Opera couple comes to the Permian Basin

Kirsten and Keith Chambers fell in love in Texas.

They’ll have a unique way to tell their story through music when the operatic couple performs in the Permian Basin.

Kirsten, an internationally-acclaimed soprano will take the stage with music conducted by her husband Keith to tell the tale of their friendship in a performance titled “A Life Made in Music: The Love Story of Kirsten and Keith Chambers”

The performance will take place at Midland’s Yucca Theatre on Sept. 23 and 25.

The story talks about their friendship, starting with when they first met and fell in love in Texas to navigating the performing and teaching worlds of opera to eventually moving to New York City (where they currently reside) to follow their dreams in this interactive performance.

“It’s our love story that’s told through music,” Kirsten said. “But it’s really relatable to anyone’s love story.”

The two have been together for 20 years now and have been married for 17 of those years.

Kirsten said that there will be a little bit of something for everyone.

“From rare operas to more popular operas that Puccini lovers would like,” Kirsten said. “There’s Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’ to ‘Remember Me’ From Disney’s Pixar’s ‘Coco’. My husband will be conducting. The fantastic singer Gabriel Salgado will be singing with us.”

The concert will include a performance from The Hispanic Cultural Center of Midland’s Ballet Folklorico.

“I’m excited about that because I have a dance background,” Kirsten said. “There’ll be something for music, drama and dance lovers.”

She promises that there will be funny moments in this production.

“There’s even going to be a couples trivia in the show and there’ll be prizes and opera t-shirts,” Kirsten said.

Accompanying musicians include the Midland-Odessa Symphony and Chorale String Quartet and LuAnn Lane.

For Keith, it’ll be the second time in two years that he’s conducted in Midland. His last trip to the Permian Basin came right before the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., in the spring of 2020.

He’s eager to get to come back to West Texas.

“I’m very excited because it’s one of my favorite jobs because the company and the citizens of Midland always treat us the best they possibly can. We are very well taken care of,” Keith said.

For the Permian Basin Opera, it’ll be the first performance since before the pandemic.

“We’re really excited,” Permian Basin Opera Executive Director Sarah Jones said. “Keith has done a few things with us in the past. This is the first time that I get to work with Kirsten and she’s such a sweetheart. She’s been a joy leading up to this show. We’re really excited. This is something that they’ve put together. It’s something different that we get to showcase.”

The couple may have lived in Texas before but for Kirsten, this week will be her first time in the Permian Basin.

Kirsten and Keith first met up when they were at graduate school at the University of Houston.

“We have some Texas roots,” Keith said. “We were both doing graduate degrees and working on an opera called ‘The Tales of Hoffmann’. She was singing one of the leads and I was the chorus master.”

In that production, Kirsten played the role of the villainous character Giulietta.

“She collects men’s souls and puts them in her jewelry box,” Kirsten said. “That didn’t’ seem to deter (Keith) from wanting to date me. That’s a good thing.”

Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pa., Kirsten went to Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Ill. for her bachelor’s degree.

She knew she wanted to be in opera ever since she was in the fifth grade when she was in the production of “Carmen.”

“I auditioned to be a soldier,” Kirsten said. “That’s when I knew that’s what I wanted to do for a living. I wanted to be an opera singer for as long as I can remember.”

She made her professional debut in Finland, performing as Elsa in Richard Wagner’s “Lohengrin.”

“It was a super cool production,” Kirsten said. “We sung in a castle on a stage. They built a lake with a swan boat. My costumes had to be water proof and fire proof because they set the swan on fire and I remember my mom asking me “why is opera so dangerous?”

But never fear, Kirsten ensures that this performance in Midland will be very safe and cautious.

Her career has taken her all over the place including the famous Metropolitan Opera at the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Her Carnegie Hall debut came with just a two-day notice when she sang the difficult role of Maria in “Friedenstag” by Richard Strauss with the American Symphony Orchestra.

She said being married to a conductor helped her learn the part.

“I had the leading role and only had two days to learn it,” Kirsten said. “I’m glad that I’m married to a coach because we worked hard on it. I was determined to get it learned and memorized as much as possible.”

Kirsten has been most known for her portrayal of the title role of “Salome” where in addition to the Metropolitan Opera, she has also performed it at Opera Hong Kong and the Florida Grand Opera.

Her Metropolitan debut came with an even shorter notice (just less than six hours).

“I had performed that role before but I remember getting that call at 2 p.m. and being asked if I want to make my debut at the Metropolitan Opera for that night,” Kirsten said. “The lead was sick. And I was like ‘yes!’ I just threw on a leotard and headed over there to rehearse the dance and go through the music. It was crazy. But that was my dream. Ever since fifth grade, I wanted to perform there. It was very cool.”

Keith has conducted over 150 performances of over 50 different operas for companies including the Dallas Opera, the Indianapolis Opera, Shreveport Opera, Asheville Lyric Opera, Opera Ithaca, New Amsterdam Opera, the Amarillo Opera and the First Coast Opera, among others.

He has served as cover and/or assistant conductor for over 40 different operas and has assisted noted conductors Emmanuel Villaume, Patrick Summers, Willie Anthony Waters and Riccardo Frizza.

He knew he wanted to be in music ever since he was a kid.

Keith started playing the piano at age four.

“My mom was a pianist and I would go and sit next to her, picking up the melody while she was playing,” Keith said. “Then at about 20 years ago, I decided to conduct. I’ve been doing that for 20 years now. I still play the piano but now I conduct orchestra for opera as well.”

Keith, who grew up in Columbus, Ohio, received his bachelor’s degree at the University of Miami (Fla.).

With Kirsten performing and Keith conducting, it’s safe to say that their schedules are busy.

“We travel all over the world,” Keith said. “A lot of times, we’ll be apart for six months out of a year.”

Both of them are constantly working.

“You don’t really have a day off,” Kirsten said. “I’m always practicing for the next thing that’s coming up. You have auditions and there’s a lot of work that you’re doing. You’re doing a lot of work with memorization and acting. You’re working with your coach and your stage director.”

In order to keep up with everything, Kirsten says she makes a schedule and follows it. Her day usually starts at 9 a.m. and ends around 10 p.m.

“You really have to budget your time and I write down and schedule my days from 9 a.m.-10 p.m. and I make sure that I’m prepared,” Kirsten said. “But you’re not always prepared. Two of my most important debuts, I was given very little notice which was exciting and scary.”

With this performance in Midland, they’ll be together but that’s not always the case with their other shows.

With trying to make everything work with their schedules and their marriage, Kirsten emphasized that communication is the key.

“We try to call even when I’m in Hong Kong and he’s in the United States, we try to find a time to communicate and share what each other is experiencing,” Kirsten said. “I think that’s super important.”

When they can, they try to attend each other’s performances.

“Sometimes we can’t, however, because we’re at different performances,” Keith said. “The first time she sang in Hong Kong, I was in Dallas conducting so I couldn’t go. That happens.”

Kirsten and Keith have lived in New York City for 14 years now.

While Kirsten had dreamed to be an opera singer, she didn’t know it would actually come true and that she would find herself in New York.

“I didn’t think my dreams would come true anywhere else,” Kirsten said. “I grew up in a farm outside of Pittsburgh so I never thought that I would ever move to New York. I didn’t know how I’d be an opera singer. I never thought I’d live in a city. In our building, there are a bunch of opera singers so it’s a great place to get creative and work. It’s beautiful too.”

Keith has also loved being in the Big Apple.

“New York is traditionally for musicians and singers,” Keith said. “Everyone comes here. Having access to all of that in a community of musicians is one of the best things about being here.”

Jones is looking forward to the production this week.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Jones said. “Even if what you think opera is, it’s going to be something different. I would encourage people to come out and even if you want a night out, it’ll be fun. We’ll have fun stuff for couples. We’ll have a funny skit and it’ll be a fun night out.”

Tickets can be purchased online at the Permian Basin Opera’s website at https://www.mypbo.org/.

If you go

  • What: “A Life Made in Music: The Love Story of Kirsten and Keith Chambers.”
  • Where: Yucca Theatre, 208 N. Colorado St., Midland.
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Sept 23 and 25.
  • Tickets: mypbo.org