Thursday, August 24, 2006

The road to Bel Canto

This is my main hobby - passion, even. Some might call it an obsession.

My parents were latent musicians, but didn't do much do develop their talent, but they did sing, play the guitar and piano quite a lot when we were kids.

My grandfather was a shoemaker and a fiddler (playing the fiddle in that part of the country back then seems to have been what Nintendo is for today's youngsters.) He is "famous" for having written "Skomakar Wigers polska", which is on the standard folk music repertoire today.

My brother, Torbjörn, started playing the guitar, and became quite good at it. He eventually had to choose between playing professionally and going for an MSEE, and chose engineering. At the time, he played in the band Joy's Toys and had just landed a record contract. Among the other members of the band were drummer/singer Jan Johansen and keyboardist/singer Göran Eliasson, who both went on to rather successful careers.

I spent a very short time in the Stockholm Boy's Choir in 2nd grade, sang in the High School choir, and later joined Nicolai Chamber Choir, where I stayed some 13 years. I sang in the Royal Philharmonic Choir for a year, just before it was closed down. After that, I decided to focus on singing solo.

My first singing teacher was actually Siw Hellgren in High School. The most memorable advice she gave me was: "if you don't think it's beautiful, noone else will either." Siw is quite a character, and did a great job conveying the wonders of classical music and opera to her students.

My second teacher was Margareta Ljunggren. She was very down to earth and helped me realise that singing wasn't such a big deal. Unfortunately, I had also started realising that my real passion was opera, and that wasn't Margareta's thing. All in all, though, it was a very fruitful couple of years.

In 1998, I met Katarina Pilotti. We were engaged two weeks later, and married in 1999. We found that we much enjoyed singing together, and I suddenly had an opportunity to meet professional singers and musicians on a fairly regular basis. Bengt Nordfors, Peter Kajlinger, Bo Wannefors, Michael Engström, and others, became household names and taught me a great deal. We arranged musical evenings at our house, and invited friends and relatives.

When Katarina turned 40, she gave a concert together with friends and colleagues in our local church. The singers were Katarina, Kristina Hammarström, Ann Charlotte Merhammar, Thomas Lander, Bengt Gustafsson... and I. Katarina and I did the whole scene from La Boheme where Rodolpho meets Mimi. I thought Bo Wannefors and I were in agreement to lower the aria "Che gelida manina" a seminote in order to avoid the high C, but for one reason or other, it didn't happen. As I approached the H (or so I thought), I thought to myself "it's a good thing we lowered it". All went well. "The only thing you have to fear is fear itself", as I later came to learn. I also got to sing a duet with Thomas Lander - I have a tendency to agree to things and only later consider what I'm getting myself into. But Thomas is a very relaxed and generous person, and it all went well. I felt that I had stepped up to a higher level.

Bengt Nordfors sat in the audience and afterwards murmured that I should come to his place at Ingarö and learn a thing or two. It took a few years before I took him up on the offer. I guess I wasn't ready...

Bengt Nordfors is an outstanding teacher. He opened my eyes to Bel Canto, and after three years of hard work (Bengt would say "goofing around"), I think I'm beginning to grasp the basics of voice production. Bengt studied with Berle Rosenberg, who studied with Carlo Bergonzi. Such is the genealogy.

The first project with Bengt was in 2003-4, preparing for The Barber of Seville, with OperaVox (where I had previously had small parts in Die Fledermaus and Carmen.) In fact, I went to Bengt two weeks before the auditions, when I realized I didn't have the technique necessary to sing the part of Count Almaviva. After a two-week crash course, I was able to fight my way through "Ecco ridente", and actually got the part. The following year was spent in intense preparations, trying to develop the technique and stamina required to get through the whole opera (actually, all five performances). Again, it went well. I visited Bengt hours before each performance to get hold of my voice. Each visit turned into a singing lesson, the result of which was to reveal itself on stage. A bit scary, but extremely productive. As Count Almaviva is on stage singing and acting for the better part of the opera, I also had to learn a lot about how to conduct myself on stage.

That was the starting point. I had begun to suspect what "connection" was really about. In the years since then, I feel that I have begun to develop a healthy "basic sound", to the point where I can at least begin to work on nuances without losing my technique. This may not seem as much, but I'll give my interpretation of what's involved in later posts.

Currently, I have no production or concert to look forward to. I will just keep singing to myself, and visit Bengt every now and then.

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