Q & A: Kris Irmiter

Kris Irmiter of Rock Hill, with Malinda Haslett, who plays Zerlina, opens Opera Carolina's "Don Giovanni" in the title role tonight.
Kris Irmiter of Rock Hill, with Malinda Haslett, who plays Zerlina, opens Opera Carolina's "Don Giovanni" in the title role tonight.

Kris Irmiter made his professional debut with Opera Carolina, formerly called Charlotte Opera, as a Winthrop University undergraduate. Tonight, he opens its performance of "Don Giovanni" in the title role.

The Rock Hill-based opera singer travels the country, performing for much of the year. He has played more than 70 different roles with more than 30 opera companies, including the international San Francisco Opera and the Houston Opera.

So getting to do a Charlotte show is a treat, said Irmiter, who is married to Kay Irmiter, a St. Anne Catholic School music teacher and private voice coach. They have two sons, Jake, 16, and Luke, 11.

Irmiter got his performing start at age 10, singing in a barbershop quartet with his father and two brothers. Later, Irmiter studied voice at Winthrop University under Jerry Helton.

"Don Giovanni" is Mozart's masterpiece about the licentious Don Giovanni, also known as Don Juan, and the sale of his deceitful acts brought to justice. Irmiter is making his debut in the role, though he has performed another part in the show, his servant Leprollo.

"I've actually turned down Giovanni twice, and part of the reason is I love Leprollo so much, it's such a great role," said Irmiter. For the past year, he has been developing the role, which is sung in Italian with projected English titles.

Irmiter admits he has enjoyed great success, supporting his family on his vocal career and most recently being nominated for a 2007 Grammy for "Best Opera Recording." We talked with Irmiter about the show. Following are excerpts:

Some people see opera as sort of an elitist form of art, and perhaps they're intimidated by it because they don't understand it. What do you think about that?

It's a stereotype that exists, and it's a stereotype that I ascribed to until I actually got involved with it. It's one of my missions to kind of break down that stereotype, because I know from whence it comes. When I was growing up, I didn't listen to opera.

When I came to Winthrop as a freshman, I thought I was going to be the next Billy Joel of the world. I knew I was going to be a performer, but I was headed toward rock and roll.

An opera performer was not even on my furthest radar blip before I was a freshman. My girlfriend, who is now my wife, Kay, is the one who talked me into taking opera workshops.

And that's when you got interested in opera?

I was immediately seduced into it. I thought, 'Oh, wow, this could be really cool.' For me, it's always been the fusion of the music and the drama.

And I think a lot of people who get into the stereotypes, they don't realize how dramatically engaging operas are. A lot of what they see is old-school opera, which is not as dramatically engaging.

Do you need to know anything about opera to enjoy it?

No. But what I would follow that with, quickly, is that if somebody does a quick Cliffnotes perusal of the story line, they'll enjoy it more, or if they just read the synopsis before the curtain goes up.

What I love is, almost across the board, at least 90 percent of people who have never seen an opera before, they'll come out of an opera saying, that was pretty cool. The perception of how it's going to be is not accurate.

What's new in your career?

Basically, I've been on the road since Jan. 5. It's been a good season, and I've had a lot of good things to do, but it's been the same thing, being away so much.

All of my colleagues, we sort of joke about the fact that to be an opera singer, you have to travel so much that it's an additional perk when you can be on an engagement and sleep in your own bed. That's a perk we don't often get.

You've done a lot in your career. Anything else that's on your to-do list?

I was recently doing a little retrospective of where my life is and I thought, I've had a great career, and I'm really quite proud of it. And it came when I was singing an engagement in Alaska, and I thought, 'Wow, I've sung in all 50 states.'

I feel very successful and very content with my career if I quit tomorrow. But if there's one thing I would like to do, I'd like to sing at the Met (Metropolitan Opera). That's sort of the industry standard. That would be a very cool thing.

What: Rock Hill's Kris Irmiter stars in Opera Carolina's production of "Don Giovanni"

When: 7:30 tonight, 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Belk Theater, N.C. Blumemthal Performing Arts Center, Charlotte.

Details: (704) 332-7177 or