A day in the life of a Swedish mezzo: Solgerd Isalv

A day in the life of a Swedish mezzo: Solgerd Isalv

We have a very special guest blogger today: the young Swedish mezzo Solgerd Isalv, who agreed to journal a recent performance day for DtO. She is currently in Vaasa, Finland where she is singing the role of Olga in Tchaikovsky’s Onegin.

Friday, January 20

10.00 There is a bird in my bedroom. It sings in my dream until I realize that it’s my alarm. We performed last night and it took me a good while to calm down afterwards. I go back to sleep.

10.45 I roll out of bed into my yoga clothes and prepare my quinoa-porridge for breakfast, then do  some yoga. My wonderful temporary home in Vaasa has high ceilings and tall windows, and is very quiet – honouring my needs for rest and recovery. Breakfast turns into brunch. When you’re in a busy performance period, it’s like living in a state of prolonged jetlag. I read a chapter in my, more or less compulsory, breakfast-time book on self development, hoping that I will grow wise with time.

12.15 My best friend calls me on Skype. We talk for a few minutes but the call is interrupted –  it’s all too rare that we actually have time to talk. We are both freelance artists, though of different kind. I stay online for a while, scrolling through a newspaper, Twitter and Facebook, replying to emails and chat about culture sponsoring and the financial cuts at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen. I send some emails to friends about auditions that I’ve heard about. I try to help others as much as possible, hoping that they’ll help me back, which they mostly do. I have a very nice and helpful network which I nourish as best I can. Internet is truly the salvation when one is out working. It’s the link not only to friends and family but also to the rest of the society.

14.00 I take a shower and once again sit down by the computer; there are translations and research to be done. Being a young freelance singer, without an agent, I’m alone with my work. What shall I do and, more important, what shall I not do? What is the best step to be taken at this very moment in my career? Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to always work forward with mostly very little practical support, other days I feel carried by art and life.

16.30 I’m late and instead of my planned cooking I heat some left-overs while reading a few email replies. One from an environmental network for artists and an agency claiming to be coming to our last performance. Good, that’s much better than any audition! I eat and start to warm up the voice. I try to forget all the question marks and focus on good things; on the physical feeling of singing and the luxury of making music. I make a mental note that I need to look for a suitable cut in a Donizetti-aria.

17.40 It’s snowing big calm snowflakes. For a moment I wish that I didn’t have to go straight to the theatre, that I had allowed more time. I find myself smiling while the snow calmly dance around me. Nature is the birthplace of art. At the Vaasa Kaupunginteatteri the stage door closes at 16:00. Funny that after month and a half, I still forget that I need to take the main entrance in the evenings. Have to walk around the house…

17.45 I look pale in the make up-mirrors but trust that in a few minutes I’ll be beautiful. I feel the slight worry from earlier leaving me as the colours are added to my face. Tonight, there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, there is only the present. The make up artist complains that I’ve cut my hair, it’s harder for her to fasten the shawl that I wear around my head on stage. But I have a private life too, and my hair is never long enough anyhow…

18.13 I change in the dressing room and check that all my jewellery for the second act is in order. In the loudspeakers the orchestra is warming up… The other girls drop in one by one. We talk, the atmosphere is relaxed.

18.49 I take my fleece sweater and leave the dressing room on the fourth floor to take my seat behind the set. It’s cold behind the stage and I wear a thin beach-dress leaving my sweater in care of the stage manager while I’m on stage. I take my props and read through my part. I want to make sure that I do what I can to be exact in the recitatives and the ensembles and I want my pronunciation to be as good as possible.

19.00 When the overture starts, Tatjana comes in home-knitted socks. We talk shortly about the dentist. Some smiles and nods when people are passing us on their way to stage. The curtain raises and the duet is about to start when we realize that the camera for the monitors only views our conductor’s belly. We chuckle and start to sing, directed by the moves in his jacket. We are quite far away and can’t follow the orchestra, we would be late. Still laughing we run on to stage into the Larina back yard.

Two steps in on stage one of my sandals break – I leave them where I stand and play the rest barefoot. It’s fun today. The auditorium is almost full and the audience is with us, I even heard a laugh. The orchestra is alert, my colleagues all sing well and the conductor makes wonderful music, all tempi slightly faster than yesterday. Nice.

Even though Olga is a supporting part in the sense that she doesn’t have much to sing and her aria has no dramatic parts (which can make me a bit frustrated when I feel the urge to let the voice bloom), it’s great fun to be her in this production.

19.32 I’m back in the dressing room listening to the letter scene – Hearing and living this beautiful music is one of the things I’m most grateful for. My professional life is truly luxury in that sense. I do something I really love, and I get paid to do it. In most productions I find new friends and laugh a lot.  I change and go to one of the rehearsal rooms to study some new music I’ve promised myself to learn for 30 min. A good thing about singing a smaller part is the time you have to work on other things during work hours.

Did I sing well tonight? Except for some slipperiness in the back of my throat, I felt strong and healthy vocally. How it sounded ”out there” I have no idea — I was busy teasing Tatjana or flirting with Lenskij. Always this slight worry but I try to stay with having fun.

Tatjana asks Filipjevna go deliver her letter to Onegin. I, meanwhile, am making up ornamentations.

20.07 I visit the make up-room for some new lipstick, and go to attend a party at Larina’s… I manage to be late on the exact same phrase as yesterday… Disturbing. After being screamed at by Lenskij I turn in despair to my mother and somehow dive into her rather deep décolletage. I feel Larina covering her face in my shawl and shaking with laughter. Hope no one notices. Laughing looks more or less like violent crying….

20.37 Everyone gathers in a big room beside the main stage where sandwiches are being served. It’s suitable called lataamo – the place where you recharge your batteries. The theatre restaurant is reserved for the audience during performances. Small talk, some more serious talk, tea.

21.22 Onegin and Tatjana meet again. I have another 50 min free to work on some ideas for a scholarship application. It’s a lot of money so I want to give it a serious try, there is a project I really want to do be able to finance.

21.45 I hear the last few bars of Tatjana’s and Onegin’s big duet while again putting on the many necklaces that I’m supposed to wear. The applause comes, they liked us tonight – standing ovations, bravos. We hug and shake hands behind the curtain. I apologize to the conductor for doing the same mistake as yesterday, he laughs and says “It happens”. “See you tomorrow,” I reply but am thinking that it happens too frequently. It’s up to me to secure the quality in what I’m doing. Sometimes it’s hard though to balance between the critical ear and the self-support…

22.10 I exchange a few words with the first French horn player about the stress of having three performances in a row, and the last actually in daytime. After that, I head home.

At home, I scroll Twitter and Facebook. Our conductor has commented on something about Finnish pastry that I tweeted (–one has to try the local things when one is in a new country/town!) and a Swedish politician has replied to something I wrote about gender equality; fascinating – I wonder if I’ll ever get used to it…

22.54 Sipping a cup of tea, I wait for a friend to go online. I want to talk to someone dear before doing my visualisations for tomorrow’s performance and going to bed. Curtain goes up at 14:00 tomorrow — it’s going to be a busy morning.

The production runs at the Vaasan Ooppera until February 11. For more information and tickets, go here.  Mezzo fanatics among us, go here to hear Solgerd’s cheeky Orlofsky aria.

Top portrait by Rickard Söderberg. Middle: Solgerd Isalv as Olga with Helena Juntunen (seated) as Tatjana in Vaasa Opera 2012 production of Evgenij Onegin. Photo by Kaj Storbacka. Bottom: (l-r) Roland Liiv (Lenskij), Solgerd Isalv (Olga) and Ville Rusanen (Onegin). Photo by Kaj Storbacka. 


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