August 10, 2022

Opera Besties: Christian Van Horn and Quinn Kelsey

Ask any opera fan who today’s reigning Verdi baritone is, and they will undoubtedly answer: Quinn Kelsey. Known for his rich sound and dynamic acting, Quinn is in great demand at top opera houses around the world. The Hawaii-native has strong ties to Lyric Opera of Chicago, where he was an Ensemble member in Lyric’s Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center training program. Since 2003, he has performed 18 roles here at Lyric, becoming an instant audience favorite. Chicago audiences last experienced Quinn onstage in the 2019/20 Season’s Luisa Miller opposite fellow Ryan Opera Center alumnus and real-life best friend, Christian Van Horn.

American bass-baritone Christian Van Horn was first introduced to Lyric audiences as the King of Egypt in Verdi's Aïda during the 2004/05 Season. At the time, he was a member of the Ryan Opera Center Ensemble, and has since appeared at many of the great opera houses of the world including the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Paris Opera. Most recently, he thrilled Chicago audiences in another early Verdi gem, Macbeth, in the 2021/22 Season; returning Lyric to live performance after more than 18 months. These talented stars — who first met at Lyric nearly two decades ago — are now the closest of friends, in constant communication, whether they’re sharing the stage or on opposite ends of the world.

"Quinn and I on our home stage at Lyric in Luisa Miller; a long way from young artists who met 15 years earlier." - Christian Van Horn

In 2003, Christan Van Horn was preparing for his Ryan Opera Center Final Auditions performance while Quinn Kelsey was in final rehearsals for Lyric’s production of Faust. Christian recalls, “I became immediate friends with Quinn within 5 minutes of meeting him. He was in the back dressing room having just sung Wagner in Faust. I wasn’t even an official member of the Ryan Opera Center yet but came for a visit and wormed my way in a Faust dress rehearsal. I rushed back to his dressing room during the break so I could meet, what I KNEW, was a historic voice. He opened the door half dressed and I gushed like a fanboy.” Quinn shared that he “invited Christian to grab a bite across the river at the train station food court because I thought it would help get his mind off the Ryan Opera Center Final Auditions. It just felt like the right thing to do — reach out to another singer who I was sure had enough stress in him that weekend.” Following a successful audition, Christian joined Quinn in the Ensemble and the two have been inseparable ever since.

"Quinn and I at the Plaza Hotel this past spring where I had the honor of presenting Quinn with his Opera News Award." - Christian Van Horn

From the start, this dynamic duo has been stealing the show. “Christian and I have shared a bunch of good moments onstage at Lyric Opera,” said Quinn. “For me, our early years onstage are the ones that come to mind. From the beginning, we had it in our minds that we should just take over. That a show should be OURS, regardless of our status in the cast. We were Morales and Zuniga, respectively, in Carmen in the 2005/06 Season. They aren't sizable roles at all, but we were convinced the opera should have been called Zuniga et Morales instead of Carmen for how WE were the ones who started the show with the chorus guys in the opening scene.” Since their time in the Ryan Opera Center, they have performed together in more than nine productions including Carmen, Rigoletto, Madama Butterfly, Aida, Lucia di Lammermoor, Luisa Miller, and countless concerts and galas throughout the years. Quinn says that “Christian is and always will be so passionate about this art form and all the unspoken responsibilities that come with it. He possesses a confidence that propels him further than others. That edge that allows him to advance where others hesitate. It's a fire in him that I agree with 100% and constantly strive for, myself. There's also a humanity and strong sense of honesty and self that completes him. All of this comes from years of taking yourself apart, looking inside, finding the flaws and maybe you don't necessarily shed them, but instead you acknowledge them. Acknowledge your own vulnerability. It can award you a power. An additive ability to create something extra special, something unforgettable for the audience…We're not dating, I promise!”

"Quinn and I singing a duet at my Tucker Award Gala in 2018. I was allowed to sing anything and with anyone. I had only 1 request. Quinn and I sing “Suoni la tromba” from Puritani. Quinn and I loved the video of our heroes Sam Ramey and Dimitri Hvorostovsky singing the same thing on the same concert 20 years prior. We had to recreate it given the chance." - Christian Van Horn

While they share many interests outside of the opera house — well-made martinis, steaks, and cigars to name a few — Christian shared that his favorite onstage moment with Quinn was performing in San Francisco’s production of Aida in 2010. “Quinn was the Amonasro and I was the King. The King directly confronts Amonasro and we are effectively nose to nose in this moment. Amonasro is being restrained by guards very legitimately when Quinn opens that mouth and the most lush, chocolatey velvet tone begins to pour out of him in his aria. I love this moment because right then I have the absolute best seat in the house and can, with my back turned to the audience, just be a fan and watch this incredible master spin that one in a million tone.”

In Lyric’s 2022/23 Season, the Ryan Opera Center alums will share the stage once again in Verdi’s Ernani. Quinn will be performing as Carlo and Christian will make his role debut as Silva. “Even though it hasn’t happened yet, Silva is my favorite Verdi character to portray. As far as depth of character and sheer vocal line, it's been by far the most rewarding. For the first time in my career I will bow AFTER Quinn. It's like reaching the summit of Everest - I could have easily died trying.”

Lyric is committed to providing the best training for the stars of tomorrow. The Ryan Opera Center plays an important role in Lyric’s vision and we are so thrilled to see Christan and Quinn carrying on that legacy. Quinn said that he and Christian “will always hold Chicago and Lyric in the highest esteem for all we've been given, and for all we've built that's allowed us the careers we both enjoy today. Chicago and Lyric Opera will always feel like home. Lyric has a standard of excellence that we recognized from the time we first walked through the stage doors. Everything that has transpired within those walls since the early days of Lyric that became the reputation of a company that put it on the map as one of the top in the world!” You can support rising stars like Christian and Quinn by attending Final Auditions or by donating to the Ryan Opera Center training program.

See these opera besties hit the Lyric stage together again in Ernani September 9 through October 1, and see them in another early Verdi hit, Attila Highlights in Concert, now streaming free on Facebook and YouTube.

September 09 - October 01, 2022



The 2022/23 Season opens with a thrilling continuation of Lyric's acclaimed early Verdi series. This "love quadrangle" inspires grand-scale arias and ensembles, bursting with the unique energy and drive that were Verdi's own. Music Director Enrique Mazzola leads a quartet of world-renowned Verdians in Lyric's sumptuously beautiful production that is designed to bring you an exhilarating operatic experience.

Header photo: Lyric's 2019 production of Luisa Miller, Credit: Todd Rosenberg

Other photos: Todd Rosenberg and Chrisitan Van Horn