m grateful to be doing what I do, but I don’t want to make an image out of myself. I just love being part of the music, and I want to feel like it comes from something outside of me, not something within me. You know, it used to be that a classical Greek artist would talk about how inspiration came from outside of you, from your muse, but then the Renaissance artists started to say it came from within themselves…and that’s when you had everyone killing themselves and cutting off their ears. For me, inspiration comes from outside, and if we buy into the idea of artistic genius, we start to hurt ourselves instead of help ourselves.”

When I ask Kate what’s next for her career, the self-described “shy kid” sighs with undisguised glee at the prospect that she can’t know exactly what this demanding industry will throw at her. “I feel a bit gluttonous to dream really big. I’d love to do a recording one day, and I’d love to work in certain cities, but really I just want to be collaborating and creating with people who challenge me and with whom I have a good rapport. The greatest gift of life is to do something you feel passionate about. But there’s always more to learn. I’ll never know enough—the history, the language…My plan is to try to grow as an artist and a human being, and both of those things have to come together. I fall down a lot, but we have to learn how to accept when we fall down. We pick ourselves back up and that’s when we grow.” She laughs, and I briefly remember I am not listening to a self-help guru. “Most of it makes no sense, but I’m along for the ride.”

We talk a little bit more about yoga, meditation, and how it’s OK that I just invited myself to visit her in London, where she’ll be spending next year. But then I let her go, as she’s got a long weekend of rehearsals and master classes ahead of her, not to mention the dreaded evening gowns to sort through.

Plus, the Amtrak passengers have been tortured by Kate’s inspiring eloquence long enough.

Kate Lindsey is genuinely looking forward to seeing each one of you at Carpenter Theatre on Saturday night. Tickets can be found online. Show up an hour earlier to learn more about the program, and/or stay afterwards to talk to Kate at a post-concert reception (additional charges apply).

Photo provided by Kate Lindsey

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  1. There’s a reason I remember that so keenly. And the reason is ACUTE ENVY. 
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