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Opera – timeless art with centuries of history

Published: 17 June 2022

As a teenager at home in Stockholm, Mathilda Goike had a rather vague idea of what opera was. She sang pop at Kulturskolan and played a little flute. When she was 15, she saw The Knight of the Rose or The Rose-Bearer at theThe Royal Swedish Opera.. Richard Strauss' opera comedy opened a whole new world for her.

“It was so delicious! I was completely fascinated. How do they really do that? How can they sing so loud?”

Mathilda started studying a course in music theory to be able to enter Framnäs folk high school in Piteå. It was her singing teacher at Kulturskolan that inspired her to apply there. After Framnäs, she continued on the artistic bachelor program classical musician, specializing in singing, at the Academy of Music in Piteå.

“I actually did not apply to any other music academy. When I went to Framnäs we visited the School of Music in Piteå and I thought: 'Cool, I want to study here'  Besides, I like Piteå as a city. It is close to the water and although the city is relatively small, it has everything you need.”

Long and multi faceted history

“Opera has a centuries-old history. Mathilda thinks it is a huge and multi faceted cultural treasure to explore She likes the music of romance that was developed during the 19th century. During that time, the orchestras became larger, which meant that the singers had to develop their technique to be able to sing even louder.

“But the more I listen to opera and learn, the more I like music from other eras, says Mathilda Goike and mentions composers such as Handel, Monteverdi, Gluck and Mozart.”

As an opera singer, you are not just a singer. You are an actor too. During the training, she and the other students had to work a lot with their acting on stage. In the set of a so-called "spaghetti opera", a potpourri of pieces from different operas that are bound together into a whole, they worked with director Kjell-Peder Johansson.

Fake auditions with distraction mom

But even their head teacher, Katherine Osborne, attaches great importance to the stage. The students get to do "fake auditions". The purpose is to learn to deliver, no matter what happens around them. The other students do their best to distract the one who is currently singing.

”You have no idea what they are going to do. Someone might throw a binder on the floor. Another starts dancing ballet. A third starts crawling around on the floor…”

With a music history that spans several centuries, Mathilda Goike gets to perform texts about social conditions and values that can be perceived as foreign in our time. She still thinks that the lyrics have a core that is timeless.

”The feelings are the same. Being in love in the 18th century is no different from being in love in the 21st century.”

Of course, the female portraits in older operas can be perceived as a bit old fashioned at times. But for Mathilda Goike, who is a mezzo-soprano and thus sings in the slightly lower register, it is not a huge problem personally because the voice mode means that she often get to play older stylish ladies or men – so-called trouser roles. It's an interesting challenge in itself because she has to practice moving like a man. In addition, there are actually interesting portraits of women in the older repertoire.

Carmen - a strong woman

”A dream role for me is Carmen. She's so sassy! Carmen is a strong woman who knows what she wants and says what she thinks. When it was premiered, it caused a scandal, but today it is an opera that everyone really knows.”

Mathilda appreciates the collaborations with the other programs at the Academy of Music. In collaboration with students in composition, she has participated in and premiered short operas with roles specially written for her and the other singers. In a course with one of the teachers in sound technology, they learned more about what sound is and how the ear perceives sound. At the end of the course, they had to record themselves with the help of the professional technical equipment at the school.

During her studies, she has sung with the school's classical orchestra under the direction of students in conducting in Acusticum. Mathilda, together with some of the other singers in the class, has also had the chance to participate in the newly written opera The Night Owls, written by Jan Sandström, composer and professor at the Academy of Music. The work was performed in Studio Acusticum's Blackbox. The main hall in Acusticum and Blackbox are two very different concert halls, which is very suitable because an opera singer must be able to handle concert halls with varying acoustics.

This autumn, she will continue her adventure at the Opera Academy (KHiO) in Oslo. She thinks that the Academy of Music in Piteå has given her a good foundation to stand on and is happy to highlight what Katherine Osborne has meant to her.

”Katherine is the best singing teacher I have had. She has made me grow a lot in terms of singing technique. If the technique is not in place, everything else required of an opera singer can't fall into place. She is so knowledgeable about how the voice works anatomically as an instrument. She is demanding at the same time as she creates a safe environment for us. She has made us well prepared for a career as a singer..”