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VIProfile: Kathryn Frady




By Gay Lyons

Dallas, Texas native Kathryn Frady, executive artistic director of Knoxville’s Marble City Opera, has always loved music. “I started with the piano at age 10 and the flute at 12,” she said. “I went to college at Mary Hardin Baylor on a flute scholarship. I started taking voice lessons, and by the next semester, I was a double major in flute and voice.”

After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in vocal performance from the University of North Texas, Frady said her goal was “to sing professionally in either musical theatre or opera.”

She started getting small roles but also decided she wanted to stage manage. “I
worked closely with stage directors and took directing classes,” she said. “I just
wanted to work in opera in some capacity. I like to work.

Whatever opportunity is coming, I try to go through that door.”

Frady met her husband in Wichita when she was “working all over the country.” When James Marvel took the position of director of opera at the University of Tennessee, Frady said it was “the perfect time to get off the road.”

“It gave us a home base,” she said. “We were getting married. I thought this was
a great opportunity to start singing more. I was at Opera Carolina in Charlotte as a resident artist. We could meet in Asheville for lunch. I also sang with Knoxville Opera.”

Frady didn’t set out to create Marble City Opera. “I wanted to put on “The Face on
the Bar Room Floor,” based on a legend at a bar in Colorado. When I applied for the French Festival in Atlanta, they wanted a company name, so we came up with Marble City Opera. A month later we were scheduled as Marble City Opera presenting “The Face on the Bar Room Floor.” I said, ‘Ooops, I think we just started an opera company.’”

“Opera is for everyone,” said Frady, who said she didn’t see her first opera until she was 21. “The word ‘opera’ can mean so many different things. It can mean long, in another language with stories that aren’t relatable. Opera can be short, in English with stories that are relatable.You just have to try it.”

Frady is excited about the world premiere of “Royal Flush” at the Old City Performing Arts Center March 11-13. She describes it as a “comedy about five sisters playing poker, each with a different ‘tell.’”

Marble City Opera often performs in non-traditional settings, for example presenting “The Face on the Bar Room Floor” at Relix and “Postcards from Morocco” at Jackson Terminal. When the company presented “La Traviata” at Historic Westwood, the opera traveled from room to room with the audience following them.

“In Act V, during a card game in the dining room, guests mingled with performers, “said Frady. “We seated [opera singer and Knoxville native] Mary Costa with the card players.” Frady asked Marble City Opera managing director Brandon Gibson to write the libretto for “I Can’t Breathe” in response to police brutality against Black people. The show tells five people’s stories. Frady plans a Knoxville-themed season in 2022-23.

Covid has affected how the company operates. “We’re having all our artists sign an agreement to quarantine and follow procedures,” she said. “We’re taking this as seriously as possible. We limit the number of people involved and shorten the rehearsal period. With a shorter rehearsal process, we rely on the performers to step up their game. We’re small and nimble, so we can be flexible. We’re trying to keep our audience engaged wherever they’re comfortable.”

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