When soprano Kelly Kaduce prepared to take on the role of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s eager teenager Polly Peachum in “The Threepenny Opera,” she had a few ideas of what the character might be.
“I was thinking of ingenues I’ve seen in the past,” she said. “They were probably,” she took on a breathy, high voice, “kind of ditzy and very pleasant, la-la-la-la.”
But upon arrival in Boston, she found that director James Darrah’s vision of Polly for his Boston Lyric Opera production was more of a dramatic, bizarre young girl.
How bizarre? Kaduce’s photo shoot for the Globe had to be scheduled to avoid the rehearsal of a scene in which she plasters cake all over herself.
“It completely changed the idea of Polly,” she said by phone. “That’s always something tricky that you have to negotiate as a performer. And fun!”
“The Threepenny Opera” opens Friday at the Huntington Avenue Theatre, marking Kaduce’s debut as Polly as well as her first Weill performance. The cast also includes Christopher Burchett, Renée Tatum, and Daniel Belcher.
“[Kaduce] has completely thrown herself into this role and is constantly trying new things,” said Darrah, who makes his BLO debut with this production. “Every time she does a scene she finds something new.”
Though raised in Minnesota and based in Houston, Kaduce has become a familiar face in Boston. She earned her master’s degree at Boston University, where she studied with Penelope Bitzas. She’s a BLO favorite; most recently her down-to-earth Mimi in BLO’s 2015 “La Bohème” earned critical acclaim. Her performances have been praised for her nuanced, skillful acting as well as her burnished soprano voice — both of which are needed for Weill’s socialist satire of life in the London slums.
The 1928 show may have “opera” in its title, but it doesn’t have much in common with Puccini and Massenet. BLO’s production will be presented without surtitles.
“It’s much closer to a musical. The ranges for each voice type are truncated, much shorter. I only range an octave and a half. There’s quite a bit of dialogue, and normally in opera there’s not much,” Kaduce said. “Also, Kurt Weill is known for cabaret, and at the time period a lot of it was interpreted by the singer; mostly text and acting and personality-driven. In opera, that’s never the primary goal of singing.”
She’s enjoying the chance to get creative, she said. “I was always intrigued by the acting element of opera,” she said, and according to Darrah, the cast has a lot of acting to do. “I think the piece is 70 percent dialogue,” he said. “It’s a lot of scene work.”
“One of the things that’s really compelling about [Kelly] as a singer, besides the fact that she has a beautiful voice, is the way she is able to inhabit a character onstage dramatically and musically,” said Bitzas. “She’s always had that, but that part of her artistry just keeps growing and growing.”
Kaduce still schedules lessons with Bitzas whenever she’s in Boston; during this stint, the two are working on “Tosca,” which Kaduce sings next month in Michigan. Bitzas’s driven, detail-oriented personality matches her own, Kaduce said. “She’s not one that’s going to feed your personality. She’s like, ‘Nope, this is what’s wrong, you know it’s wrong, let’s fix it!”
Kaduce also has another role during this Boston stop: that of parent. She and her husband, baritone Lee Gregory, are both opera singers, and planning childcare when both parents perform is a challenge, she explained.
“My husband sings less frequently. He’s moved more into teaching, and that was a decision we made before we decided to have kids,” she said. But sometimes both are away from their Texas home; Gregory has gigs in California concurrent with the run of “Threepenny Opera,” so their son will join Kaduce during his school break.
“Last time we were here . . . I think he went to the science museum like every other day,” said Kaduce. “He also likes coming to the theater, so he’ll probably come to the theater with me and snoop around.”
In the past, Kaduce and Gregory have played onstage amours, but that’s not an easy feat, she said. For one, it’s difficult to juggle childcare if both parents are rehearsing. Also, she says, it’s actually more comfortable for her to play a romantic role opposite someone she doesn’t know. “When I play lovers on stage with my husband, I’m uncomfortable because I feel like the audience is getting a glimpse of my personal life,” she said.
“A lot of the time, it’s a matter of negotiating,” she said of intimate scenes in opera. “In this show, there’s quite a gratuitous scene and it could look very intense, but it’s actually a whole lot of mathematics and practicality. Like, no, I’m going to put my leg here, and you’re going to do that. It’s all very un-personal!”
THE THREEPENNY OPERA
Presented by Boston Lyric Opera. At Huntington Avenue Theatre. March 16-25. 617-542-4912, www.blo.orgZoë Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.