Atlanta Opera reels in rising star Kevin Burdette for The Pirates of Penzance

His physical comedy has helped boost his opera career
Kevin Burdette
Photograph by Simon Pauly

As the youngest of five kids, Kevin Burdette got attention by making people laugh. Now, at 41, Burdette has built a career in the competitive opera world in part thanks to his deft physical comedy. “Kevin is the equivalent of an operatic Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin,” says Atlanta Opera director Tomer Zvulun, who handpicked the bass singer to play the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance (March 5, 8, 11-13), a 19th-century Gilbert and Sullivan romp about a young pirate who falls for a general’s daughter.

The New York–based Burdette has never played the title character made famous by Kevin Kline in the 1983 film, but he has appeared as the Sergeant of Police twice and feels ready for the role. “The Pirate King is such fun to play and sing because the piece is so lively,” Burdette says. “Pirates is like a romantic comedy; it shows opera can be accessible.” Zvulun agrees, adding that Pirates’ broad appeal is what inspired him to include it in the Atlanta Opera’s season for the first time. “We need to bring opera to the 21st century,” he says.

This article originally appeared in our March 2016 issue under the headline “Ahoy, Matey”