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Precocious Fil-Am Debuts in Chicago Lyric Opera

Pinoy Newsmagazine, New Feature, Ted Regencia
 Posted: Sep 09, 2009

CHICAGO, IL -- At eight, he knew all about chess gambits and checkmates. At 10, he was competing in Math Olympiads. Now 13, he still scooters, battles dragons, and explores treacherous dungeons in many online games. 

He also performs with the world-renowned Chicago Lyric Opera.

Robert Keith is the first of two children of Dr. Annabelle Santos and Atty. Keith Volgman. Roberts mom, who hails from Marikina, Philippines, is the cardiologist of Oprah Winfrey; his dad is president and CEO of Northpoint Capital, a loan, financing, and mortgage company. Robert has a sister Caroline, nine, who plays the piano. With such kin, its hard to imagine the absence of excellence in the family. 

Last March, Robert again took the stage to do the opera Carmen. He sang with opera sensation Denyce Graves, Vincenzo La Scola and up-and-coming Filipino American tenor Rodell Rosel. Late last year, the young five-foot-seven Robert, who could stand in for the actor Haley Joel Osment, debuted the role of a kid-soldier at the Lyric.

He sat down with us and discussed what it is like to be 13 and be so full of promise. 

Full of energy 
When we first met, Robert was an image of full-throttle energy, deftly maneuvering his scooter along the concrete pavement in front of their expansive home, in the affluent Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park. A child of privilege, he, however, exuded no hint of self-importance or haughtiness. 

Dressed in a loose shirt and baggy pants, he would, in the middle of the interview, run around or even hang like a gymnast on the doorjamb of his room. Still he managed to answer our questions thoughtfully. 

Robert said his stint with the Lyric happened by a twist of fate. He was auditioning for a spot with the Chicago Childrens Choir whose choir director also works for the historic opera house. Impressed by Roberts voice, the director offered him a role in Bizets Carmen, arguably most famous of all operas. 

Excited and proud 

Being a longtime patron of Lyric Opera, the Volgmans were thrilled no end.

Weve been going to the Lyric Opera for many years now, and to learn that Robert is performing there is very exciting, said Mom Annabelle, who said she herself did not sing.

While not a major role, Roberts part is no less vital. More so, it opens a new possibility for this young Filipino American, should he decide to be a Don Giovanni, or an Othello at the Lyrics future productions. 

Its pretty exciting to be onstage in front of all those thousands of people, Robert said. And I dont usually get nervous during the performances.

He must have acquired his cool demeanor at Latin School of Chicago where he is in eighth grade. Its the same school that has produced such legal and political luminaries as U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, Sen. Adlai Stevenson and former first lady Nancy Reagan. 

Well-rounded experience

Outside school, Robert indulges in tennis and cross-country skiing. He is also into the World of Warcraft, an interactive game on the Internet. While he has given up competitive chess, his brain still gets a workout with Sudoku, a numbers craze.

Last February, Robert went to the University of Illinois at Chicago to participate in the regional Mathcounts competition.

Robert also plays the violin. During the interview, he shared with us a few bars accompanied by his sister Caroline at the piano.

And of course, I do a lot of singing.

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