Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, April 15, 1999


Opera star Ikaia-Purdy
comes home

By Tim Ryan


Opera singer and Kamehameha grad Keith Ikaia-Purdy loves coming home to Hawaii's friendly audiences but hates the time it takes.

Since he lives in Europe, where he performs as many as 60 concerts a year, traveling to the middle of the Pacific from his Vienna home requires more than 20 hours of in-flight time and a day layover in California "to let my body refuel," Ikaia-Purdy said.

He performs Sunday in a benefit concert for Hawaii Opera Theatre at the Hawaii Theatre. Ikaia-Purdy will sing some Italian and Hawaiian songs and some arias. He last performed here about a year go with the Honolulu Symphony.

"The crowd in Hawaii is less critical than my normal audiences," he said. "In Hawaii people come to see you rather than expecting the performance to be some kind of proving ground.

"No one can do a live performance that stands up to a recording, so people who expect that sometimes leave disappointed," Ikaia-Purdy said. "That's a phenomenon with international audiences."

These days his performances primarily are in Europe, where he has been the leading tenor at the Vienna State Opera since 1992. Ikaia-Purdy had never gone beyond California regional opera companies when in the late 1980s he was discovered by European opera producers who liked his "Hawaiian" voice, frequently compared to the Hawaii-born opera star of 50 years ago, Tandy MacKenzie.

After his 1990 performance at the Wiesbaden International May Festival he was invited to join the Vienna opera.

He had been to the fabled opera house only once before he auditioned, singing an aria from "La Boheme" for maestro Claudio Abbado. After performing as a featured singer with the company for two years, he formally joined the roster.

Ikaia-Purdy says he's matured professionally over the years.

"I think the trick is to do things that are vocally appropriate for you," he said. "You have to have a good sense of self worth to even set foot on a stage, but also have the humility to recognize your own faults or problems that arise.

"If you have to do a role that sometimes is not right for this time in your career you need to be mature enough to realize that."

His singing career began at the Kamehameha Schools, where he performed with the concert choral and later the Hawaii Opera Chorus. Later settling in San Francisco, Ikaia-Purdy worked at a bank and took voice lessons, switching from baritone to tenor.

When he won a statewide singing competition the prize was six weeks study with Carlo Bergonzi in Italy.

Bergonzi invited Ikaia-Purdy to join the company for several summer performances. Then Wiesbaden Opera later offered him a role in "La Traviata," which brought him an offer from the Hamburg Opera.

Ikaia-Purdy believes his strength comes from his Hawaiian heritage: the ability to remain calm in a stressful business.

"It's easy to be self-centered in this business. I see some divas screaming at someone in front of everybody when something goes wrong," he said. "That's a lot of energy that could be better used somewhere else; it doesn't do anyone any good."

The key is being adaptable.

"Every theater is different, every crew is different, every management is different," he said. "So isn't it more important to spend energy on fixing a problem rather than looking to assign blame?"

That's the discipline and patience Ikaia-Purdy says he's learned in studying opera.

"Opera is a combination of so many performing arts: music and acting and singing and dance. I never tire of it because it's always changing and it forces you to grow, to adapt."


Bullet Guest artists: Soprano Blythe Kelsey and bass baritone Quinn Kelsey
Bullet Concert time: Sunday, 4 p.m.
Bullet Place: Hawaii Theatre
Bullet Tickets: $25, $35 and $60 to benefit Hawaii Opera Theatre. A $100 reception package includes premium seat and post-concert reception with Ikaia-Purdy
Bullet Call: HOT box office, 596-7858 for reception package; Hawaii Theatre box office for other tickets, 528-0506

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin