Opera Singer And Kansas Native Scott Conner Debuts At The Met — And At The Movies

May 10, 2017

Olathe, Kansas, native Scott Conner has performed on North American and European stages. Last month marked Conner's debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Through May 13, Conner plays the police commissioner in a new production of Richard Strauss’s opera, Der Rosenkavalier. One highlight: He shares the stage with opera diva Renée Fleming, who stars in a signature role as the aristocrat, the Marschallin.

The Met: Live in HD broadcasts the performance to movie theaters across the country, starting this weekend. 

Conner spoke to KPR's Michael Keelan about his role at the Met and his Kansas ties: 

Now, Scott, tell us about your background. You're a native Kansan. 

"Yep, that's right. [I was] born in Olathe, and went to the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance. Then, I went to AVA, Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, and I did my graduate work there, before going over to Europe and starting a career."

Your role is in very much a comic scene. And you're the police commissioner, and so that's a role that calls for some gravitas, which your voice can provide. Tell us why in the plot does the police commissioner get called in?  

"The scene, in this particular production, is set in a bordello, so it's a lot of action going on onstage. And, in the thick of it all, the police commissioner is called in by the Baron himself. And ends up being scrutinized thoroughly over his actions and who Octavian is, because she is dressed as a man at this point, in this production. 

"So, it's a lot going on, it's a lot of fun. And I come in and kind of stop the whole scene. Near the ending, I get to have a wonderful scene with Renée Fleming as the Marschallin. And I get to share a few lines with her, so it's quite the experience, I have to say."

Elīna Garanča, top, as Octavian, and Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Richard Strauss's “Rosenkavalier” at the Metropolitan Opera.
Credit courtesy: Metropolitan Opera

Renée Fleming, of course, this is one of her iconic roles as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. And I've seen somewhat contradictory press notices as to whether this is going to be her very last 'kavalier' or her last opera entirely. What is your inside take on that? 

Related: Hold Up! Renée Fleming Is Not Retiring From Opera 

"Well, you know, I could not speak on behalf of her. Obviously, she's got a packed schedule, doing concert work and recitals. But she's been wonderful to work with. We got to do all the rehearsals together in London, so I've spent quite a lot of time with her. She seems still eager to perform, and I think we're going to see more of her in the future.  

As far as what she has coming up, I'm not quite sure. I know that a lot of people are treating this as kind of her farewell, so I guess we'll have to see. But it's been really quite the pleasure to get to know her, and get to work with her, and make some music together."  

You have a character in the plot who doesn't come on until near the end of a four-hour opera. So what do you do for the first three hours? Do you listen to what's going on? Do you not listen? 

"You know, actually, I don't show up until the second act. I go back into my dressing room, get into costume, get my voice ready to go. But they're already on stage, by the time I'm even getting to the theater. It's interesting to show up so late and have the show already be going on. 

"I come in, I do my thing. I have my pre-show routine that doesn't change. I just go on, and it's a lot of fun to just jump in there and do that scene.

"In this particular opera, I have to be in two wool coats, so it's quite heavy and quite hot under all the lights. You know, I put those on last, and get into wig and make-up, which takes me about 30 minutes. And I have a couple of people helping me with all of that. So, here again, it's a process."

You pointed out how much activity there is backstage during the production. And I'm guessing that we'll get to see a glimpse of that during the live HD broadcast from the Met, and I presume that you will be a part of that performance also?

"I will be. That is my final performance here at the Met, so I'm really looking forward to it. I've done a couple of other HD things in the past in Europe. Now I'm doing it here, so I'm looking forward to it very much."

Listen to the extended KPR interview here.   

The Metropolitan Opera: Der Rosenkavalier Encore, May 17, 6:30 p.m. AMC Town Center 20, 11701 Nall Avenue, Leawood, Kansas. Run time: 5 hours 20 minutes. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer.