Botschaft des Ridicolas

On Friday 22 April the album ”Botschaft des Ridicolas” will be released. Pianist Kenneth Karlsson and I perform music by Rolf Wallin, Jon Øyvind Ness and Helmut Lachanmann. You can preorder and buy the album here or listen digitally here

Some thoughts from the soprano, the singer, the vocalist. She with texts and subtexts, whims and neuroses.

On this CD (or however you listen to the mu- sic), three works are collected. Three works that both build on and tear down parts of the traditional “song/piano” instrumentation. Three works that are in different ways about what we lost, without getting anything back. Three works that basically challenge me as a singer and as a musician.

In Got Lost Helmut Lachenmann utilizes two poems: one by Fernando Pessoa (“All love letters are ridiculous”), one by Friedrich Nietzsche (“The Wanderer”) and an “angry laundry room” note from an anonymous person who could have been you or me. All three are about something that has disappeared; the desire to write love letters, the desire to go the same way, and a vital laundry basket.

The texts are chopped up into fragments. They are mixed together, into one another, over one another. The words are cut apart and become sound without obvious meaning. After trying to gather loose consonants and vowels into some kind of words and sentences, “I need my laundry basket” becomes the line of text where I finally get to vocally release all of my feelings and at the same time be factual and almost reasonable. It’s like the other thing gets too big and difficult, too existential and mystical. Our despair must instead be projected onto the missing laundry basket. The one that, in a clear and tangible way, makes life so difficult.

Rolf Wallin’s ...though what made it has gone was for different reasons a little extra difficult for me to take on. Mainly because I didn’t know if my version could live up to the one that Kenneth did with Hilde Torgersen a little more than twenty years ago. To me, that recording is almost perfect. Hilde is so present when she sings it – she owns that interpretation. I had to find my very own voice in that work, along with Kenneth. Only way to do it: practice, practice, and practice. Forget everything I had heard and just bang it out note by note as if they had never been sung before. In a way, totally forget about its existence before practicing it myself.

Osip Mandelstam’s epic poem, in Wallin’s interpretation, has an easy familiarity to it, even though it was written by a man in a completely different life situation than my own. But, at the same time completely impossible... “What I say now is not said by me” is one of the first lines of the work. That is not said by me. How can I feel recognition in the words of a man who died in Stalin’s labor camps, who fought for the right to speak, write? How am I supposed to say that?

Lost hope, lost love, lost laundry basket, lost words, lost tones. Both Wallin and Lachenmann tear apart the lyrics and words and they do not make it easy for me as a singer, when the consonants and vowels are hacked up, exchange places with each other, repeat, and are stretched. It is clear that I am not just singing about what is lost – the song and words themselves are also lost. Do we find something new? Perhaps. Hopefully, yes. In Ness’ Meditation on Georges de la Tour XVII, the whole work exudes a feeling that someone (me?) has lost or misplaced something. It sounds bleak, but in many ways is appropriate for days when the future, as we had wished it to appear, seems lost. In any case, this is my entrance to the piece: We stand and look at the lost past, while the future appears darker than before. But, it is shimmeringly bright and hazy deep at the same time. For the hope is there. I hope. Baroque artist Georges de La Tour used the light to bring out the darkness and vice versa (chiaroscuro) and some of this is taken further in both the poem by Paal- Helge Haugen and the composition of Jon Øyvind Ness.

The piano part is where most things happen in Jon Øyvind’s melancholic meditation. This is where the colors and the mood lie and ferment. The tonal language is monotonous, hopeless, and a bit scary at the same time. The vocal part and text add light and shadows.

To learn the three works on the CD, I needed to learn to navigate three different musical landscapes, at least three different languages and ways to use my voice. And then, break apart and forget everything I learned. Nowhere in any of the works is it a soprano that is accompanied by the pianist, but the voice and the piano blend together and become one instrument. The process with Kenneth has thus been characterized by collaboration, uncompromising cooperation. We do not each do our own thing and hope to meet in the middle, but every measure is chiseled together. Among other things, that makes this recording mean so much to me.

I am Orfeo? - Monteverdi's and Striggio's opera performed by one singer and three musicians.

When Monteverdis opera about the singing half-god premiered in 1607

all roles were sung by men.

Here one woman becomes them all.

(or do they become her?)

Inside Orfeo

"Now, when I've embodied Orfeo so many times, I feel a tenderness towards him. He is full of himself, but he is also full of love for Euridice and the whole world. Him, I and the rest of us are We. We are happy, happy, happy!! No. Not happy. Tragedy. I stumble, my voice is suddenly shrill and sharp. I sing with a lump in my throat and panic in my heart. The dramatic movements with my arms, give my voice an extra shrill note. The almost falling, the leaning forward, affects my voice as if it is crying."

"At this moment, I'm private. Yes, yes,  I know, I know!! But how can I shield myself from my own experience, when it helps me meet Orfeo? How can I protect myself from the sudden emotion of a loss? I feel for Orfeo, and I feel for myself. I feel for everyone in the room who lost someone. My voice is almost not there."

"I hear Caronte approaching. Bring him on. Let me dig into my muddy darkness with a barking, hissing, bellowing sound. Oh, it’s such a relief to be…ugly! Brrrrrraaaaouuuuullll! The power that lies in having given up; he couldn't care less about anyone (not least himself). I am almost embarrassed at how easily we get along, Caronte and I. We form a pact, molded by our envy, bitterness, rage… Bark, bark, bark! Go away! Leave us alone!"

"The different components in this project are coming together, but I am falling apart." 

"I am a man. Men. Is it politically correct of me to admit that I feel powerful because of the masculinity written in the music, and in our interpretation of it? The women in this cast are sweet, and very feminine. They are maybe even more so because they were performed by an all-male cast in 1607 - the differences between the men and the women thus had to be sharper - the women more feminine and the men more masculine. Singing the roles of men is annoyingly, cringingly, satisfying (I am not proud of myself for saying it").

"Orfeo turns. I see myself on the screen, through Wolfgang’s eyes. Elisabeth/Euridice/Proserpina is looking at me. I am Orfeo looking at Euridice. Me, seen through the lens of someone else and interpreted by another artist."

"I've given up on trying to hide my self.  A voice is a Voice. It says words, it screams ugly things, it expresses emotions, it gets examined and interpreted."

Photo: Wolfgang Lehmann
Photo: Wolfgang Lehmann

Idea / concept - Elisabeth Holmertz
Music - Claudio Monteverdi in arrangements by Ensemble Odd Size
Libretto - Alessandro Striggio
Staging / outer eye - Hanne Diserud
"A tree with a name" - Wolfgang Lehmann

Storyteller - Elisabeth Holmertz
Orchestra, nymphs and shepherds - Ensemble Odd Size; Per Buhre (baroque violin, viola, vocals); Fredrik Bock (Lute, baroque guitar, vocals); Johannes Lundberg (Double bass, vocals)

Durata: 60 min.

This performance is texted in English, German or Swedish (other languages might be added if wished for).

Stage (preferably black box) of approximately 8 x 10 m.
A screen for the background film (and text) and a sound system.

Millimedia filmed the performance on the 23 of January 2020. All clips you see are from that day.

The performance was part of the artistic research project ”The Otherness of the self - how to curate a 17th century opera and sing all the roles yourself.” PhD in Performance 2020, Norwegian Academy of Music.

Photo: Cassandra Hedberg

Concluding an Artistic Research Project?

This is the last chapter - the Conclusion - in my Reflection, my thesis, my reflective thesis, The Otherness of the self". If you want to read it in context (and get all the footnotes), go here:

I've always been curious about what happens when we put different components together. Like peaches and chilli. Like a lute and a grand piano. Like those particular musicians and that specific composer. Like Caronte and me. Like Orfeo and Euridice. Like me and Ensemble Odd Size...Had we've aimed to only touch each other through touch, we wouldn't have succeeded. It's pure physics. Again, Karen Barad: 

"A common explanation for the physics of touching is that one thing it does not involve is . . . well, touching. That is, there is no actual contact involved. You may think you are touching a coffee mug when you are about to raise it to your mouth, but your hand is not actually touching the mug. Sure, you can feel the smooth surface of the mug’s exterior right where your fingers come into contact with it (or seem to), but what you are actually sensing, physicists tell us, is the electromagnetic repulsion between the electrons of the atoms that make up your fingers and those that make up the mug. (Electrons are tiny negatively charged particles that surround the nuclei of atoms, and having the same charges they repel one another, much like powerful little magnets. As you decrease the distance between them the repulsive force increases.) Try as you might, you cannot bring two electrons into direct contact with each other."

But, in this project, the touch and the contact between Me, Elisabeth, the characters in Orfeo, the musicians, and the stage have created entirely new personas and places for my voice to resonate. Where I am right now, I feel the Sameness, and Otherness of Myself at the same time. I am not quite the same, not quite the Other. The Otherness of the self turned out to be impossible to capture. In fact, the Otherness was already there. The feelings I have towards the characters in L’Orfeo, to the whole project and to my self, can be expressed like filmmaker Trin Minh-ha says: 

"The moment the insider steps out from the inside, she's no longer a mere insider. She necessarily looks in from the outside while also looking out from the inside. Not quite the same, not quite the other…She is, in other words, this inappropriate other or same who moves about with always at least two gestures: that of affirming "I am like you" while persisting in her difference and that of reminding "I am different" while unsettling every definition of Otherness arrived at.”

To begin with I was inspired to embody and further explore Magnus Tessings Schenider’s thesis, and academic research on Role Doubling in early 17th-century opera. I wanted to find out how, as a classically trained singer who feels equally at home in Early Music and in New Music- how I would behave, feel and react in these varying musical settings and musical roles? What would happen if I put them together instead of keeping them apart? How would the Baroque Me affect the New music me, and the Concert Singer Me affect the Actor Me? I have challenged the views on what a classical baroque soprano/singer can be today; I have experimented and explored different vocal techniques while staying within the classical/baroque frame; I have challenged myself to be an actor as much as a singer, and to use the text in an even more theatrical way (while still maintaining my singing persona). 

Investigating how the physical and intellectual processes of acting affect my singing, through using techniques and ideas from 20th-century physical theatre, Commedia dell' Arte, and storytelling I’ve developed into a new kind of performer: devising a new idea of what it is to be a singer- an Actor-Singer! Indeed, I do understand this is a personal interpretation of the word and phenomenon: the “Actor-Singer”, but for me, this new role allows me to play with my voice, and use music in ways I had not realised before. 

Through drawing in these theatrical elements to my production of L’Orfeo, I believe I came closer in spirit to 17th-century actor-singers, such as ”La Florinda” and Anna Renzi. The direct body language I explored in the physical theatre forms, gave my voice a presence which I firmly believe was (and still is) needed for the 17th-century opera house, and for the telling of ‘Stories through Music’- the original Favola in Musica

Performing all the roles forced me to make fast shifts between each character which made my voice react fast and almost instinctively to the signals sent by thoughts, neurons, and co-musicians. There was no time to think and judge - only act. 

Experiencing the shifts between these different roles also forced me to see myself from different perspectives and made me understand (if I didn’t already know) how much more there is to see in all of us. 

Instead of being La Voce (as I did before) my voice lives in me, in my body (It is not me) and can take the vocal shape of almost anything, and anyone, I desire. 

My voice has other potentials than just sounding like Elisabeth, which makes it is by far more interesting.

Me, talking to myself again:

S. I the beginning, you had lots of different ideas and approaches: you in a black jumpsuit, wearing masks, playing with dolls, changing costumes, hiding behind screens, using props, composing completely new music, using primal screams…

E. Oh, I would have loved a primal scream! They always seem to strike a chord. Why didn't I do that? Why didn’t I scream more?

S. Honestly, your voice and your body wouldn't take it. Not at the time. Your heart wasn't in the primal scream, so to speak. It didn't vibrate within you.

Obviously, you could have chosen a more experimental and extreme approach (More Artaud!! More Commedia dell'Arte!!!), but you couldn't have done that without compromising your artistic integrity. Had you done it any other way, it wouldn't have been your Orfeo - it would have been someone else's project. 

Most importantly, the performance had to be able to stand for itself and having its own artistic value. Not ”just” being a product of artistic research and an experiment.

There is also an ethical issue here: I want the people I work with to be themselves too, or to ”play themselves” as the Norwegian jazz pianist Helge Lien put it many years ago. I do not wish to force my artistic ideas unto their musical strings. 

Moreover, Monteverdi’s music had to play the same essential part in the process and performance as it has done throughout my entire life. I had to respect him, the libretto by Alessandro Striggio, and the intentions I interpreted in the score. I needed to sing his music.

The project’s innately scattered nature has presented many challenges and pitfalls and challenges. I have touched on many various subjects: vocal techniques, dramaturgy, HIP, mythology, philosophy of the Self and Otherness and Nothingness, neuroscience, baroque theatre, and acting in general. I realise this could be regarded as a weakness in the project, but when I collect these fragments, this amassed heap, I see that I have dug deep: not only into L’Orfeo, but Baroque Opera today and Contemporary Music; even into what a singer can be today. 

She is a product of a history as old as mankind; encompassing folk music, MTV, Mozart, pop, improv-jazz, Wagner, and just about everything we hear.. and we hear such a lot!  This must be detectable in our voices today - and more, because our voices also live in our bodies, and our bodies live in this world- now. We should embrace and acknowledge all of this- to deny it is to deny a part of ourselves. 

My wish is that this research project will encourage other singers and musicians who want to open their inner Pandora Boxes (I mean, how bad can it be..?). I wish we could all explore how a shifting mind can transform our instrument. As classical singers, we are used to being put into boxes at a very young age. Someone, a teacher or an agent, tells you that you are a soubrette, lyrical alto, or Heldentenor and then you sing arias and songs according to you" fach." For many singers, this is more than enough! For them, there is a sense of freedom in it. For others, like me, it's strangling. 

It would be wonderful if this project could provide tools or inspiration for music teachers who wish to widen their students' minds, making them more independent and courageous.

I want to add fuel to the fantasy of minds that have been institutionalised, and to a market more focused on finance than the independence of artists. I believe that there is a need for classical musicians who can be co-creative as both artists and performers. If they can’t do this, they will remain always in the hands of others: conductors, directors, composers, agents, etc. 

I also hope this project can be used in research on the Madrigal Comedy, a subject I barely touched in this research, even though it’s an important link between Commedia dell’arte and Opera. Daniel Stighäll’s work will surely be a great contribution to this field.

Another topic I didn’t touch on, however important, is the singing techniques I used. One obvious reason is that there are others who write about it much better than I do (e.g. Orren Brown, Jo Estill, and Susanna Eken). Another reason is that while many singers today have excellent technique, they sound more and more similar to one another (NB! My opinion!). I want this project to encourage singers to develop their own sounds. In the long run, this would lead to healthier voices, and perhaps more psychological comfort with whatever that might bring. This might very well be a topic for a later paper or essay.

I, Elisabeth Holmertz, will use my experience and new knowledge directly in many upcoming projects: Two new operas for babies (Idea by Christina Lindgren, music by Maja Ratkje and Eivind Buene) at the Norwegian Opera, participating in Daniel Stighälls newly composed Madrigal Comedy ”Nattugglor” (music by Jan Sandström, libretto by Tuva-Lisa Rangström) and Rebecka Ahvenniemi aims to take ”Beyoncé and Beyond” further  (and beyond!)with a cd-recording. Hanne Dieserud and I will work on a new project, starting in the Autumn 2020. I think none of these projects would be realized without ”The Otherness of the Self”-project.

Ensemble Odd Size and I will go on forever.

The most important lessons, methods, theories, and tools I have collected during the process (with the help from all the methods, theories, and  people I've worked with and reflected over in this "Manual"):

  • Make yourself vulnerable by taking artistic risks. It is in itself is the most essential part of all art. 
  • The fundamental necessity of breaking the rules!
  • Use your voice without overthinking. Finding simpleness. When you don’t over articulate the text, you can give space to the poetry and open nothingness in the words.
  • Less is more. It really is. Less, not more. 
  • Ambiguity can be used as a strength.
  • Striving for unity in the musical duality! Or not! It can also just be respected for what it is.
  • Reminding yourself of how little we get from the score. Even when we are provided with basic conditions to know how the composer wants her/his music (she/he might f.ex be alive), we can’t really know unless we ask. If not, we can only guess. Be open to that. (I think that is a beautiful and respectful starting point.)
  • Finding space for the voice in the room, in the character, in the music. 
  • Be firm and decisive even in the unknown! Just go for it!
  • Remember! Being in the body! Who’s body? My body!
  • The Voice lives in me! It is not me! Don't take it so personally!
  • Give yourself permission to just make sounds.
  • See yourself through the eyes of others and become more mindful when looking at other human beings (and listening to their voices). 
  • Even if still letting us (you, Orfeo, Euridice; etc.) sing with the specific voices you gave them in the opera, know that we have a thousand more voices that we could sing with (if we wanted to). 
  • Be aware of ”non-vibrato”! 

I know I’m not alone struggling to find my place, voice, and language in a field that is still finding itself: What is Artistic Research and What’s in it for you or me?

Is there a unique argument for artistic research?….artistic research can be justified by the argument that it makes better artists. By creating a deeper understanding and a body of knowledge about their work, artists can develop their artistic work, their being as artists, maybe also their function in society and so on. Yes, this is a possible argument for artistic research, too.” (Vadén)

As always I have striven to be relevant, for my own sake as much as for others- but has this project contributed to making better art? Better artists? Greater common knowledge? 

What about more interesting art? 

More relevant art? 

More independent artists? 

More authentic artists? 

This is not for me to say.

I realise, of course, that I cannot change the world, even if, deep down I wish I could. Neither with my Artistic Research project nor my art. Unless we see everything we do as stones thrown into water, making rings that grow bigger and bigger, changing the world everyday…  

René Jacobs talks about the moral of the Orfeo myth. As he sees it: 

…art has power, but not the power of changing the world; the conceited (”et prétentieuse”) artist, who thinks he can change the world, with his art, will be punished. That’s what happens to Orpheus because he thinks that his singing, or his poems (since he is also a poet), will have such enormous power that they can change the laws of nature, which here are laid down by Pluto. The moral is an eternal one; and I believe that in every period there have been artists far too ready to take themselves for gods…So we should see in this a lesson of humility…” 

No, I take it back! Of course I can change the world! We can all change the world. We have to. Every day! Let us be Conceited ("et prétentieuse") and believe we are powerful and god-like enough to do that. If not us, who? 

Let us all be Orfeo!

Singing with Others!(finally)

During the last year, the Lockdown, many musical friends of mine have shared videos of themselves singing or playing, together with their own voice and/or instruments. There are numerous apps (" acapella" being one of them) where you can record yourself and re-record yourself while listening to what you did the first time. And then doing it again and again... Basically, this makes you able to become a whole choir, or orchestra, all by yourself. Even if several people can be involved (as done by several orchestras and ensembles), many seem to have found it fun to use it just by themselves. As did I. Oh, yes, I've experimented with the apps! However, you will never hear anything of what I did - I have not, and will not, share my self-echoing-experiments with anyone. I found the predictability of my one voice boring, dull and way too monochrome. Quite depressing, to be honest. To keep on being honest, no matter how impressive the performer, I find it boring, dull and monochrome listening to the self-eccoing-experiments fo Other's too. (unless it's super humouristic and only for fun. That can work). Nothing exiting happens!  It's too slick! IWhat I am looking for is

1. the flow and/or resistance only other personalities can give.

2. surprises!

3. the feedback loop of the Other.

(It's another thing if you are playing a solo piece, doing a monologue, being your own walkman, or if you're accompanying yourself on a lute or whatever. Different!)

Back to me! Covid Lockdown provided a stillness I desperately needed after having had too much on my plate for way too long. My voice hadn't been functioning well for a while (I will try to come back to this sore and sensitive subject in another post) - bad had gotten worse, and time to heal was much longed for.  But, oh, after the first wave, how I missed the voices of Others. To be something more than just me! My own voice can sound bland and uninteresting by itself, but glorious and extraordinary when blended with someone else's sounds and ideas. Not only that - it has become undoubtably clear that it is the presence and resistance of other musicians that make me Me.

Three recent, ongoing, projects that bring out different aspects of Me.

Harpist Sunniva Rødland initiated earlier this year a new ensemble with percussionist Sigrun Rogstad Gomnæs and me. We have commissioned new music by various composers (Jenny Hettne, Jan Martin Smørdal, Jonas Skaarud and Steingrimur Rohloff). Still, mainly we base our work on improvisation, the more or less free kind.
Sometimes we decide on…something, but most of the time, we just begin (the Beguine) and go from there into the sparkly unknown.
Meeting their surprises and sounds with my whole musical being is when music makes sense to me. No app in the world can give that Friction! or Openness! To merge in the sounds we create together, feeling perfectly safe but having no idea what will come in the next second is… amazing. When working like this, traveling in a wide-open landscape, there is no time to focus too much on yourself; you'd be lost before you even begin.

How does a singer sounds when she tries to imitate wood against metal, or skin? How does a harp sound when the singer gives her a smooth legato line to follow?

As I'm writing this, I sit at home in covid quarantine. Not because I or anyone near me is sick, but because I was in Gothenburg last week. Hometown love, vaccinated parents, very old friends, and WORK!
Daniel Stighäll, a research fellow at Luleå University, is preparing for the final result of his artistic research, and I am so lucky to be taking part of it. What's interesting for me personally is that his research touches on my research: opera before it became Opera. Although his work investigates the earlier Madrigal Comedy, which came before Monteverdi et al, I get to test out my actor-singer theories in action. Jan Sandtröm and Tuva-Lisa Rangström have written an opera? A musical drama? A theatre play set to music? Anyway it's called Nattugglor" (" Nighthawks") and the story itself is a variation of the Orfeo myth, and the music is like early music but not, and new music, but also not. Little bits of music and stories from the late 16th, early 17th centuries are woven into a contemporary, modern music universe. On top, lirone, lute, flutes, trombone, violin, crazy singers; lots and lots of acting, improv and playing with different voices. Because of the playfulness of everyone involved in the project, this was a session of pure fun.
Fun leads to laughter, leads to open minds, leads to greatness.

Last, but in no way least, my dear, dear friends in ensemble Odd Size. We chose each other, and we keep choosing each other despite…stuff. On our Instagram account, I claim the following:

" Ensemble Odd Size is for me to say Yes! Yes to each other and Yes to the Music. The Odd Size way is to know the rules and then, lovingly, break them (there is, overall, a lot of love in Odd Size…❤️). I have definitely become the musician and artist I am today through working together with these guys for a long time, and I dearly hope we'll continue to challenge and build each other many years to come…."

No, they wouldn't be them without me. Even if this post is about becoming who we are through Others, we shouldn't forget the impact we have on others, good or bad. We mean something to Others. We can come across as intimidating and harsh, making others smaller (even if the person feeling small is ourselves), or we can radiate a gentle, soothing power that empowers. Acknowledging this is not narcissistic grandness, but quite the opposite. It's taking responsibility for the vibes we send out, and receive, and send out and receive, back and forth, around, inside, across, until it becomes a sonic, mysterious mycelium…
… and that's all I should say about that.

When music is scary, have a coffee?

This is a text I wrote in 2015 when I started paying attention to certain situations that triggered my singing nerves to sing against me. 

I realise, when I write these posts, that many of them are about what I’ve learned and what I now have to re-learn in my own way. I’ve always been the good student, doing what the grown-ups told me to do and I think I now understand that I am one of the grown-ups myself, especially since I’m now the one who sometimes teaches and makes young people do what I tell them to do. 

One of the things that quite strongly affect my students is Fear. 

Fear of doing wrong (whatever that is), fear of being wrong, fear of giving away too much, fear of sounding unfamiliar and strange etc etc. I totally sympathise with them, even though my own fear in this area didn’t start to show its ugly face until I was older. 

Before that, I just opened my mouth and my heart and sang. Almost.

The first composer that made me realise that music can be truly magical was Johan Sebastian Bach. I think a lot of musicians' first love is Bach. It is his open, yet so clear and distinct music. The music is so strong that you can fill it with yourself and it is still Bach. I liked that! So for years I just played and sang.

And then I started hearing rumours about how strict he was and how strict the conductors that work with his music are and I kind of began to understand that there was more to it than I thought- it was not good enough to just sing as well as you possibly could. No, there was a whole universe of mathematical rules, of non vibrato rules, of tempo rules, of clear as crystal rules, and some days I must have felt it too, because suddenly I didn’t find the pleasure in his, wonderful, music any more. I just had to get through it. I felt fear! My throat constricted and my musicality disappeared. I was never as nervous as when I sang in one of the Bach Passions. 

Of course, this was a conflict I had created by myself in my own head. No one is to be blamed. But isn’t it strange how some composers, or the tradition following them, trigger these thoughts? That we are not good enough for them? Even if, according  to the sources, even the singers Bach had in hand weren’t good enough for it either. 

But, we still have Kaffeekantata... Mmm, coffee...

Kaffeekantata is a secular kantata that Bach wrote together with a man who called himself Picander (his real name was Christian Friedrich Henrici and I agree, Picander is a lot cooler) and is a cute little story about Liesgen who, much to her father, Herr Schlendriand’s, dismay, prefers coffee to…anything. A bit like myself actually. Ask anyone who has to live and/or work with me.

Now, the habit of drinking coffee today is not as looked down upon as it was during the days of Bach. Then coffee was bad. Today coffee is normal - just something you do. And coffee is everywhere. Literaly. In our times of superabundance, the only one who can control our cravings is ourselves and if you can’t control it you are a person without integrity and the only one to be blamed. Control. 

When singing the Kaffeekantata, it’s impossible to be afraid of Johan Sebastian Bach. It’s impossible to not enjoy it very, very much. Even though the humour is way out of date, it’s very funny in a strange way (”Give me coffee, or else I’ll be just like a dry old goat's bleating”). And if I am singing in Swedish - a language I am very familiar with - it’s even down to earth and reachable. I know that the audience will meet the Johan Sebastian who could laugh at silly things. A man who set music to silly texts (even though he didn’t do it much) can’t be that scary. Not even for me.

Breath in? Breath out?

Sometimes singing is the most difficult thing I know. What once used to be the most natural thing, can turn into something you’re afraid of.

And breathing. Breathing is so complicated. When you think about it. And when you don’t think about it, someone might tell you to think. But, in their conception of breathing. You think you are doing it correct now, because you are doing it the way someone (a grown up!) told you to, but instead you do too much and the tones get too much pressure, and they don’t want that, and they resist, and you breath some more and more until the voice screams at you to shut up.

And then another one tells you to breath in their fashion which is completely the opposite of what the first person said. And then, and then, you go on youtube and a third person, goes completely out of your mind… 

Breath in. Breath out. Feel the breath in your body and sing it out. Why make it so hard?  Elisabeth?! (”you are complicating things! It’s IN YOUR HEAD!”)

It is hard. Because as a singer, the breath is your life line. If there is a just the slightest knot on it - maybe  even just the thought of a knot - the natural breathing can get stuck in your throat. Sometimes just for a while (maybe you just need to sigh it out?). 

Sometimes for years.

Breathing became the enemy? 

Think positive, affirmative and loving thoughts! You are BEAUTIFUL! You are WORTHY!

It doesn’t help.

What helps? 

To find your breath, your own, and dare breathing it? Is that it? Yes, I believe so.

How? I don’t dare to tell you - your breathing is yours (and I wish no one would tell me). You probably already know it.

The Otherness of the self - a presentation in five acts.

This is an english translation of the presentation of my Artistic Research Project "The Otherness of the Self - how to curate a 17th century opera and sing all the roles yourself." The Public Defence - Monday, October 12, 2020 - was streamed, and might still be available here (swedish / norwegian).

A huge thanks to the committee: Asbjørn Schaathun, Øystein Elle and Charlotte Engelkes. Thank you for taking my work so seriously. I am forever grateful.

An enormous thanks to my wonderful supervisors Trond Reinholdtsen and Elisabeth Belgrano. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Act one!

Introduction, background and some context.

It started already in 2011 when theatre historian Magnus Tessing Schneider told me about his theories concerning role doubling in early 17th century opera. He believed that some so-called “singing actors” could do more than one role in a performance for artistic reasons, and not simply for practical ones. Among other things, this was an opportunity to showcase their skills as actors as well as their voice virtuosity.

That summer, Magnus directed a production of L’incoronazione di Poppea (Monteverdi / Busenello) where I had the pleasure to sing one of these ”show cases”. The double role of Octavia and Drusilla - two completely different roles that are usually sung by two completely contrasting singers. Magnus believed that the great diva, the divine Anna Renzi, performed both in the premiere in 1643 and he now wanted to test his hypothesis with me. Thus I became well-acquainted with all three that summer: Octavia, Drusilla and Anna Renzi. Oh, that meeting with Singora Renzi! he who was as much actor as singer and could turn herself into either - she was everything and nothing… It was magical! Just when I thought I knew something about baroque opera came this Renzi and these hefty and contrasting double roles!

Was it because the rapid changes between these two roles evoked a whole new kind of theatricality in me and gave an unpolished vibrancy to the whole opera? Or, was it confirmed for me that some of us thrive on, and may even need the thrill of, jumping between extremes? That this kind of fragmented, split, performer existed also in the 17th century?

Octavia, Anna Renzi and Drusilla. Photo: Björn Ross.

In the research project I am now presenting - to sing all the roles in Monteverdi's opera L’Orfeo - I have also taken the "artistic" role doubling further in my interpretation and drawn it to an extreme.   

I am a singer / musician who has, for the most part, of my career jumped between very different musical styles: improv- and text-based 17th century music as well as complex newly written music.

Yes, I agree that there are similarities between these musical styles, or genres, or whatever you want to call them. For example they both require a flexible larynx and clear voice (at least according to our current taste). However, it’s not the possible similarities between them, but their differences that draws me to them. I feel like I become (at least) two different persons - two Elisabeths.

The two Elisabeths

The Elisabeth who sings the old music, is playful. She gives resistance to her fellow musicians by floating over the beat, she adds, or removes notes a little as she wants. The details arise spontaneously. It is the big picture that is painted.

This is music that we do not quite know how it sounded: Monteverdi, Merula, Strozzi etc. We know a lot and we can guess a lot, but we do not know what it actually sounded like when a singer sang 400 years ago. We do not have their day to day sounds in our ears, our bodies haven’t used their clothes, or eaten their food, all their lives. The composer is dead, so we cannot ask what he, or she, really wanted or if there are any ambiguities in the sheet music we do not understand… Exciting! Makes you curious!

The other Elisabeth, the one who sings new music, aims to do exactly what is written in the notes. She follows the metronome. She listens intently to fellow musicians, without giving too much resistance. The details are in the Details. The concentration is like a laser. We can ask the composer (in this project I met Rolf Wallin, Carola Bauckholt and Helmuth Lachenmann among others) if we can not decipher everything in the notes. No need to guess, we can proceed confidently!

And, now is now. We know where we are and we know how the world sounds, even if we do not always understand it.

The distance between these two Elisabeths is great. One is... here and the other... there. Like two outstretched hands. Between them. Nothing. Nothing? But, if you hold your hands like this for a while, you can feel how it gets hot. There is a magnetic encounter in the nothingness.

Have you ever tried holding your hands like they are holding a ball, but not touching each other. Have you ever felt the magnetic energy between your hands if you concentrate long enough? The warmth and glow that emerges from your body, your self?

And if they meet?

This quote from Karen Barad did not just give me the title of the project. That contact she's talking about, the one between two or more well-known parts of us, is also a cornerstone of my work.

Physics says that even if we touch something, we can never completely touch it. But in art we can BECOME what we touch. Or as Magnus says about Anna Renzi in Poppea:

Could it be so between me and the roles in Orfeo? That we became each other? Dissolved in Nothing?

Even when I wrote my application 5 years ago, I knew that this would be a big project with many small sub-subjects: baroque opera, commedia dell'arte, physical theater, performance practice, HIP, new music, mythology, the Self and the Other, neuroscience… men! L’orfeo - favola in musica has been both an artistic goal and the pillar that supported everything (and me). That pillar I hold on to now as well.
Act 1. In which we hear about the demigod Orpheus and the tree nymph Eurydice who are in love and enter into marriage.

Act 2

The musician and singer Elisabeth is the one who sings music. Singer-Elisabeth has a long education, crowned with titles in German written on papers with stamps, so I'm very sure I know that.

But who is the actress Elisabeth? She has been by my side since kindergarten, through school days all the way to performances on opera stages.  I have never learned to act, it is something I "just do". One of the few acting techniques I can do is connect what I do on stage with a memory. But maybe that’s enough? Actress Fia Adler-Sandblad (länk till intervju) says:

And the contact between body and voice is inevitable for someone who wants to be an actor-singer…

Anna Renzi, as I mentioned earlier, was everything desired from an actor-singer in the early and mid 17th century, when the anonymously-penned “Il Corago” was written. 

One who was the mostly known as “speaking” actress who later became singing actor was Virginia Ramponi-Andreini. She came from the commedia dell’arte troupe I Fedeli, but today is mainly remembered as the one who sang Monteverdi's first Arianna (from one of the operas that has so tragically disappeared).

So, in my quest of finding my inner 17th century actor singer, I partially connected "my" L'Orfeo with Commedia dell'arte. Not only because of Andreini and her background, but also because of "the living body that remembers”, as I started this section with. Commedia dell’arte is body! It is physical with a stylized, strong body language and big gestures.

(If we want to draw it even further, we can talk about the 21st century body remembering the bodies before hers. But we won’t do that here. Just keep it in mind.)

The body thus became an ever more-important tool for me.

Later, I took this further with modern physical acting methods that also connect body and voice; in close collaboration with the physical actor Hanne Dieserud, in workshops with Jon Tombre and Roy Hart and in courses with the aforementioned Fia Adler-Sandblad.

Another tool is in the title of the L’Orfeo: Favola in musica - A story in music. Rendering the story and words of early 17th century opera is almost more important than conveying the music. Monteverdi himself says: Let the words be the master of music, not its slave! I have to tell the story of Orfeo - be the storyteller - more than sing the music!

According to actor Örjan Wiklund, the Storyteller is the one who remembers - the private memory and the collective memory. Through the narrator's voice and body, we can understand stories that are several 1000 years old. Like the one about Orfeo.
Act 2 - In which joy is turned into tragedy when Messagiera comes with the news that Eurydice has been bitten by a poisonous snake and died.

Act 3

Finding the characters and the story

In the words

The last clip in the film in the last chapter was from one of the very first times I told the story of Orfeo. At that time, only the actor Roger Westberg was my audience. Roger was also the one who taught me that this was a fruitful way to go - to just tell the Story in my own words. At first it was difficult to recount the story in a vivid way, but soon it became one of my main research methods and I told it to everyone who somehow found their way into the project and in all the presentations given at all the seminars and conferences. I also did the performance "Orfevs" together with the keyboardist Andreas Stensland Løwe who plays certain elements of the music, while I tell the story.

By telling the story over and over again, I made the story mine and the characters then became individuals, humans. Sometimes they happened to get new voices and thereby new personality traits. This meant that they were constantly evolving, maturing, especially given time which allowed them to grow, as we all do. When I came back to the libretto and the music, my voice was integrated into a musical and social order more than 400 years old. The recitar-cantando style really became spoken song.

And I had not only carved people out of the raw material found in the story, I had also given them a sustainable context, a dramaturgy.

In the body

Hanne Dieserud (physical actress with a background in Grotowski and Artaud) and I had, and still have, a deep collaboration. After many conversations about elements feminine and masculine, and love, death… we found the people in different places in my body and I then sang from there.

Orfeo - in the groin and the heart. 

Euridice - in the open chest

Messagiera - the throat, more specifically the crying and anxiety that sits there

Karonte - a stiff hip (the left one)

Speranza - in the forehead (and in one arm)

Proserpina - in the lips

Plutone - in the hands

They became physical beings in me. It was not "psychology" (that bit I had managed in storytelling and in conversations), but just: send the voice to the groin, the chest or the hip, and we will take it from there!
Act 3 - In which Orpheus tries to reach the realm of Hades - Death. But by the river Styx he is stopped by the ferryman Caronte

Act 4

After the performance Orfevs (with pianist Andreas Stensland Løve) I had the following thoughts: How should I relate to the fact that Orfeo seems to be a self-righteous idiot, who I would never fall for myself, who I actually do not even like? Euridice seems to have no role of her own in this myth - she is an object of his desire and longing. A tool for him to overcome death. And Plutone and Proserpina… It's hard to see him as anything other than a psychopath who abducted Proserpina for his own pleasure. Does she suffer from the Stockholm syndrome or is she just trying to save her own skin by showing her softest kitten side? ”

Michael Chekhov writes about working with characters: 

My point of departure had, in fact, been myself and my prejudices! I had "Betrayed my inner laziness". Embarrassing! Especially Euridice and Proserpina which I had watched with "a male gaze" and made into sexy weapons without my own will.

Do it again, do it right!

Tell the story from their side! What can I really say about them?

Euridice was a tree nymph - yes, a tree with deep roots down in the fertile, dark earth (all the way down to Hades / death). Euridice means wisdom!

Proserpina / Persefone was the daughter of Demeter - they were powerful women. Many variants of the myth say that Plutone / Hades kidnaps her and takes her by force: he saw her, wanted her, took her. Thus, she is a victim. But some versions of the myth say that the desire was mutual and their love was strong. Not just anyone becomes the Queen of Death!

Both were probably more like the Beyoncé character in Rebecka Ahvenniemi's opera "Beyoncé and beyond" (which also became part of this project) - "… more than the sum of your fantasies…”

And then film artist Wolfgang Lehmann also came into the picture - through his camera I hoped I would see Euridice, Proserpina and myself again. Letting him decide what the film would look like was deliberate. I had to make myself vulnerable and take artistic risks, because I had considered myself too safe and secure in my cause - and that had stopped the process. By taking this artistic risk, I made myself vulnerable and open again. I am so glad I did.

We filmed partly by the Alna River in the beautiful Svartdalsparken in Oslo. The dark water of course made me think of Styx (although it was probably not as scary as the river that divides life from death). This gave Proserpina a calm I had not imagined before; here she found her strength as QUEEN!

The physical memory of bark against my hands and my back, gave me a physical connection to the TREE NYMPH Euridice. She with the deep roots, she who means WISDOM.

When I changed perspective on Euridice, Orfeo also changed. Their love became equal and they both became more human.

The same was true of Proserpina and Plutone. Suddenly he became the one who saw her potential and it was her own choice to stay…

I knew they had more voices than those we hear in the opera created by Monteverdi and Striggio.

The film (A tree with a name) then became a dialogue between me with my feet on the floor and me on the screen. I was my "Other" my "the otherness" and "self," in dialogue. "
Act 4 - In which Proserpina, is affected by Orpheus' lamentations. Plutone promises that Orfeo will be allowed to take Euridice back to life BUT neither of them can turn around before they are both up in the world of the living.

Act 5 - Conclusion?

I have now presented parts of my artistic research project with L’Orfeo.

As a classically trained singer, I am the bearer of a cultural heritage. I'm deeply rooted in that role - the classical baroque and contemporary singer - but I could not have done this project as just her. The standards are too strict. Here my inner actor-singer helped me. Through her, which is actually historically rooted, I gave myself the right, no obligation, to turn around singing norms and sound ideals.

Did I get closer to Anna Renzi and La Florinda and other actor-singers? Well, this is my modern, and quite extreme, take on how a theatrical singer and dual role performer may have worked on stage during the first half of the 17th century. I propose an idea as to how the rapid shifts and the sometimes exaggerated theatricality could perhaps make the stage language more powerful and intuitive than we are used to today. And how this affects the voice to become something else just ”flattering" - that kind of beauty is wholly different.

I also hope that with this project I have contributed to a deeper feeling and understanding of what the early baroque theatrical "recitar cantando" may have been. The story-telling in song that went so far that in the end you longed for beautiful sound and long melismas at which point bel canto took over completely. It is my message that we singers, musicians, humans have even more in us than what others (agents, conductors, critics) think, and that we should be allowed to define ourselves and make ourselves more autonomous.

To physically feel the difference in the roles in the opera gave me an embodied insight into other individuals. Of course, it has something to do with how I experience my surroundings. How we respond to each other and create each other's reality in ourselves and how we are reflected in each other.

When the opera ends, Orpheus' voice is not only his, it bears traces of all he has met, in the realm of the living and in the realm of the dead.Anna Renzi embodied Octavia and Drusilla - made them the same person. They floated in and around her, as Magnus says.

Am I floating, in and around myself?

"Fluidity may have been an integral part of the production itself, Holmertz's doubling possibly dissolving the distinction between Orfeo and Euridice in the spectator's mind, uniting the narcissism of the former and the devotion of the latter in one and the same woman."

No, I’m not dissolved in anything. No, I still experience that I switch between different states and parts of me: New music! Early music! Other music! Otherness!  The "actor-singer" - she, this new-old role, gave my fragmented artistic personality a unifying voice and my own private "fach." A compartment that I decide for myself.

This project has made me an expert at singing all the roles in Orfeo! My hottest expert tips for one-woman L’Orfeo:

  • Break the rules!
  • Make yourself vulnerable!
  • Let the characters sing through your body.
  • Trust your memory.
  • Try to see yourself through the eyes of others.

I am NOT different than when I started. Not the same.

"The otherness of the self" was impossible to grasp. It was already there - including in the meeting with our own voices - how we hear it inside us, and how we sound out. Also our "I" which is created in the meeting of others. Over and over again…

Finally, if I return to the question "Who is the actor, Elisabeth?" One who with her body, her impulses, her memories shapes another? Well… Who is the actor, the singer, the musician, the storyteller? An artist? In the best case. Who is the artist? One that gives us a different picture of reality? One who doubts, asks questions? Is it the one who through the art is researching? Looking for opportunities to change ourselves? Change the world? René Jacobs says this about artists believing they can change the world:

… It's beautiful said, albeit a little demotivating. I say, let us always want to change the world! Let us be the singer, the musician, the poet, the shaman, the artist, the GOD Orfeo!

Translation: Paul Kirby

Vad jag tänker på när jag tänker på det jag gör.

Tankar, känslor, som hela The otherness...."-arbetet egentligen bygger på. 

Själva idéen till projektet - L’Orfeo med mig själv i alla roller!!! - var en sådan som kom som ett galet infall en kväll efter några glas vin. Ett infall som gjorde mig både skrämd och lycklig för att den kändes lika dela riktig som helt, helt fel. Och fel kan vara rätt. Att göra saker man inte kan, kan vara helt…

En stor del av processen som följt på tanken som slog ner den kvällen, har varit att förstå varför den överhuvudtaget kom och varför det är relevant att förfölja den. 

Varning för djupt personliga och ensidiga reflektioner och påståenden som inte är förankrade någon annanstans än i mig själv och i min egen forskning!

Till att börja med vill jag säga att jag älskar att sjunga och jag har alltid älskat att sjunga nästan allt. Så länge jag kan och får sjunga… Jag tror att jag har valt dessa två ytterligheter just pga ytterligheterna och avståndet dem emellan, inte likheterna eller närheten. För en annan sångerska/musiker hade det kunnat vara senromantik och folkmusik, rock och gregoriansk sång, singer/songwriter och opera….


Jag och tidig musik

Jag började som ”barocksopran”, utan att veta om det. Jag tror att jag blev det när jag som 14-åring för första gången hörde Alice Babs sjunga Elizabethan love songs och hennes ljusa, klara röst kvittrade sig in i mina öron och byggde bo i mitt bultande tonårshjärta. 

För mig var det en självklar start. Musiken och sättet den inbjöd att sjunga på, var så självklart för mig som 15-åring att det var som om jag alltid haft den hos mig; enkelheten, friheten, tidlösheten, öppenheten. Jag upplevde att jag kunde vara mig själv i musiken, utan att veta vad ”jag” lät som.  Musiken satt redan i kroppen. Välbekant. Fast det var nytt, så kunde jag det. Som om det var samma musik min mamma sjungit för mig som barn. Det var nog inte bara musiken, utan just mötet mellan den musiken och mig. Vi rörde vid varandra.

Vad utmärker en s.k. barocksopran? Klar röst, inget, eller lite vibrato, lätt för ornament och koloraturer, en instrumental klang åt det gossaktiga hållet? Eller en teatral och uttrycksfull röst med kött och blod; en artikulerande textälskare som ser drama och affekt i varje ord? En som fraserar varje fras tillsammans med ord, rum och medmusiker?

Jag funderar lite över att man säger barocksopran, men inte barockbas… Man är Evangelist, men inte barocktenor? Varför har just sopranen varit den som fått barockprefixet?

Sättet att jobba på (och nu pratar jag igen utifrån min egen praxis) är både fritt och styrt av regler och frihet. Vi känner igen ramarna på stycket. Det kanske är en strofisk sång (Fint, då tar vi två verser, så gör du instrumentalt solo och så tar vi en vers till där jag improviserar en del.), eller en da capo aria (”långsammare tempo i b-delen och så crazy improvisationer i dacapodelen…”), eller en genomkomponerad motett med möjlighet för att verkligen gå in i textliga detaljer, frossa i fraseringar och ornament.

Att lära sig musiken är ibland som att lära sig prata engelska (lätt först och svårt sen). Tonspråket och harmoniken upplever jag ofta som självklar (iaf efter en eller två genomspelningar). Den baseras många gånger på repeterande basgångar (passacaglior, ciacconer osv) som på ett tidig stadium skapar igenkänning och ger tidigt ett ägarskap till musiken. Ägarskap som skapar frihet.

Sen har vi ju detta med normer… Om hur några tolkat trakatet på ett vis och några på ett annat… Jag går inte in på det nu och här. 



Jag och ny musik

När jag sjunger nyskriven musik är jag olika från stycke till stycke. Varje nytt stycke är, för mig, ett nytt musikaliskt landskap vars karta jag ännu inte lärt mig, eller ett nytt språk med en ny grammatik.

Allt komponister har, i mina ögon, sitt eget språk och uttryck (eller, de bör kanske ha det). Jag måste lära mig att navigera runt bland alla ord och böjningar. De kanske påminner om nån annans, men är det inte. Ofta måste jag lägga om min teknik för att min röst ska kunna passa in i just det språket jag sjunger nu. 

En utmaning med att sjunga ny musik är att många ser på rösten som ett instrument, inte som en del av människokroppen. Synen på rösten som ett instrument, som helst spelar utan vibrato, är förståelig, men problematisk eftersom det kräver av utövaren att man utgår ifrån rösten som utan gränser. Är man en utövare som gärna vill vara på lag med komponisten, känner lojalitet och vilja att tillgodose alla idéer, är det lätt att man sträcker sig för långt och faktiskt skadar sig.

Det är många höga toner i svag dynamik och lite vibrato. Ett recept på spända muskler och stämband. 

Om jag gör för mycket av det komponisten tror att de vill ha, så blir resultatet bara en kopia av en disig idé som kanske fungerade inne i deras huvud en dag för längesen.

Det är en kamp, många gånger. Det är en kamp som består av ovilja att gå in i det okända. Av obekväma intervall. Av olika förståelse av tempi. Många gånger känner jag mig styrd långt över min vilja. Mitt enda vapen är då att lära mig musiken ännu bättre och ta över den, göra den till min. Först när den är min, så kan jag släppa taget, slappna av och göra musiken levande och angelägen. En kamp jag älskar.

Det finaste är att jag kan prata med komponisten. Vi kan sätta oss ner tillsammans och finna lösningar och tillsammans höra hur musiken (musiken!) bäst kommer fram. Ibland pressar jag mig extra hårt för att jag känner och håller av människan som skapat musiken jag får framföra, men ibland känns det så skönt när man får höra att en annan idé kanske är bättre ändå. Personen finns här! Vi kan kommunicera med ord. 

Funkar det? Nej, jag får ont i halsen. Ja, men då löser vi det. Förresten står det riktigt i dina noter? Det ska vara fiss. Så bra det blev när du sjöng sådär! Gör det. Vad menar du här? Okej…

Samtidsmusikutövarsidan hos mig önskar djup och friktion. Jag vill ju att livet ska ställas fram i all sin svårighet, skönhet och komplexitet. 

Så är det för mig. Svårigheten är det vackra. Att man inte behöver förstå allt.




När jag försöker beskriva mig själv som en som gör lika dela tidig musik som ny musik, får jag ofta till kommentarer om att detta ju är en väldigt vanlig kombination och att det måste många naturliga likheter mellan genrerna (källa: många samtal med varandra oberoende personer). Men är det så? Gör det det? Är det likheterna som drar bl.a mig till dessa ytterligheter eller är det olikheterna? Efter att ha letat och sett efter likheter i nästan 20 år märker jag att sökandet efter gemensamma nämnare hindrar mig i att vara mig själv där jag är. Som att jag sneglar mot där jag inte är, musikaliskt, just då. Som att jag inte låter mig vara ”Den andra mig”, utan en mix. Allt detta är såklart i mitt huvud, men det som startar i huvudet sätter sig snart i småmuskler, som blir spänningar, som blir störningar och blockeringar.

Kärnan är den samma: musik. Att förmedla den. Såklart ser jag många likheter: jag andas, luften får mina stämband att vibrera, min vilja att förändra människors liv - om så bara för precis nu-, min djupa kärlek till musiken och glädjen i att samspela med mina medmusiker. Samma. Känslan av att musiken är större än oss. Samma.

Men efter att ha känt på likheter i många år, började jag märka att detta sökande gjorde mig mer splittrad, för likheterna jag trodde jag sökte efter fanns inte där längre. Sättet att tillnärma mig notbilden är olika, vokalproduktionen är olika, samspelet fungerar olika, inövningsprocessen är olika, publiken, texten… Det är många parameter. Hur, vad och varför är något jag vill finna ut mer av.

Jag ser på notbilden och måste förstå den. Många gånger är det faksimil från originalnoterna, eller tryck från samma tid. Ofta noter som är vackra att se på. Mjuka, följsamma, liksom musikaliska. De lever på notlinjen. Noterna ser ut som konst. Tryckta eller skrivna för hand.

Så vackert som det kan vara, kan det också vara förvirrande att läsa, att dechiffrera, för det är svårläst. Raderna kan ha gått ihop, melodistämman och basstämman ligger inte på samma plats i takten. Handskrifterna kan vara fulla av personlighet och är vanskliga att tyda. Allt det där mänskliga. Vi kan inte fråga någon, för alla är döda. Vi kan bara tolka och försöka utläsa av kringelkrokarna och det sirliga.

Samma sak är det några gånger med notbilden jag får från nu levande komponister. Jag måste först tolka notbilden. Jag måste förstå just deras sätt att notera musik, deras tolkning av det de vill förmedla. Ibland är det handskrivet. Vackert, oftast. Lättläst, ibland. Mycket personlighet i legatobågar och sextondelsplaceringar. Idag använder de flesta notskriviningsprogram som Finale eller Sibelius. Man kan tro att tryckta noter och dataprogram ger mer lättlästa noter, men så är det inte alltid… Ofta blir slagen olika långa, ibland kan en halvnot se kortare ut än en åttondelsnot, om komponisten vill ha in väldigt många smånoter i andra stämmor samtidigt.

Jag har ett hörn i hjärnan till tryckta noter från 1600-talet och ett hörn till tryckta noter från 2000-talet.

Att det ibland är svårt att förstå materialet, rent konkret och sakligt. Man måste tolka, anteckna mycket och göra många streck för att visa var slagen är, binda ihop toner som hör ihop med varandra. Man skulle kunna kalla det ett pussel. Att få ihop bitarna så att de bildar en bild. Både en bild man kan se och, senare, göra musik av. Efter att bitarna är samlade och förståeliga, går vägarna isär och sättet att jobba blir helt annorlunda.

Många jag pratat med menar att sångklangen är liknande. Att den är ”instrumental”. Att man använder rösten som ett instrument på lik linje med t.ex en fiol. Här ställer jag mig undrande, för under barocken var det inte meningen att rösten skulle efterlikna instrument, det var instrumenten som skulle efterlikna sångrösten (ref). Sången, rösten, var utgångspunkten. 

Att frasering, artikulation, precision för är viktigare än själva klangen är såklart en likhet, men hur vi , dvs jag, fraserar och artikulerar och är precis skiljer sig åt. 

Kenneth (Karlsson, pianist) och jag jobbar med metronomen på för att få slagen lika. Fredrik (Bock, luta) och jag har det bäst när vi är lite emot varandra i fraseringen. 

Vokalmusiken i början av barocken har, i mina öron, fler gemensamma nämnare med singer/songwriter traditionen och jazz än med samtidsmusiken, som den subtila friheten i timingen och frasering, improvisation och ornamentik.

Den allra största skillnaden är att Helmut Lachenmann lever och kan guida oss genom sina partitur, så vi vet nästan exakt hur han vill ha det. Monteverdi däremot är död. Det finns ingen förstahandsinformation och det är minst 15 generationer mellan oss idag och de utövare som uruppförde hans musik och ans musik har inte heller spelats kontinuerligt från hans dagar till idag. Vi måste/får/kan gissa oss fram till hur det kan ha låtit, men kommer att riktigt aldrig veta. 

Samtal med en död sångerska

Samtal med Anna Renzi tisdag 31/10-2017

Anna Renzi: Varför mig?

Elisabeth: För att du är en sån som sådana som jag känner nån slags band till. Du är liksom idéen om urbarocksopranen. Den som var beundrad för sin sceniska närvaro, sin magiska kraft i uttrycket och allt det där som vi önskar oss. Dessutom skrevs det dikter till dig där man också lovprisade din intelligens och stillsamma sätt. Vi vill också lovprisas.

A.R: Jag gjorde mitt jobb. Jag hade tur. Jag levde i en tid när konkurrensen var obefintlig för sådana som mig. Nu finns ni i hoptal. Sen dog jag när jag var lika gammal som du är nu. Jag hann inte bli gammal, gammal och trött. Jag var bara ung. En lovprisad ung människa…

E: Hur ska jag gå till väga med mitt projekt? Tycker du att jag är tokig?

A.R: Idéen om mig är just en idé. Du kommer ju aldrig komma åt mig. Jag är död sedan länge och bilden av mig blev tecknad i en tid när stora ord var för små. Det är breda och guldskimrande penselstråk. Att läsa om mig är nästan som att läsa ett horoskop - du finner alltid nåt som passar in i just ditt liv.

E: Men, hur ska jag göra?

A.R: Gör det. Gör det med allvar och dedikation. Sänd tankar till mig, försök höra vad jag säger till dig. Läs mellan raderna när du läser om mig. Läs.

E: Kommer du vara där?

A.R: Idéen om mig. Och nu menar jag alltså idéen om mig. Bilden av våra medmänniskor skapas alltid utifrån oss själva. Vi ser det vi ser i oss själva och vi hör det vi hör i vårt eget brus. Du hör och ser mig utifrån din tid och din ljudbild.

E: Det är väl självklart. Sånt pratar vi om hela tiden. Eller, vi borde prata om det. Om vi hade pratat om det mer, så hade vi kanske förstått varandra bättre, på riktigt, och inte tagit för givet att vi gjorde det.

Jag tänker på det jag hörde om Sara Bernhardts röst (så typiskt att jag inte skrev ner vem som sa det…). Att hennes röst, eller snarare deklamation, som skulle vara som ”träd i skogen”, stadig och fast, visade sig vara ganska gnällig. Musikalisk och flytande, men gnällig och inte alls tilltalande för våra öron. Är det kanske likadant med dig? Skulle vi har rörts till tårar av ditt agerande? Skulle din röst återklingat i våra stämband och känts som ett eko av våra röster? Eller skulle vi upplevt dig som en överspelande och överemotionell sångerska med dålig sångteknik?

A.R: Sara Bernhardts kom ju långt efter mig, men vi har det gemensamt att våra liv snördes ihop. Banden och valbenen tog andan från oss och lämnade oss utan inre stöd. På min tid fanns männen som kunde sjunga ljust som en kvinna, men som, i egenskap av sitt kön, slapp korsetten och därmed hade en helt annan tillgång till sin röst och sina andetag. De hade naturligtvis inte bara ett större register, men också en större kropp. Och så var det ju det här med kvinnor på scen. Visst fick vi vara där. I och med teatern hade vi ju fått en mer självklar plats i ljuset, inte en helt självklar plats och vår roll var omdiskuterad - vilken typ av kvinnor var vi egentligen..?

Tillbaka till min röst. Du vet ju att man inte jämnade ut registren så som ni gör idag. Bröströst var bröströst och huvudröst var huvudröst. Visst var det mer än så. Det var ju mycket mer än så… Behöver jag gå in på det? Det är ju inte vokalteknik du studerar, utan hur mitt skådespelar-prefix påverkade sången, scenen, livet.

Men först Sara Bernhardts och varför du kommer in på henne hela tiden. Det var väl insikten i att författaren (du måste verkligen gå tillbaka och finna henne) faktiskt förstod att hon inget visste. Rösten hon läst om och bildat uppfattning om lät helt annorlunda än den gjort i den fantasi hon fått utifrån texten om den. Så är det nog. Du kommer aldrig komma närmare mig än du är nu. Och det du kommer nära, är alltså en idé om mig. Och den idéen kommer inifrån dig själv. Det är alltså dig själv du kommer komma närmare.

E: Det blir många ord här, men det måste nog bli så. Ju fler ord jag skriver ner, ju fler av mina tankar får jag med mig. Tankarna flyger så fort.

Vad är det med dig som gör att man vill vara din bästa vän? Eller allra helst, vara dig? Vara en reinkarnation av dig?

A.R Jag kan ju vara i princip vem du vill. Och så framstår jag som en ytterst sympatisk person utan större divalater och ett mjukt och allvarligt sinne, en sån som många vill vara. Mitt utseende sägs inte mycket om. Allvarlig, är nog ordet. Inte alldaglig, men med ett ansikte som kunde förvandlas till vem som helst och hur som helst. In the blink of an eye. Hela jag framstår som en dröm. Dessutom var jag lovordad. Du vet, det skrevs en hel bok med dikter till min ära. En hel bok med dikter som prisade min talang och min begåvning. Vem vill inte ha det?

E: Det var visserligen en samling män som i hemlighet, Incognito, satt och mumlade och skrev ner sina idealvärldar…

A.R: Visst, men om de inte hade gjort det, så var det inte gjort. Bara fjantigt att blanda in dina egna moderna åsikter i bilden av mig. Du måste se bilden av mig på bakgrund av min tid.

E: Är det lite så att vi förstår varandra bara utifrån vår historia? Tänkte på det häromdagen när jag satt och såg på min blivande man. Att jag förstår honom inte så som han är just precis nu, men så som jag känner honom från igår, förra veckan, för tre år sedan. Och så som han speglas i mig.

Vi får aldrig tag på varandra, på riktigt, men ibland så kommer en våg av något som känns som en blixtrande förälskelse, som ett samförstånd.

A.R Ja, lite så. Gå och lägg dig nu.


anna Renzi





Anna Renzi (1620-1661). Operahistoriens första diva och stora stjärna. Hon var ”allting och ingenting” (Belgrano). Hon var hyllad för sin konstnärliga och vokala flexibilitet och för sin förmåga att gå ifrån den ena sinnesstämningen till den andra i löpet av sekunder (Schneider)

Hela mitt arbete är som en dialog med henne, för det var med henne det hela började när jag mötte henne, eller idéen om henne, i en produktion av Monververdis opera L’Incoronazione di Poppea i Köpenhamn 2012. Magnus Tessing Schneider (ass. research scholar) ville pröva ut sin då nya tes om att rollerna Octavia och Drusilla borde sjungas av en och samma utövare eftersom han menade att Anna Renzi gjorde dessa båda karaktärer i premiären 1641. Vi vet att Renzi sjöng Octavia (Schneider), men Schneider menar att en sångerska av hennes kaliber för det första inte skulle nöja sig med en roll som var hälften så stor som Poppea - hennes plats på scenen borde vara minst lika stor - och för det andra skulle en som var så firad för sin gestaltningsförmåga och sin stora spännvidd inte komma helt till sin rätt i en roll som är såpass endimensional som den (av goda skäl) bittra och hämndgiriga Octavia. Hon måste helt enkelt ha haft fler sidor att spela på scenen. Därför kom han till konklusionen att Anna Renzi rimligtvis borde ha gestaltat även den unga och sprudlande förälskade Drusilla. Magnus använde mig för att praktiskt utforska sina teorier och se om de gav mening. Och det gjorde det. Framförallt gav de mig mening. För mig, att få lov att ta på mig rollerna till två så olika karaktärer, betydde att jag fick använda hela mig. Det gav mig också idéen om att Anna Renzi kanske skulle varit som jag om hon levat idag, dvs en som uppenbarligen söker sig till ytterligheter. 

Jag tänkte mycket på henne efter produktionen. Jag vill så gärna gå djupare i idéen om henne och på så vis vidareföra min känsla av förankring i det dubbla, flersidiga. Det där med dubbelrollerna, det galna i ena sekunden och det ljuva i nästa, kändes så relevant för mig. Kunde jag ta in det i mitt arbete och virke som sångerska idag? Uppenbarligen identifierade jag mig med henne, så det fanns ju något där.

I ett tidigt stadium av mitt forskningsarbete fastnade jag för beskrivningen ”acting singer” (Rosand) som ofta beskriver Anna Renzi och några av hennes samtida på operascenen. ”Acting singer” är antagligen det vi idag kallar ”operasångerska”, men kan också ses som ett bredare begrepp än så - Anna Renzi ansågs  vara en lika stor skådespelerska som sångerska.  Hennes storhet som sångerska kom kanske just av hennes skådespelartalang (Schneider) och hennes förmåga att flyta in och ut av roller., känslor, tillstånd (Belgrano). 

Jag såg också länken mellan Commedia dell’arte och den tidiga formen för opera som både Anna Renzi och Monteverdi var en del av (Wilbourne). Kanske gjorde den tydliga teaterlänken att hennes roll som sångerska löstes upp och gav henne verktyg till att tydligare vara ”allt” i tillägg till att vara ”intet”.

För mig var upplevelsen att få gestalta ”allt” och ”inget” (Belgrano), stora känslor åt alla håll i en barockopera, där rollerna är stiliserade, och att få gå från sörjande till sprudlande i löpet av sekunder… Ja, det var faktiskt som att finna den, the missing link, saknade länken. Kanske  Att rent praktiskt få erfara att vi inte visste allt om uppförningspraxis och att nya tankar om det vi trodde att vi visste, faktiskt kan förändra livet till någon.



Belgrano, Elisabeth:‘Lasciatemi morire’ o faró ‘La Finta Pazza’: Embodying Vocal Nothingness on Stage in Italian and French 17th century Operatic Laments and Mad Scenes.  (ArtMonitor, doct diss no 25. 2011)  

Calcagno, Mauro: Signifying nothing. (The Journal of Musicology, Vol. 20, No. 4 pp. 461-497, 2003)

Rosand, Ellen Monteverdi’s Mimetic Art: L’Incoronazione di Poppea, (Cambridge Opera Journal 1 1989) 

Tessing Schneider, Magnus: Seeing the empress again (Cambridge Opera Journal / Volume 24 / Issue 03/ pp 249-291, 2012)

Wilbourne, Emily Seventeenth-Century Opera and the Sound of Commedia dell’arte (The University of Chicago Press, 2016)

The otherness of the self - artistic research

Since 2016 I am a very proud artistic research fellow at the Norwegian academy of music.

In my research project I will look into the meaning of roles. What the role is and what it can become; what it does with me as a singer and performer when I go into different personalities and characters; what do I have to do with my body and my voice to be able to perform different types of roles; where do I look to find them?

What if I take on all the roles in an opera? What do ”I” become then?
The aim of this research project is to create a performance of the opera L’Orfeo (Claudio Monteverdi) where I sing all the parts myself. In addition Henrik Hellstenius and I will work on a new opera together where I mirror the experiences I make with L’Orfeo. The work with these operas are not only the aim and the goal, but a tool to work on what ”Roles” mean to me and how I can convey this to others.

The idea to the project came from reading about role casting in the operas in the early 17th century. We already know that they doubled roles for practical reasons but it’s possible that it was done for artistic reasons as well. If a specially gifted singer performed two or three different roles in an opera, she or he got to show their virtuosity, both as a singer and as an actor, by switching from one character to the other in the course of seconds. What might have happened in those seconds? What did that do to the drama? Many of the 17th century opera singers came from Commedia dell’arte and were actors who sang, more than singers who acted. What did it do to their singing performance when acting and improvised theatre was a strong foundation for the newly invented opera? This is an exiting new angle in the early opera research that needs more attention. In the contemporary music theatre tradition it’s an established form to work with and on the different aspects of the body and voice. How can I use this knowledge for singing baroque opera and vice versa?

It’s research project with many aspects, but in the end I humbly hope to shed new colours and light on the baroque opera field which has been somewhat locked in strong traditions by the large institutions where the sound of the voice has been more important than the acting. I wish to to bring alternativ ideas on how to cast and find voices for early operas and to create new tools on how to work on performance practice, both in early and contemporary music theatre. Being a performer in divers genres it’s sometimes easy to get lost and, in the end, I wish to find something for all my roles to hold on to and give them more space.