Soprano Linda Kelm: Wagnerian Dieter

Times Music Writer

Linda Kelm, replacing an indisposed colleague on less than a week’s notice in Janacek’s “Glagolitic” Mass, this weekend, says she will have no problem “bringing it back.”

“I remember music. I don’t remember people, their names or their faces, sometimes, and I forget other things. But music, I remember. It stays with me.”

Kelm has risen quickly with a small repertory. On stage, she has sung the three “Ring” Brunnhildes and Turandot. In unstaged concert performances, she includes Leonore in “Fidelio” and Salome among her roles. Later this season, she will sing her first Elektra in Bordeaux, France.

But Kelm has faced a nonmusical impediment in her career: her weight. The 43-year-old Utah native acknowledged as much in an interview just a few hours before her first rehearsal with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (for three Dorothy Chandler Pavilion performances, beginning tonight at 8).


Announcing that she has dropped 45 pounds since May 15 and intends to lose an additional 80 over the next year, Kelm said she decided to diet “because nobody wanted me on stage.”

Quietly, she continued.

“I like doing what I do--I really love singing. But people were not going to let me do it at that weight. So I decided not to fight it any more.”

Earlier this year, she changed her plans to move from New York, she says, in order to be close to the medical weight-loss program she has joined, one connected to a New York City hospital. She says that regular exercise is an integral part of the program and that she does sit-ups and rides an exercise bicycle.


And feels “fine, just fine. My energy is up, where I need it to be.”

The American dramatic soprano, veteran of several “Ring” cycles in Seattle and on both sides of the Atlantic, has been singing professionally since 1977. She made her operatic debut in two small roles in the Seattle “Ring.”

Today, she continues to extend her Wagnerian repertory. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in the spring, as the “Siegfried” Brunnhilde, in a single performance, but will cover all the “Ring” Brunnhildes next year. She sings the small role of Helmwige on the Met’s recently released “Walkure” recording.

And she is preparing, without any firm contracts, both Senta (in “Fliegende Hollander”) and Isolde, in anticipation of opportunities which may come.

“I’m truly a Wagnerian,” Kelm says, matter of factly. “My voice is not very flexible. When I went to my (present) teacher, not really knowing what kind of vocal creature I was, the turning point was Ortrud’s Curse (from “Lohengrin”). It was so easy! So we dropped everything else and concentrated on Wagner.”

About Janacek’s “Glagolitic” Mass, which Kelm sings, with conductor Simon Rattle, the Philharmonic, the L.A. Master Chorale and fellow vocal soloists Marietta Simpson, John Mitchinson and Roger Roloff tonight, Saturday and Sunday, the soft-spoken singer says: “At first, the musical style can seem grating. But, the longer I know it, the more entrancing I find it.”

Does the soprano part require a certain, particular timbre?

“That depends on the conductor. When I sang it with Zdenek Macal, for instance, he seemed to want mostly a big, full sound.


“But Michael Tilson Thomas, with whom I’ve now sung it several times--in San Francisco, Chicago, Pittsburgh and New York--Michael likes more lilt, more color. I haven’t met Mr. Rattle yet, so I can’t guess what he will prefer.”

Kelm says she finds the Czechoslovakian language of Janacek’s Mass particularly felicitous for a singer.

“It’s really no problem. I coached it with Yveta Synek Graff (in New York), who told me, simply pronounce every single letter of every word. When you do that, it’s very grateful music. And fun.”