'My grandmother took me to the opera 'Faust' when I was 6, and I realized I wanted to sing like that," said multifaceted soprano and actor Kristen Woolf. "That desire never left me. I was born in Utah, in Salt Lake City. My parents were bohemian, but the whole rest of the family was Mormon. My mother moved us down to Los Alamos to teach. I sang in all kinds of things in school. Then when I was a young mother with kids, they hired me at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John in Albuquerque to be soprano soloist and section leader. I did that for about 12 years. In those days the Episcopalians wanted really good music and they were happy to pay for it. We did all the sacred liturgy.
"Meanwhile, I was developing myself as an opera singer. Opera Southwest had formed itself as a venue 'by singers for singers.' My teacher was one of their primary singers. She was offered the role of Tosca, then she got a better offer back east and she suggested me. So I started at the top, so to speak, with Tosca. The city had just bought the KiMo Theater and turned it into a performance center, and 'Tosca' was the first thing they performed there. Then I did 'Madame Butterfly' and Marguerite in 'Faust.' I created a one-woman show called 'Maria Callas: A Greek Tragedy,' where all of her tragic heroines dramatized her life. For her death I sang 'Addio del passato,' da-da-da-da-dee-da, and died. It was a strange and interesting and very cheeky thing to do.
"I ran my family's ranch in Cuba, New Mexico, for a few years, then I came to Taos. The brief story: I wanted to sing 'Marriage of Figaro,' so we put together, with Bea McTighe, a show called 'Most of the Marriage of Figaro.' We had a piano and we did it all with hats. The Countess had a big hat with flowers, Cherubino had a baseball cap. I was Susanna and just had a wreath. I had been Countess, but never Susanna, and really wanted to to it. I did some one-woman shows for Opera Tazza, at Caffe Tazza. Then I started teaching disabled children, with what was called 'severe and profound' disabilities. I couldn't do that and continue the shows, so I started an open mic for opera, and in walked Bjorn Halvorsen. He sang 'Danny Boy,' and I said, seriously, with intent, I'm going to have to get to know that person. We were together forever after. We did a movie together, Bruce McIntosh's 'The Rovers.' In the movie I had to be stern and kick him out of a graveyard, and I was looking at him so lovingly, people who knew us were laughing."
The couple married in 2000.
"Opera Tazza continued, we did 'Aida' and 'Faust' and 'Madame Butterfly' and I would usually have an actor narrate them. Someone would narrate and we would sing it. We did Hansel and Gretel at the TCA. We were pretty much limitless in what we did, because we had an astonishing quartet: Leslie Harrington, and Glenn Karlin, and Julia Armstrong. And myself, of course. You couldn't find a quartet that good in some bigger cities. I wrote a complete libretto for a gay AIDS-related version of 'La Traviata.' Violetta was a cross-dresser. That got national notice, I was interviewed on This Way Out's podcast for it."
Woolf retired from singing (for a while), and made a smooth transition into acting, directing and producing, along with her husband.
"In my late 60s, the top of my voice became less reliable. It's like ice dancing, you lose some of your more thrilling jumps. I thought, 'Well, that is the end of my music career.' Bjorn and I opened the Space Theatre. It shared a wall with Glenn Karlin's veterinary office and we had to soundproof it, in our early shows you could hear dogs barking all night! We did 'The Real Inspector Hound' by Tom Stoppard in 2010, Noel Coward's 'Blithe Spirit,' Tina Howe's 'Painting Churches' in 2011, so many wonderful plays with wonderful actors. I was involved with the Dixon Players too, and Taos Onstage.
"So I was retired from music, and one day I came home and Bjorn said, 'Some lady wanted you to audition to sing, but I told her you were retired' -- and I had a fit! I went to audition -- the woman was Holly Haas -- I didn't know what would happen when I opened my mouth, but except for those top notes my voice was still there, and that's how that happened.
And how has she stayed active during quarantine?
"I'm still in a madrigal group. Within a few days of quarantine in 2020, we quit meeting in person. We decided to meet on Zoom, but we found the lag times varied from computer to computer and from day to day, and so singing together was a mess. Our solution was to have all but one person mute themselves, and we all sing along with whoever isn't muted. It sounds crazy but it works somehow. Who has remained in the Zoom madrigal is Dick Padberg and two Peñasco couples. And Sheila Schiferl and her husband David, physicists from Los Alamos. We meet every Thursday and we have refined our technique to where we have learned new music. Then Sheila wanted to explore singing opera, and I thought, 'Does the training make the singer? Let's find out!' I had thought of this experiment years ago, and it wasn't possible because of the driving distance, but with Zoom during COVID, it is. Sheila wanted to sing a big aria from 'Aida,' and we're working on that. And she and David and I meet on Fridays and we are singing the trio from 'Così Fan Tutte' because it suits our voices.
"Some months ago Charlotte Keefe of Taos Onstage wanted to do a Zoom play. She found a script called 'Women in Congress,' an update on the old Greek idea of women taking over politics, and we started working on it. Then we found out it wasn't licensed for Zoom. But we were very much enjoying getting together and reading plays, so we meet Tuesday nights and take turns choosing plays.
"My social life already consisted of the casts of the plays that I'm in, other than that I don't really socialize. Basically these days I'm just an old lady playing around with my friends on Zoom."