Athlone Artists Welcomes Mezzo-Soprano Kira Dills-DeSurra

“Kira Dills-DeSurra looked the part as Stein [and] sang with passion and impeccable intonation.” – Opera News, Gertrude Stein in Tom Cipullo’s After Life at Opera Colorado 

Athlone Artists welcomes to the roster the “nuanced singer and talented comedic stage actress” (San Diego Union-Tribune) Kira Dills-DeSurra. The vibrant American mezzo-soprano describes herself as “a storyteller first and foremost,” saying “opera is such a great vessel for storytelling.” 

Born and raised in Petaluma, California, Kira was immersed in the arts from an early age. “My grandparents were both opera singers,” she says. “They had twelve kids, so I had fifty cousins. And we were like the von Trapp singers. Opera was always in the picture. Plus lots of improv, Gilbert & Sullivan, and musical theater.” In addition, Kira attended circus camp every summer, where she learned skills like tightrope walking, stilts, and juggling. Kira surmises that she’s been in at least three shows a year since the age of nine. And she shows no signs of slowing down. “I grew up with opera,” Kira says, “I did opera my whole childhood. Because my dad came from that family, he was always very supportive.” And though she continued to perform, Kira thought for a time that she would end up going into a field related to math or science. Then came her pivotal moment: “I saw Bernadette Peters in Gypsy. I decided this was what I had to do. Though I guess I sort of always knew!” 

Kira attended the University of Southern California for her undergraduate music education degree, and afterward obtained her master’s degree and artist diploma from Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts. She was readily accepted into young artist programs including the Castleton Festival, Chicago Opera Theater, and Central City Opera; and received accolades including a first place win in the NATS Chicago Chapter competition, an Encouragement Award from the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in St. Louis, and making the finals in the Classical Singer Competition.  

A champion of new and rarely performed works, Dills-DeSurra has appeared in many American operas including The Three Feathers (Lori Laitman), Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World (Joe Illick), After Life (Tom Cipullo), The Perfect American (Phillip Glass), and the Chicago premiere of Cabildo (Amy Beach).  

Kira will be heard this weekend singing the role of Lola in a concert version of Cavalleria Rusticana with the Helena Symphony, where she will return in November 2024 to sing Hansel in the company’s fully staged production of Hansel and Gretel.  In addition to her recent appearances as Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro with Opera Idaho and Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana with Opera Colorado, Kira has been celebrated for her “vocal and acting excellence’’ (Marlowe’s Musings) in roles like Prince Orlofsky (Die Fledermaus), Zweite Dame (Die Zauberflöte), Ines (Il trovatore), Mercédès (Carmen), Rosina (Il barbiere di Siviglia), Flora (La traviata), Vera Boronel (The Consul), Isolde of the White Hands (Frank Martin’s Le Vin Herbé), La Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi, Stéphano (Roméo et Juliette), and Diana (La Calisto).  

Dills-DeSurra’s love for comedic works and operetta have led her to perform some of her favorite Gilbert and Sullivan roles including The Fairy Queen in Iolanthe, the title character in Patience, Pitti-Sing in The Mikado, Mad Margaret in Ruddigore, and Casilda in The Gondoliers.   

And whether she is on stage performing a dramatic or comedic work, Kira has always endeavored to combine her skills and disciplines on stage, cultivating skills in musical improvisation and circus arts as part of her broad-ranging palate of storytelling tools. 

“I’d say about 50 percent of the time, I’ll find a way to work juggling into a show,” she laughs.   

A decade ago, Kira saw a production of Sleep No More, an award-winning theatrical experience that blends Shakespeare with acrobatic choreography and film noir. The show deeply affected Kira, and furthered her life’s mission to create interdisciplinary and immersive theatrical experiences that can help people find a gateway to opera. “My passion is turning opera on its head,” she says. “There are so many people who already like art, but don’t know that they like opera. I’d like to help these people discover that they love opera.”  

It was in this vein that she and several colleagues created the all-female opera improv troupe Forte Chicago. She also relishes any opportunity to perform opera for children, explaining that: “singing for kids gives you the most truthful reaction you’ll ever receive, and cultivating the next generation of patrons is vital.”  

After spending some time in New York City, Kira is preparing to move back to her home state of California, where she plans to unlock even more opportunities to engage in storytelling in and around Los Angeles. She will keep honing her skills on and off the stage, in an effort to draw in as many people as she can to her beloved art form. “Opera is so visceral,” says Kira. “It makes people feel something even if they don’t understand the language. We just need to be great storytellers.”