For ordinary people

Baritone Robert Näse thinks opera is still a highly topical form of art.
Mikael Mattila

When I heard classical singing for the first time at close range, I was positively surprised. It is mind blowing: the way the singer uses their voice kindled an interest in me, I wanted to try it for myself! I started singing in a choir, and halfway through my studies at the conservatory, I decided to pursue a professional career in music.

I was accepted to the Sibelius Academy on my third attempt. This was probably for the best, as I doubt I had been mature enough to take on board this level of teaching earlier. All of the music institutes I have studied in have been great, but I felt that the Sibelius Academy had the most to offer for an opera singer. It is the only place in Finland where you can study opera at a university level.

I sang in the Savonlinna Opera Festival Choir for two summers and in the Finnish National Opera Choir for the autumn season a year ago. It was important for me to see, at close distance, how large productions are created. Singing students will find it relatively easy to find a place in these choirs. And it is a nice addition to your income!

Recently I have had no time to continue choir signing. The hours in the opera degree programme are the same as in professional opera houses. We work in the morning and at night with a four-hour break in the afternoon. This makes it difficult to participate in any other projects. My year has only 11 students, so missing a class is not really an option. It is my priority at the moment to concentrate on my studies. Now is the time to take singing lessons and learn the basic skills that are needed on the stage.

I participated in two singing competitions last year for the first time in my life. In Lappeenranta I did not make past the first rounds, but in Kangasniemi I got to perform my full repertoire. However, the prizes went to the female singers this time. How singers are divided depends on the competition: in Kangasniemi, men and women sing in the same category while in Lappeenranta they have their own categories.

Success in competitions naturally gives you added publicity. The competitions are attended by many influential people who may be able to offer you work in the future. However, you cannot build your career around competition success alone. Most of all it takes hard work.

“You have to keep an open mind in terms of where and what type of music you sing.”

Typically opera singers are offered 1–3-year contracts in opera houses. Some also choose separate gigs: one role in Finland, another in Germany. Previously a singer might remain attached to one opera house until retirement, but nowadays that is rare.

Personally, I’d prefer a trainee contract in an opera house for a couple of years. As a signer, it pays to be versatile. You have to keep an open mind in terms of where and what type of music you are prepared to perform. I am happy to accept all opportunities that allow me to make good use of my talent. Apart from the odd summer jobs of my youth, I’ve only ever worked as a singer.

Opera is a living art form. New operas are composed all the time and older works are given new, modern interpretations. One such project is the Così Fan Tutte I’m working on at the moment. It discusses the universal question, do people prefer to love or to be in love?

When rehearsing The Magic Flute in Metropolia conservatory, one of the director’s goals was to make it interesting for a young audience. However, it is difficult to define what sort of audience opera is aimed for. Recently the trend has been to try and attract a clearly wider audience than before. For example, the Finnish National Opera organised a Carmen flash mob at Kamppi shopping centre. I also find it important that singers visit schools to introduce their art. This is how I first came in touch with opera. We should bear in mind that opera is made by ordinary people to be enjoyed by ordinary people!

The interview was made by Mikael Mattila, a student of musicology at the University of Tampere and a freelance editor and musician and an active contributor to the music website Nuorgam.

Robert Näse

  • 29-year-old baritone. Born in Turku, but grew up in Kronoby in Ostrobothnia. Lives in Helsinki.
  • Began his voice studies at the Sibelius Academy in 2011 and took his Bachelor’s degree in 2013. Currently studies in the 2.5-year Master’s programme in opera.
  • He also earned a qualification in 2009 from the Turku Conservatory, majoring in classical singing. He studied musicology in Åbo Akademi University and classical music education at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences.
  • He sang in the Savonlinna Opera Festival Choir in 2011–2012 and in the Finnish National Opera Choir in autumn 2012.
  • He has performed in several productions, including Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas at the Turku Conservatory, Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Metropolia and Les Indes Galantes by Rameau at the Sibelius Academy.
  • He participated in the Lappeenranta and Kangasniemi competitions last year.
  • He is currently working on the Sibelius Academy Così Fan Tutte production (Mozart).