She is one of the county’s most outspoken stage personalities, never afraid to speak out in defence of embattled minorities.
Now, she’s taking on the opera establishment with her own production of Handel’s Xerxes – without state funds or private sponsorship, relying just as the composer did on the money she takes at the door.
Malena Ernman will sing the title role and organise the production, thereby saving two big expenses. But there’s still a cast and orchestra to pay. How will she do that? we asked Malena.
Here’s what she tells Slipped Disc:
The project is a part of a long work process that really started when I participated in the Swedish qualification competition for the Eurovision Song Contest 2009.
These qualifications are by far the biggest TV event in the Nordic region, lasting 6 weeks with an average TV audience of 4million viewers. As it turned out I won:) And that gave classical music in Sweden a unique opportunity to really embrace and conquer the famous ”new” audience.
But since no one really came forward to initiate that work I decided to start it by myself. It went well. Really well. Over the last 6 years I have toured Sweden with an (all-female) string ensemble and a few other classical musicians such as Martin Fröst and guitarist Mas Bergström, and we have succeeded in being self financed and reaching a yearly audience of 20-40 000 people. The idea has always been to give first class classical music and opera in a package entertaining enough to attract basically anyone.
After 2-3 years I approached some of the musical institutions to see whether they wanted to take part. Or to see if they were interested in what we had learnt. Or to find a way to cooperate…. But no.
I’m sure you are aware that the world of classical music and opera is not wide open to change or innovative ideas. I thought if we could fill up concert houses with a non-traditional classical audience, playing anything from Monteverdi to Pärt we had found way that could be useful for the classical community. But my only conclusion was that they really were not interested! Sadly enough.
So I went on… In Europe I was an opera singer and in Sweden I was a performing artist. Even though I was pretty much doing the same thing. That made me think… and over the years I found there were some huge differences between the various artforms:
In opera, to make budget, we do as few performances as possible. And in all other art forms, you do as many as possible…Having spent most of my life entertaining people from stage I know that the one and only thing that make you develop is time on stage… And so naturally opera falls behind. Then I thought why not bring the ”theatre” in music-theatre back as an equal part of music theatre; opera. Specially since most of our potential new audience comes from theatre…
So now we are making Xerxes in that spirit. No funding, no grants, no donations, no sponsors… just tickets to be sold. (At a cheaper price than at the Stockholm Royal Opera). It is a bit of wild experiment of course.
My first and last ambition is to try to bring opera a tiny bit closer to the non traditional opera audience. AND!!! This is by no means meant as a ”art can finance itself” project!!! I believe that all art need and should receive a much larger public budget than today. Xerxes is just a way of showing the potential of opera; and what we are able to do if we only open up to our surrounding world and try to reach the broader stage-art audience.
I also think we need to put an end to the ”bigger and louder and grander” era in opera. The industrial size ”one-huge-operahouse-per-city” is not performing miracles on our artform anymore. I think we need to divide our “one-major-house-funding-per-
We bring the orchestra + conductor from France. (Sweden’s all-Wagner tradition does not develop great conditions for baroque orchestras). Ensemble Matheus and J C Spinosi whom I’ve worked with many times. They come straight from 2 Bartoli-productions in Salzburg.
Director is Swedish, Lars Rudolfsson who has directed and co-written the last three Björn and Benny from Abba musicals, Chess, Kristina from Dufvemåla and Hjälp sökes. The cast include Kerstin Avemo, Loa Falkman and Australian counter tenor David Hansen.
Our Xerxes will be part of the Opera Royal in Versailles, Paris season 2014/15 opening June 3 2015.