In conversation with Olivia Kahler: Opera singer and shining star behind the artists

07. September 2022

Rubrik Interview

©Olivia Kahler - Founder of Lark in the Oak

Olivia Kahler is indeed the shining star behind the artists, as she enlightens an important sector of the classical music industry, that has been missing for quite a while.


With her agency "Lark in the Oak" Olivia Kahler is building artist´s brands on social media platforms and the internet, authentic, one-of-a-kind and accessible to both hard-core opera fans and complete newcomers who are just starting off with their passion for this seemingly niche product.


Understanding what the classical music industry needs in order to be perceived in an open, enjoyable and non-elitist way, Olivia sources from her own experience as an opera singer and her knowledge of branding and marketing, always keeping in mind the interests of a regular opera-goer. 


Passionate about creating in general, it is hardly suprising that Olivia Kahler is a fascinating personality with a colourful portfolio of many more creative professions. From a list that starts off with singing, photography, modelling and brand management, it is difficult to understand how so many activities can be squeezed in a day that only has 24 hours.


"Being passionate about what you are doing and working hard", is the answer that leaves no doubt about Olivia Kahler´s ambitions to make her multi-facetted creative world possible, which she also dedicates to regular performances at intimate chamber concerts.


Operaversum: At the age of 13 you started voice lessons. What inspired this very specific path that led you all the way from Montana to Paris, where you regularly perform?


Olivia Kahler: Believe it or not, I first fell in love with opera through a muscial, which I saw when I was just 8 years old. My dad took me to the "Phantom of the Opera" in Vienna and I fell immediately in love with that piece. Or let me put it differently I was completely drawn in by this whole concept of that amazing backstage life which was part of the show.


Ever since that moment I also wanted to be part  the opera world, I was fascinated by the life of the main character "Christine". So, the idea of becoming an opera singer myself, to be like Christine in real life, took shape and hooked me so much that I could not get it out of my head.


I wanted to start voice lessons straight away - as soon as we returned home from Vienna. But my parents were told to be careful with opera and that I should not start practicing until the age of 13. Only one day after my 13th birthday, I took my first lesson.


And throughout my training period I always kept going to find better teachers, in order to improve my vocal technique. Blessed to have very supportive parents, I was lucky being presented with financial support to persue my dream.


Later on I went to College where I majored in music. After graduating I went to England to complete a Musical Theatre post graduate performance degree, and then evetually settled in New York City.


While  living in New York, I decided that I needed to go back to Europe where there are more opportunities for young singers. I have always loved Paris, and when I moved here I completed my masters and got a certificate in French mélodie. Ten years later I still love this city, so here I am now, giving chamber concerts and running my own agency "Lark in the Oak".


Operaversum: As CEO of "Lark in the Oak" you are responsible for managing the communication of artists in the classical music field. What does this profession imply and how does a working day behind the scenes of the artistic world look like?


Olivia Kahler: I manage all of their communication, with a focus on the digital. So all of the artist´s communication, whether it is press, websites, biographies, social media, wikipedia or liaising with their record company, is part of my daily business.


I mainly work on developing a brand with the individual artist, which means that there will be an in depth conversation before I start off with someone in order to clarify how that person wants to be perceived by the public and the industry, the absolute no-goes and what main characteristics should be emphasised.


Then I take my perspective as an opera fan, opera singer and also put myself into the shoes of someone who has been working in the operatic field, add in my knowledge of branding and social media and combine all those key factors to figure out what would be the ideal way to present this person to the outside world.


My work centres on creating artist´s image and building a unique and authentic brand, that is enforced through their digital presence, because that is a great vehicle for visibility and for consistent messaging.


Streamlining the communication throughout the social media landscape and also with other stakeholders such as record companies to make sure that it sticks with the established brand guidelines and influencing the perception of how the artist wants to be seen is my responsibility and core business.


©Olivia Kahler - Founder of Lark in the Oak

Operaversum: Olivia, what are the criterias that make you pick an artist? What attributes - apart from an extraordinary voice - does a musician need to have in order to be managed by you?


Olivia Kahler: Well, the criterias for choosing an artist depend equally on the heart and the head. As for the heart factor there certainly has to be a chemistry between the opera singer and myself, as I have to work very closely with them in communication matters on a regular basis, which means I am spending a lot of time with them. Moreover I also have to love them as artists and it is important that they are a nice person.


From a more analytical perspective, it is vital to figure out what impact I can make on the artist´s career, since it is important to me that my clients are happy and that I feel I am providing them with a quality product that makes a difference. That means digging deeper into what amazing talent the artist has got to offer and giving the brand a boost into the right direction by for example creating useful and meaningful posts, making interesting videos and photographies.


So most important is that the artist and myself are both commited to a good level of communication, a mutual understanding of how we establish an efficient working system together and that there is trust in what I am doing. That is the only way it can work out fine for both parties.


Operaversum: In a day that has only 24 hours, tell me Olivia, how do you manage most of your creative ambitions, as I have learnt that you are not only a wonderful opera singer, but also a photographer, a model and of course a brand manager of your own agency?


Olivia Kahler: Well, to be honest with you. I do not know how I manage everything! My main job is my agency "Lark in the Oak". That is for sure. And it also takes up most of my time. But then I also love to model whenever I have spare time.


In general I can say, that the aspect of my work that I like best is the creative side. So whether it is singing, taking photos, creating a social media post, designing a website or modelling, the creative process itself is what I love. But of course all my creative ambitions keep me extremely busy, so a regular working day is usually around 10-12 hours.


Being organized and keeping lists helps me through a busy day. Luckily I have an assistant as well!


©Olivia Kahler - Founder of Lark in the Oak

Operaversum: And if you really had to make a priority list, which of your many professional activities would come first and why?


Olivia Kahler: That is a really difficult question to answer. But probably singing I suppose, even though I love my agency and the work it involves. But I guess, if I could be singing all the time, I would defintitely give that a go as first priority on my list.


You know the reason I stopped singing full-time was because of the lifestyle that comes with it. The constant travel, being alone so much and away from home and family for a long period of time, is the part of a singer´s profession I do not really appreciate too much. So even though I am passionate about performing full-time, there would need to be a solution in place where I could sing under certain, more "home-based-friendly" conditions.


Operaversum: Olivia, please tell me a bit more about the chamber concerts you regularly attend and perform at: What is so special about giving these rather intimate type of house concerts and why does it have to be house concerts instead of concert halls?


Olivia Kahler: To be honest the opportunities for performing at chamber concerts are presented to me. And that works fine with my professional schedule which is an important factor.


And of course I do really love these rather intimate venues, simply because it is so wonderful to share music in such a personal way and be able to talk to almost everyone that has been attending the concert.


And then I reckon these intimate venues present music still in a kind of raw and authentic way, where you are not feeling seperated from the audience and can transmit your emotions so up close and personal which is really special.


In fact I remember when I was doing a tour of Japan giving a chamber concert at a nursing home far off in the countryside, I enjoyed bringing opera to these eldery people that had never before in their entire life listened to opera.


Having been able to sing for them live and having this cultural exchange and even afterwards getting their wonderful comments and gratitude, absolutely touched me. And this shows how music can be such a real and valuable gift.


©Olivia Kahler - Founder of Lark in the Oak

Operaversum: That implies it is really perceived well to have chamber concerts taking place with a much smaller audience?


Olivia Kahler: Yes, I think so, also taking into consideration that for example art songs were originally composed and are still best suited for smaller venues. And to have this musical experience in a more intimate environment is rather special, even though you will not find many of them held by world leading opera stars.


Operaversum: I can imagine, as they would rather fill the big concert halls to reach as many fans as possible. But then, isn´t the atmosphere less intimate there?


Olivia Kahler: Well, it all depends on the artist performing, although it is definitely rare to have the ability as a singer to make a Liederabend feel intimate in a bigger hall. It all I guess depends very much on the artist´s mood as well and it also takes an extraordinary amount of energy to be able to reach even the back of a hall. But I agree with you that is is really nice to have chamber concerts in place. And it would be great if there were more to attend, because I have noted that they are less intimatiding for people as well.


Operaversum: So do you think private musical events could be a real opportunity for younger emerging opera singers to practice and grow their talent?


Olivia Kahler: Absolutely. I personally think that those private musical events are a big chance for younger artists, as particularly the younger ones lack performance opportunities nowadays.


So it would be amazing if this was more developed. It could be such an advantage for both the rising artist and the audience to dig deeper into this artform and experience it. As for the artists they would also not have to wait for their first engagement at an opera house, but could already start off and practice at smaller concert venues.


Operaversum: A perfect vocal technique or emotional versatility? What do you personally think makes an opera singer stand out of the artistic crowd?


Definitely emotions. Isn´t this why people go to the opera to feel emotions? A perfect technique is for sure wonderful and a must-have. But it should be seen as a vehicle which allows you to express your emotions as much as possible. So being able to express different dynamics, colours and also different kinds of phrasing is so demanding that if you do not have a solid technique in place you will certainly not be able to give all that away.


Just the other night I saw a show where the singer was quite emotionally engaged, but the singing went too far in a direction where the emotions completely overlayered the technique, which had the effect that with the missing technique the emotions could not fully shine.


Emotions are definitely key, even more so, since the composers were writing such amazing pieces of music that can only capture the audience´s attention if the artist on stage knows how to sprinkle the magic dust on top of it all. Only then opera can feel like a heavenly piece.


©Olivia Kahler - Founder of Lark in the Oak

Operaversum: "Le sel et les larmes", a kind of chanson I have come across via the internet and you are singing it so beautifully.  So your voice is obviously adaptable to different musical styles.


So you also perform modern song on stage or are you strictly into opera performances? For which genre does your heart beat and why?


Olivia Kahler: You know, I love creating. I love singing so much and also appreciate singing many genres. Although my training path has led me straight into classical music, apart from this one year of musical theatre in England, I have to admit I just love creating and grap whatever creative opportunity may come along my way.


 "Le sel et les larmes" for example is a song, which was written by a French composer who asked me if I could record it with him in his studio, which eventually I did. Or back in Montana during College time I was working with a country producer once. So if it comes to emotions, there is good music everywhere and can be found even in a country or a pop song.


For sure my heart beats for classical music as it is certainly one of the best vehicles for emotional expression and I often tell myself that there is no way one can listen to an aria or a symphony and not be moved. It is so powerful, which of course a modern song can be as well.


Operaversum: Oh yes.  And what is really suprising is that you can sing that is to say interpret the modern song in an authentic way, which is not always the case with opera singers, mostly because their voice sounds too operatic.


How do you switch between voices?

Olivia Kahler: Basically the technical difference between an operatic and a modern voice is that for singing opera and classical song you need to have much more of this head voice balance in the mix, whereas in musical theatre or pop music you need more of your chest voice.


So I have been working on differentiating those two because I also really hate it when classical singers perform a pop song and it sounds like bad opera in the end.




©Olivia Kahler - Founder of Lark in the Oak

Operaversum: In the past opera singers seemed unreachable for the audience. Nowadays Social Media makes it possible to even interact with artists, get a glimpse of what is going on behind the scenes. It seems opera singers are not finished with their job once they have left the stage, but still have to answer questions on Instagram, post photos and the like.


How do you perceive this developement?


Olivia Kahler: I think it is mostly a positive development to get a glimpse of what the artist´s world looks like. And supporting with the communication really helps them to concentrate on their daily business. Usually the moments worth spreading the good news about are those when the artists are on stage performing, but do not have the time to post photos are make a video.


So that are the moments when I take over and help them amplify those special moments of their career and make them visibile to an even broader audience outside the concert halls and opera houses.


The tricky part on the other hand is that artists become more and more their own brand and business, which implies that communicationwise there lies much more responsibility in my hands to show their personality in a balanced way that is still authentic, professional, but shows a very individual portrait without giving too much away of the person behind the artist. So keeping a good balance there is key to a good brand management.


Operaversum: Dear Olivia, what is your vision for the future classical world of music?


And what do you think would still need to be done in order to reach a much broader and eventually younger audience that would attend a concert or an opera performance?


Olivia Kahler: I think it all comes down to two main factors: education and marketing.  So first of all I feel it is utmost important that classical music stays part of the education system in all countries, as it is vital for our society to have a cultural background in place which implies that people should get exposed to this genre and already learn about it from an early age at school.


And then also in marketing still a lot can be done, to keep the communication current and interesting such that people get attracted by classical music already in the first place and in a best case scenario also understand how fascinating it can be to be part of a classical venue, no matter if it is a Liederabend, a concert or an opera.


At the moment classical music is unfortunately a niche product that is known and enjoyed by only a very small circle of experts and extensive opera goers. Seldom younger people are attracted to attend a classical venue, whereas they may not have a problem to spend for example five hundred Euros for an exclusive dinner evening at a posh restaurant. They are not even complaining about the exlusiveness and that it might be too expensive eating out at a place that is as much a luxury product as an evening out at the opera.


So the whole way of how the classical music industry communicates to the public, including their marketing strategy, could use a more open and a far more accessible approach in a way that people can understand and enjoy classical music and the venues that come along with it without feeling displaced in a circle that is too often perceived as elitist.


Operaversum: That sounds like a fantastic step in the right direction, Olivia. Thank you so much for all the insights, the ideas you shared with me and the very inspiring conversation. Wishing you all the best for all creative activities to come.