Quinn Kelsey to Headline Hawai‘i Opera Theatre’s First Opera Kanikapila

By Chris Ruel

Hawai‘i Opera Theatre (HOT) is set to host its first kanikapila, and impromptu jam session, featuring HOT’s own international star, baritone Quinn Kelsey. Virtuoso ‘ukelele player, Taimane, will join Kelsey for the inaugural session on January 29 at 1:00 p.m.HST/6:00 p.m. EST.

While the pandemic pushed music organizations to spin up virtual programming, HOT was moving in that direction prior to COVID-19. HOT had been looking at alternative models, one where “they could ‘opera different,’” according to the Theatre’s press release. One such model is HOT Digital, an initiative featuring original programming with content created in Honolulu and featuring local talent in a mix of pay-per-view and free offerings. Hapa Opera, a multi-year HOT Digital project, explores the intersection between opera and local cultures. The Opera Kanikapila series is one of the project’s many programs.

Kanikapila is a style of Hawaiian music created by impromptu jam sessions and is typically folk-influenced. For Opera Kanikapila, HOT is pairing an opera singer with a local musician from different cultures, facilitating collaboration as musicians consider ways to combine their art.

“We decided early on that HOT Digital productions would not try to replicate live experiences—those will come back as soon as we can—so each project embraces an ‘independent cinema’ quality,” General Director Andrew Morgan noted in the press release. “At the same time, the digital platform allows us to expand our reach well beyond the Hawaiian Islands.  We can’t wait to share these programs with the world!”

Kelsey grew up with Hawai‘i Opera Theatre, singing in HOT’s chorus as a teenager. Known as a Verdi specialist, Kelsey has performed on many of the world’s most prestigious stages, including the Metropolitan Opera, Opernhaus Zürich, and The Royal Opera House in London. Kelsey maintains close ties with the HOT organization.

Alongside Kelsey will be virtuoso, songwriter, and Nā Hõkū Hanohano winner Taimane Tauiliili Bobby Gardner, an artist known for her fierce and inventive style of playing the ‘ukelele. By age 13, Taimane was playing the “Don Ho Show” every week until Ho’s passing. An extremely versatile artist, Taimane has created a unique space for her music, drawing on a wide range of styles from Bach to rock to flamenco and tribal hymns.

Joining Kelsey and Taimane will be Eric Schank on piano, and Rachel Look on guitar. The setlist includes selections from “Don Giovanni,” “The Barber of Seville,” and “The Marriage of Figaro,” along with traditional Hawaiian pieces.