When did you join the Chorus of the FNO?
It was way back in 1992, when the Opera House was still located on Bulevardi. Once I’d sung in the supplementary chorus for one production, there was a vacancy for a substitute singer in the chorus proper and I got chosen. When the Finnish National Opera moved to its current premises at Töölönlahti bay in 1993, the chorus was expanded and there were several trial sessions for singers. That’s when I was hired permanently.
How did you become a singer?
Music has always been a part of my life. According to my mother, I already said that wanted to sing and dance as a little girl, but I can’t remember that. As a child I went to ballet school and played the piano, and later on I ended up studying singing and music in Sibelius Academy. I graduated as a Master of Music in 1995. Before the Finnish National Opera, I used to sing in the Radio Chamber Choir and the Savonlinna Opera Festival Choir.
What is your typical working day like?
We work two-part shifts in the chorus, six days a week. We start at 11 in the morning and usually rehearse until 3 in the afternoon. In the evening, there is another rehearsal or a performance at 7. Typically we have two kinds of rehearsals. In music rehearsals, we learn and fine tune the choral scenes of operas, and in direction rehearsals we work on the production with the director. Then, of course, there are the final dress rehearsals, with all the elements of a performance from masks to costumes and sets already in place.
These basic rehearsals can be complemented by, for example, dance practice, such as for The Phantom of the Opera, trying on costumes, and a variety of training sessions. Our weekly schedule also includes a few hours of independent rehearsing.
When the direction and the music come together seamlessly, the chorus immediately knows what to do, even if it’s been years since the last performance.
What is your typical working environment like at the Opera House?
Besides onstage, I tend to practice all over the Opera House, as the chorus doesn’t have its own permanent rehearsal room. During the breaks in a rehearsal or performance I usually hang out in the dressing room, which I share with three other chorus singers. Over time, they have become very dear and close colleagues to me, as when you share a space you also end up sharing stories and emotions. The dressing room is ideal for escaping the hustle and bustle of the building. You can read or rehearse.
What’s your most important work tool?
My body, as the state of my body has a direct effect on my voice. Feeling energetic is the prerequisite of a having good performance, rehearsal, and voice. That’s why it’s important to focus on effective recovery. If the evening’s performance involves strenuous singing, we don’t necessarily sing at full capacity in that day’s rehearsal.
What kind of characteristics do you need in your job?
You have to have a knack for learning. We learn something new almost every day, whether that’s music or steps onstage. Of course your body remembers what it’s learned, too. When the direction and the music come together seamlessly, the chorus immediately knows what to do, even if it’s been years since the last performance.
Besides this, you must be patient, as the work of an opera chorus singer involves a tremendous amount of repetition. We sing the same productions over and over again, and while rehearsing, we repeat the same scenes constantly. You also need patience while rehearsing on stage. The rehearsal involves at least 80 people, and when the director is perfecting a particular detail, that inevitably means lot of waiting around. What’s more, you have to be able to withstand some instability. With such a variety of different productions in every season, you’ll be working with loads of different people in loads of different ways.
The world of opera in itself is unique, you just get carried away with it.
What do you like best about your work?
It’s the fact that I get to make music as a job – that comes without saying. I also have amazing colleagues. The professionals here are incredibly skilful, both in the chorus and other departments. It’s also inspiring to have the chance to work with visiting conductors, directors and soloists.
The world of opera in itself is unique, you just get carried away with it. I remember how, at the start of my career, my more experienced colleagues used to warn me about how quickly time would pass. How right they were! The seasons are so action-packed that you never have a chance to get bored. Then, all of a sudden, you realise that several years have gone by.
What is challenging about it?
The fact that my working day is divided in two parts took some getting used to. My daughters are 16 and 20, so it’s been challenging to combine my evening work and family life, particularly when they were small.
Being part of a large work group is also challenging in its own way. You must always be ready to be flexible. Singing in the chorus is loud and physical work in a large group of people. That’s why the calm of the dressing room and the free hours in the afternoon are so incredibly important to the success of a performance.
What is your favourite production?
It’s impossible to name just one favourite, but it’s the operas of Italian master composers have definitely captured my heart. La Traviata is one of my favourites. It combines wonderful music with beautiful sets, great direction, and grand choral scenes. It’s been in the repertoire throughout my career. The premiere was in 1988, and we last performed it in winter 2018.
Workwise, my favourite productions are those that keep the chorus active, whether that means singing or acting. The ideal combination is a suitably challenging production that enables you to develop yourself. I also like contemporary music, for example Höstsonaten – Autumn Sonata was really amazing. Belting or mixed time signatures, for example, are not exactly our bread and butter, but mastering something different like that is rewarding in its own way.
How do you spend your free time?
I enjoy normal family life. I sometimes travel, I exercise, and I go out with our dog Elli. Elli can also sing, by the way, and she bursts into an aria whenever she gets excited. I wonder where she gets that from?
Text TUIKE LEHKO
Photos HEIKKI TUULI