Community Spotlight: Tim Kennedy of Buffalo Opera Unlimited

A longtime figure in the Buffalo music scene has decided to retire after more than three decades.

Buffalo, NY — You may not be familiar with Opera for a number of reasons. Maybe it’s because you’re trying to understand a story in a different language, or you don’t know where to look.

In Western New York, a company called Buffalo Opera Unlimited has been captivating audiences for 37 years.

For Tim Kennedy, it all started with the piano and involvement in church in his hometown of Philadelphia. His father was the superintendent of Sunday school, and being a member of the church was a must. His siblings also started to learn the piano, but he was the only one who persevered.

His exposure to music in church was a constant throughout his life, and as he continued his education, he had the opportunity to learn more about different types of music, including opera. His first experience with opera was through a discovery program in high school.

Kennedy was drawn to the opera and everything that put the production together. He was so fascinated and so fond of opera that he even won an award by attending every opera of the year through the Discovery Program.

Kennedy initially attended the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music and studied piano, but transitioned to become a singer. After graduation, Kennedy began to pursue his dream of becoming an opera singer. In the early 1980s he had the opportunity to sing at the Rome Opera Festival and in the late 1980s with Porgy and Bess.

As an opera singer, every audition has the power to quickly advance your career. Singers take them, perform, and do it all over again. Kennedy mentioned that winning the right audition was and still is so important. However, after chasing that dream, after a moment of self-reflection and being in Buffalo, he decided it was time to pursue something else. He wanted to keep in touch with opera by starting his own company, which he did in 1985.

Buffalo Opera Unlimited started like most nonprofit arts organizations: very little. The company will only perform in half-stage productions in the early days.

However, that changed in 1999 when they were able to perform Carlisle Floyd’s “Suzanne” with a full orchestra at the Riviera Theatre. It was a turning point for Kennedy, and after that, he never looked back and the company continued to grow.

Buffalo Opera Unlimited performed many standards in opera repertoire, such as Bizet’s carmen, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Humpedinck’sHansel & Gretel, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Puccini’sLa Bohème” and so on.

However, the company hasn’t shied away from taking on more challenging and contemporary productions, such as Kevin Puts’ “Silent Night” and Darryl Glenn Nettles’ “The Fall of Stag Lee.”

Buffalo Opera Unlimited will perform an opera never before in their 37-year history in December. Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera,” which translates to the Masked Ball, will be performed at Buffalo State College’s Rockwell Hall on Friday, December 12. 2 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, December 4 at 2:30 pm The production will be led by conductor and interim artistic director Nicholas DelBello.

Thirty-seven years ago, if you had told Kennedy that this would be the company he built with the support of his wife Allen and the board over the years, he had a simple answer.

“Never. I mean, I’m so invested in doing what it needs to do, making a particular production. I never knew it would grow, grow like this. It’s amazing. I’m so happy,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy is now retiring from the company and has been named artistic director emeritus. He now spends time volunteering for other arts organizations that still have ties to the company he founded.

A celebration of his career titled “Bravissimo, Tim Kennedy!” will take place on Friday, October. 7:07 at the Lafayette Hotel. Tickets can be purchased on their website for $100 each.

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