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OPERA

Swedish opera singers make ‘house calls’ for the soul

Singers from a Stockholm opera house are using the power of their voices during private "house calls" designed to help lift people's spirits, the AFP's Igor Gedilaghine discovers.

Swedish opera singers make 'house calls' for the soul

Are you lonely? Do you miss a loved one? Is your marriage on the rocks? Just place a call to a Stockholm opera and a singer will make a house call with an aria specially chosen to fit your state of mind.

“I’ve had the experience of singing for a couple who had lost touch with each other a bit,” said soprano Henriikka Gröndahl.

When she arrived at their home, it seemed the couple had drifted so far apart they would never find their way back to each other.

“They were arguing a lot, they were working in different parts of the country, sometimes communicating by notes only…” Gröndahl said.

“Two bars into my aria, she was crying and holding on to her husband, and he was very moved as well.”

The piece chosen for the couple, “Donde lieta usci” from Puccini’s “La Boheme”, is about separation. But the singer told them, “It’s not about you saying adieu to each other, but maybe you want to leave the past behind without regrets?”

The visit was part of a novel “happening” organized by the Stockholm Folkoperan, an avant garde stage intent on challenging traditional interpretations like those shown at the city’s royal opera house, Kungliga Operan.

Called “Opera Aid”, the idea was devised by British artist Joshua Sofaer, who insists it “is not music therapy.”

“We are not offering therapy of any kind. We are simply offering opera,” he said. But he acknowledged that he believes “passionately in the power of art to change lives and to offer people the opportunity to see things differently, or to be given permission to behave in a new way.”

“Opera Aid” was part of a larger Folkoperan project called Opera Showroom, which it hopes will become an annual happening. Run by artistic director Mellika Melouani Melani, it aims to bring opera, widely considered elitist, out of the confines of the traditional concert hall.

The event filled the Folkoperan with alternative and free performances for two days in late March, though the “Opera Aid” visits were spread over two weeks.

Given their private nature, Folkoperan refused to allow journalists to tag along and observe any of the 30 or so half-hour performances, which were free of charge.

Four singers, two sopranos, one mezzo and a baritone, took part, working with Sofaer to choose the arias proposed to people in need. They limited themselves to classic 18th and 19th century works.

“Those classics of Italian and German opera are the ones that I suppose most people immediately have an emotional response to,” he said.

“They cut through you somehow and get straight to your emotional core.”

More than the music, the singers had to prepare for the psychological side of the visit: how to act, listen, ask certain questions and avoid others.

“We give them the possibility to verbalize their feelings and once you’ve done that you open up a room to their innermost feelings,” Gröndahl said.

“I think the contrast for them is so big. First, we’re just an ordinary person talking with an ordinary voice and then you get … a singer who invades your room and your heart because you’ve already opened up,” she added.

“The sound changes the room,” according to Sofaer who insists the effect is long-lasting.

“There is a kind of ‘haunting’… The sound somehow lingers. If you go out of the room and return, you remember the sound of the singer in that space. The space has changed,” he said.

Gröndahl said she modulates her powerful voice during house calls to fit the private setting and direct it exclusively at the listener.

“From my experience, the impact of the voice, the music, the story is huge on the person who listens,” she said.

“It’s a personal gift… It’s the ultimate contact with the audience.”

While it may sound like an opera fan’s dream-come-true, loving music is not enough to get a specially tailored aria delivered to your home.

Anyone interested must formally apply and explain the problem they hope the music will help fix, said Folkoperan’s director Pia Kronqvist.

If you don’t have a problem, you don’t get a house call, she said.

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MUSIC

What are the best concerts in Sweden this autumn?

Now that Sweden has lifted its audience restrictions for public events, The Local's Paul O'Mahony lists his recommendations for the best gigs to attend over the coming months.

Crowd at a music concert in Debaser, Stockholm
Crowds return to Stockholm venue Debaser after pandemic restrictions on events were lifted. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Sweden’s musicians, concert promoters and venue operators have struggled to varying degrees through the pandemic. One surefire way to help get them back on their feet is to give organisers and artists the financial reassurance they need by pre-booking concerts. 

Of course these recommendations only apply if you feel safe attending large events; remember that you should stay home and take a Covid-19 test if you experience any symptoms that could be linked to the virus, even if vaccinated. And make sure to check with organisers if there are any specific coronavirus requirements you need to be aware of. 

Coming up: top gigs in Sweden over the next few months 

As a regular gig-goer, live music is the one thing I’ve missed most over the past year and a half. So it is with some excitement (and, I’ll admit, a degree of trepidation) that I prepare to go see Norwegian band Pom Poko this Friday at Hus 7 in Stockholm. Their melodic art-punk album Cheater sparked the year into life on its release in January. They’re also playing Plan B in Malmö on Saturday night

Plan B is also the venue when Squid hit Sweden with a thrilling dose of post-punk on October 15th. Tickets remain available for the show at the time of writing (an absolute steal at 120 kronor), though that’s sadly not the case in Stockholm where their October 16th gig at Melodybox sold out a long time ago. (Although you can sign up to be added to a waiting list). 

Another artist well worth checking out in October is Gothenburg guitarist and singer Amanda Werne, better known as Slowgold. Her live shows are great and she is embarking on a Swedish tour on October 8th. 

Emma-Jean Thackray, one of the UK’s most interesting jazz artists, will be at Fasching in Stockholm on October 15th

For the best kind of sonic assault, Anna von Hasswolff’s band Bada are scheduled to play in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg in late October. 

Have any of you ever seen Gothenburg electronic veterans Little Dragon live? I haven’t but might check them out in November when they swing by Malmö, Stockholm and Gothenburg

Amason are also heading out on the road for a Scandinavian tour in November. If you haven’t heard Amanda Bergman’s voice in a live setting before this will be a treat. 

The inimitable Sibille Attar released her superb second album A History of Silence at the start of the year and she’s finally getting the chance to play her eighties-inspired gems live at Slaktkyrkan in Stockholm on November 18th

Cassandra Jenkins long lurked in the background as a musician in touring bands for people like Eleanor Friedberger and Purple Mountains. But this year’s album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature has really established her as an artist to be reckoned with in her own right. She’s coming to Södra Teatern in Stockholm on November 26th

Always popular in this part of the world, The Jesus and Mary Chain return to Sweden for dates in Stockholm and Gothenburg at the end of November

Wry Finland-Swedish indie outfit Vasas Flora och Fauna have some of the funniest (Swedish) lyrics and catchiest tunes around. They’ll be in Stockholm and Gothenburg the first weekend of December

UK experimental rockers Black Midi are also playing Stockholm and Gothenburg on December 4th and 5th. So prepare to travel if you want to catch both them and Vasas Flora and Fauna. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Bob Hund’s annual ‘week 48’ show also takes place on December 4th. But that has been sold out for ages so no decisions to make there. It is also worth noting though that Sweden’s hardest working band has also written a musical that’s going to be performed in Helsingborg (October-November) and Gothenburg (November)

Bonus: For a post-Christmas pick-me-up try to get down to Little Simz at Slaktkyrkan on January 14th if you’re in Stockholm. The UK rapper’s new album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of this year’s best releases. 

Selected artists playing Sweden in 2022: Henry Rollins, Sarah Klang, Yann Tiersen, Mogwai, Pearl Charles, Wolf Alice, Lloyd Cole, Lord Huron, Future Islands, Josh Rouse + Vetiver, Tricky, Snail Mail, Porridge Radio, Aldous Harding, Shame, The Kooks, The War on Drugs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kings of Convenience, Fontaines D.C., Alex Cameron, Lucy Dacus, The Divine Comedy, Mdou Moctar, Iggy Pop, Chubby and the Gang, Sparks, Belle & Sebastian, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Teenage Fanclub, Tindersticks, Suede, Viagra Boys, Pavement. 

For bigger arena shows, Ticketmaster covers a lot of the bases. Big-name acts with gigs in the offing include Ed Sheeran, Zara Larsson, Whitesnake and, lest we forget, ABBA

And that’s just a fraction of what’s going on. Tour schedules are busier than ever now that artists are finally getting back on the road. To keep track of what gigs are coming up I can recommend checking in with Luger, FKP Scorpio, and Live Nation. Follow your favourite venues too: sometimes they cut out the middleman and do their own booking and promotion. I also use the Bandsintown app, which comes with the added bonus of receiving messages from your favourite artists which let you pretend to be their friend. 

Enjoy the gigs, and stay safe! 

Paul O’Mahony is editorial product manager at The Local. In his spare time he plays the best new indie and alternative music as host of the Signals show on Nerve Music.

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