Q&A: Matilda Sterby on Mozart, Swedish Opera, and teaching during the pandemic

In 2019, Matilda Sterby graduated from the University College of Opera in Stockholm, ready to start her professional career. But 2020 has been hit by a pandemic, and Sterby’s lyrical engagements have been called off, including debuts in the house and in roles.

As a result, the soprano was forced to take a teaching job and reorient her career in order to earn money. Once the theaters opened, the soprano was rehired and last month she was finally able to make her company debut in Klagenfurt.

Sterby spoke with OperaWire about the pandemic, teaching, performing and performing in Swedish opera.

You just graduated from school and had to go through a pandemic before you could start your professional career. Tell me about this experience and what turns you on to be back on stage?

Matilda Sterby: It has been a very special and very difficult time. I graduated in 2019 and haven’t really had the chance to really kick-start my professional career. So it was weird to graduate and have all these plans and then it just got canceled. And I had to wait.

Now that I’m back on stage there are a lot of mixed feelings because during this pandemic I needed to do something to make money. So I worked as a kindergarten teacher and tried to practice and keep my voice in shape. So all of a sudden being on stage again feels unreal and exciting. I was nervous to get back on stage because it had been a long time.

OW: Tell me about the teaching and what has it given you?

MS: It’s a whole different thing and I’m grateful that I had the chance to do it because it taught me about myself and it gave me a perspective of the identity of being a singer. and then suddenly not to be. Going back to this singer identity is difficult because you have to convince people. Now I also have to convince myself that I have this job and that’s what I do. It’s strange.

OW: You are now playing La Contessa in “Le Nozze di Figaro”. Tell me about this role?

MS: I can’t wait to play this role because it’s an amazing role and there is amazing music. I had done it once before but it was in Swedish and now it’s in Italian, her original language. So I’m very excited to have the chance to do this for real and I’m very excited to meet people from different places and come together to do this piece. There are a lot of emotions. The Klagenfurt house is small and I can’t wait to do it first in a smaller house and then in a bigger house. I will get to know the role and get to know the music and the whole theatrical work. It will be intimate and it’s great to get closer to the public especially after this pandemic. And then moving to a bigger house and a bigger stage is something I’m looking forward to.

OW: What are the biggest challenges of singing Contessa?

MS: The challenges are that she is completely different from the rest of the roles on stage and that she is real. It has so much depth and is so tragic. She is so lonely and outside of everyone else’s community. And it’s really hard and it’s also attractive. The fact that she is so alone, it gives her the opportunity to go so deep with every emotion and it gives me a chance to speak to the audience and express a message. My favorite part is her entrance Aria because it’s a big entrance and it’s a simple tune but it’s not easy to sing. The expression is so simple but it has so many layers. It’s hard but it’s beautiful. I also like the opera ensembles. There are little pieces that are so awesome.

OW: How is Contessa different from Donna Anna, which you’ve sung before?

MS: This part is more down to earth and it is more real. Donna Anna is higher in the register and it is in the passagio. Contessa is lower musically and in the midrange. She does these beautiful things in her musical line and it gives something to the character. Donna Anna is always on edge but Contessa is refined in her musical expression. She works as a mezzo in sets with Susanna and she has long lines and little coloratura.

OW: Do you find that Mozart matches your voice and do you think you will be singing his music for a long time?

MS: I think Mozart’s music matches my voice well because it allows you to go down the register and allows you to use different parts of your voice. You don’t always use your high notes. You can explore your whole voice and it is very simple in expression. It is very attractive. The long lines are so attractive and I hope to be able to sing Fiordilgli in the future as well as Donna Elvira.

OW: What would you like to show in your Contessa?

MS: I want to show her vulnerability like us like her loneliness and the honest person that she is. It is the only scene that shows these parts in the opera. I also want to show his strength and if you are able to show both sides of the character it gives you a great opportunity to deepen the expression.

OW: In this work, Mozart has two sopranos who often sing together. How does it feel to sing a duet with another soprano?

MS: It’s an interesting thing to sing with another soprano even if their range is different. He writes music very differently for the two of them and it shows in the vocal writing. It has a peculiarity. It also shows the difference between their class and status. Susanna is in the group while Contessa is left out. Susanna also has a touching manner with the Contessa and I think it’s nice to be able to sing alongside another soprano for a change. Neither is it a tenor and a soprano in love. It’s an opera where everyone has the lead role and it’s a lot more fun to watch.

OW: When you study a character like Contessa, who starts off very differently in “The Barber of Seville,” do you come back to that room and look at where it came from?

MS: Yes of course because that says a lot about where she ends up. She is forced to become someone else that she is not necessarily comfortable representing. It’s not where she came from and it’s interesting too. She is locked up and in pain and in the Rossini she is free-spirited. She is not of a high class and that makes her free. She doesn’t know how to be a countess and she isn’t comfortable and she tries so hard to play this role that she doesn’t remember or know where she came from or who she is. It’s part of his loneliness. It’s almost as if she has lost her identity. Also when she sees Susanna, she feels that she is the closest to a friend but she is not a friend because she is a servant.

OW: You will be playing “Tintomara” this summer. Tell me about this job and what can the public expect?

MS: It was written in the 1970s and the plot revolves around the events of the king’s murder which are described in “Un Ballo in Maschera”. These are events that take place around the murder and I play one of the sisters who is at the ball and there is this figure “Tintomara” who is neither a woman nor a man and she seduces people everywhere. I would say the plot is very similar to the “Cosi fan tutte” setup. There are two men and two sisters who do not know each other but dream of each other. It takes place in the 18th century.

OW: Tell me about singing in Swedish and what are the challenges of singing in your native language?

MS: It’s contemporary. When you first hear it you may think it’s very random, but then you hear it and find it is very well written, and both harder and easier. to sing in Swedish because you get very careful with how to pronounce the words. . If I was singing in Italian or German, I would adjust the vowels to make the vowels sound better. In Swedish I know it’s not that easy to adjust because subconsciously I’m trying to make it sound right. The vowels are very clear like German and even Italian. You want to do it perfectly because you can and you know what it should look like. As a result, it makes you want to do things right. This production will be outdoors for a local audience, so there will be no subtitles. So you want to make sure everyone knows what you are singing especially since it is contemporary opera.

One of the other advantages of singing in my native language is that I don’t have to translate. When I sing in Italian, I have to translate in order to understand and bring it into my body.

OW: Is there an expectation of Swedish audiences when they watch an opera in their language?

MS: I would say that their expectations are lower because in Sweden it is not common to perform indigenous works. And I would say that the public is more used to looking at Italian or German works. The difficult thing is not the language but the way the music is composed. It is one of the most famous contemporary operas and it was actually scheduled for 2020 and was postponed to 2021 and then postponed again due to restrictions. So hopefully that will happen this summer. Fingers crossed.

OW: Now that you’re finally on stage, what are your dreams at the start of your career?

IMS: I would like to do Puccini, Strauss, and one day I dream of doing Marschallin or Salomé. I would also like to do all the parts of Mozart. I also want to work freelance and learn more about the company so that I can grow as an artist as well.


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