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Ales Stenar

I have been writing music since age 12, when I started studying piano. Notes just were popping up spontaneously in my mind.
We can all invent things, of any kind. My best skill in this sense is surely inventing new melodies. I never took any formal composition lesson, but I had a very good music teacher at school, Caterina Bertora Milanese, that listened to my own music. She suggested corrections, improvements, but she never imposed me anything: ”What if you add an F-sharp in that chord? Are you sure about that dissonance?” And so on :) Through her and through a massive amount of time devoted to reading and analyzing scores I have learnt the laws of harmony.
I never really dared to take it too seriously, I guess I was just lacking self-confidence. Then opera singing became my passion and my work and for long years I did not write a single note.
Then, a few years ago, during a road trip through Skåne, the Swedish southernmost region, I landed in a quite famous tourists’ destination: Ales Stenar, a sort of viking Stonehenge. It was cloudy, cold and windy, but somehow beautiful. And there, surrounded by those mysterious gray stones, walking on the cliffs above the Baltic Sea, a beautiful melody came to my mind. Just 8 bars. As it should be. I was happy and proud of that melody, on the spot. Once back home I immediately wrote a sketch for piano and a few days later I played it to a dear friend of mine, a very talented Swedish violinist, Anders Hjortvall. He was enthusiastic. “This is a violin melody Stefano! Think about it :) ” he added. And he was damn right! Those 8 bars were the seed of the first movement, Skåne.
Yet, I had the feeling that something was missing, that a continuation was needed. Also, I was not being fair to Ales Stenar, where everything began. So I recently wrote four additional movements and entitled the whole composition Ales Stenar. I called it a suite for violin and chamber orchestra because to me it’s certainly a quite free-flowing music, deeply inspired by Swedish landscapes and nordic atmospheres, but still, all five movements have an inner coherence and a reciprocal connection.
Next year Ales Stenar will be officially performed in front of a public audience. In the meantime a recording made at Malmö Opera in 2020 is now available on major streaming platforms (Spotify, Deezer, AmazonMusic and son on) for all of you who are curious about it and willing to listen: https://share.amuse.io/album/stefano-olcese-ales-stenar-suite-for-violin-and-chamber-orchestra.
You can also find a few YouTube links here on my website.

Anders Hjortvall, solo violin
Kersti Gräntz Dahlkvist, violin 1
Joakim Zetterqvist, violin 2
Allan Jonasson, viola
Ulrika Mårtensson, cello
Magdalena Entell, double bass
Théophile Hartz, oboe
Lydia Holmlund, clarinet
Alexandru Ioan Chirica, bassoon
Jonas Samuelsson, conductor
Joel Bexelius, sound engineer

The beautiful cover picture of Ales Stenar is by the photographer Stefan Petersén.

“L’ultima canzone”

“L’ultima canzone” (The Last Song) is a chamber song composed by Tosti in 1905. It is one of the most famous and performed Italian classical songs, where text and melody wonderfully melt together. I must say I really enjoyed to dive into this ever-green romantic serenade!
Since this piece does not belong to an opera and it is a stand-alone song, many voice types performed it, especially tenors, but also baritones and basses, each one in their own tonality of course.
I recently had the opportunity to sing this song several times in a series of concerts in Sweden and I felt like recording it. I must say I couldn’t help thinking how Ottavio Garaventa, one of my teachers, used to sing this piece so beautifully. Maybe I got inspired by his artistry :)

The fine piano playing is by Elena Jordan.

YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JN45GayFlBE

SoundCloud link: https://soundcloud.com/stefano-olcese/tosti-ultima-canzone-stefano-olcese-bass

English translation:

They told me that tomorrow,
Nina, you will be a bride.
Yet still I sing my serenade to you!
Over there, on the deserted plateau,
There, in the shady valley,
Oh, how often I have sung it to you!

Oh rose leaf,
Oh amaranth flower,
Though you marry,
I shall be always near you!

Tomorrow you’ll be surrounded
By celebration, smiles and flowers,
And you will not spare a thought for your past loves.
Yet always, by day and by night,
Full of passionate moan
My song will sigh to you.

O mint leaf,
O pomegranate flower,
Nina, remember
the kisses I gave you!

Original Italian text:

M’han detto che domani
Nina vi fate sposa,
Ed io vi canto ancor la serenata.
Là nei deserti piani
Là, nella valle ombrosa,
Oh quante volte a voi l’ho ricantata!

Foglia di rosa
O fiore d’amaranto
Se ti fai sposa
Io ti sto sempre accanto.

Domani avrete intorno
Feste sorrisi e fiori
Né penserete ai nostri vecchi amori.
Ma sempre notte e giorno
Piena di passione
Verrà gemendo a voi la mia canzone.

Foglia di menta
O fiore di granato,
Nina, rammenta
I baci che t’ho dato!

– Recorded at Gulan (Malmö, Sweden), in June 2021 –

Study!

The quality and the length of music education are key factors in an artist’s career.

While it is very easy to measure the length of our studies, it’s very tricky to measure the quality of all those years. There are two big variables which play a role: how good our teachers are and how good we are as pupils. It’s not only a question of having a beautiful voice from the start or a stunning talent to, for example, piano playing. It’s also a question of how good and quick we are in learning, in digesting what we are taught and in eventually acknowledging that it’s time to change teacher. Some teachers are good for someone but not for everybody, some others are good but we are not ”ready” for them, some others are just bad.

Now that I have been singing professionally for 15 years, I realize that, in those years, I was often in a hurry “to get there”, “to succeed”, like very many of my colleagues. This drive is certainly important but we should never forget that our musical education period deserves huge respect, also from those who are very gifted: talent can bring us very quickly on stage singing big roles, but if our technique is not solid enough, if our mind is not strong enough to stand the pressure, we risk to “burn” ourselves, as it happens to many.

Once our career starts, time to devote to technique studying drops drastically. It often happens to listen to singers who, even in the peak of their prime, sound tired and in need of a break. But very few take a pause, because of fear of loosing contracts, fear of being ”forgotten” during their time off, and also because of lack of self-awareness.

Well now, guys, we have more time off. Wether we like it or not. It is catastrophic for many of us in economical terms. And it is also emotionally hard to keep the motivation up. But this is also an opportunity to study as maybe we haven’t done for years. So please, if you can, if you can afford it, study! We must be as ready as hungry tigers as soon as the pandemic will be under control.

The YouTube auditions

Recently I have been deeply disappointed by listening to a singer performing in real life because his YouTube clips sounded great. Since I have experienced this feeling 1000 times in my life I now wonder how a singer can be judged only by audio/video recording. Actually I would say that, in general, good opera singers sound even better live while the mediocre ones risk making good impression on a recording. But why so many disappointments? And how come that a beautiful operatic voice with good technique and everything can, sometimes, be penalized by a recording?

Many of my YouTube disappointments came from the fact that the singer lacked, in real life, voice projection. This is the singer’s ability to, through vocal technique procedures that I will try to describe in a future post, make the voice resonate, project it throughout the hall, from the first row to the last lousy seat of the opera house. Let’s keep very clear in mind that one of the founding prerogatives of opera singing is to be sung without microphone, unless one performs shows in large open spaces that are not designed – acoustically speaking – for this type of performance, like football stadiums or city squares for example.

The point is that during a recording, live or in a studio, microphones are there. And with the help of a good sound engineer and audio-editing programs, small miracles can be done. It takes years of experience and fine and sensitive ears to be able to judge a singer by mere audio/video listening. And we might be wrong anyway. Certainly factors such as intonation, stage presence, vocal range are absolutely judicable through YouTube. But the color of the voice and its volume, essential factors in the opera field, can only be understood by listening live, possibly in a theater. The operatic vocal technique is the result of centuries of evolution of singing aimed at performance in a theater. A good singer shouldn’t have a hard time making himself/herself heard without a microphone in a theater with decent acoustics. Those who do not succeed should seriously question themselves.

Luckily I also had several good surprises! For example the two legendary basses Samuel Ramey and René Pape. After listening to Samuel Ramey live, I laughed out loud at the thought of those who consider him a baritone. Ramey’s voice sounds lighter in CD than in real life, that was it. And René Pape live is absolutely exceptional, while on video and on CD he left me perplexed. In both cases recordings did penalize them. The operatic voice is acoustically very complex, a rich blend of different sound frequencies, and it is not uncommon to come across recordings that seem almost not to notice the beauty of a singer’s voice. I think it’s a bit like for those who are photogenic and those who are not: the photo captures some things, not all of them; and some photos are better than others, sometimes regardless of the skill of the photographer and of the beauty of the subject.

Today, in the vast majority of cases, a voice is first of all judged on YouTube or via MP3 file. Having a series of good recordings is an important factor in making a good impression. In short, a business card. And so far I think we can all agree on that. But to all those who rush to YouTube to see if a singer is good I recommend to prefer live recordings (these too can be made up but much less than those made in a studio) and without wireless microphones. Because the lyrical voice is designed to be heard from a distance, not to be recorded with the damn microphone down in your throat. And to casting managers I say that the best way to be sure of the qualities of an opera artist is to listen to him/her live. As it once was.

One could object: yes, okay, but then should we doubt of the recordings of Callas, Pavarotti, Del Monaco, Siepi? I reply that 50 years ago recordings were made with other technical means and if everyone who listened to her live tells me that Callas had an impressive voice, let’s say that I tend to trust them. Although I am aware that I will never know, unfortunately!, how Callas’ voice could really sound in real life.

Directors: make us dream again!

I have no clear ideas about how the operatic world will be once the corona storm will be over or, at least, under control. But one thing is crystal clear in my mind: I want directors – who are today’s great powers in the opera world as orchestra conductors once were and before them singers – make us DREAM. Too many operatic productions in the recent (and less recent…) past have been visually unpleasant and absolutely incoherent with the meaning of the plot. Just the idea of watching a Traviata or a Carmen, in a coronavirus “interpretation” makes me sick. It would be so pointless, so sadly predictable and banal. Make us dream again instead! At least for a while. And if you really want a coronavirus opera well, write one, if you can! Thank you!

 

Beautiful production of “Lakmé” at Malmö Opera House (2017)
Svetlana Moskalenko (Lakmé) and Taras Shtonda (Nilakantha)
Scenography by Anne Marie Legenstein
Lights by Zerlina Hughes
Costume and Makeup design: Gesine Völlm
Director: Nicola Raab

 

A photo shot from the legendary “Semiramide” at Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro (1992) staged and designed by Hugo de Ana. Michele Pertusi (Assur) and Iano Tamar (Semiramide). 

 


Cristina Giannelli in the title role of “Maria Stuarda” in a successful production
of this extraordinary Donizetti’s masterpiece in Manaus (2019).
Director: Davide Garattini Raimondi
Scenopraphy: Giorgia Massetani
Costumes: Fábio Namatame
Lights: Fábio Retti  

 

New recording: Tuba mirum!

Following my 10 performances of a beautifully staged version of Mozart’s Requiem at Malmö Opera House (November/December 2019), here you can listen to a live recording of the famous bass solo “Tuba mirum” from the opening night: https://soundcloud.com/stefano-olcese/mozart-requiem-tuba-mirum

This show has been greeted by extremely good reviews for everybody involved in it. Here I want to warmly thank Charlotte Wiberg for her nice words about me in her review on the Swedish newspaper Expressen: https://www.expressen.se/kultur/scen/visuella-underverk-i-bara-underkladerna/

Soloist in a staged version of Mozart’s Requiem!

Happy and proud to announce that I’m soon going to be soloist in an exciting series of performances, a coproduction between Malmö Opera House and Skånes Dansteater. Mozart’s Requiem is going to be staged and choreographed!
Première on November the 16th!

Sara Swietlicki, soprano (Nov. 16/20/24/26/27/30, Dec. 6/7/14/15)
Ayala Zimber, mezzo (Nov. 16/20/24/26/27/30, Dec. 6/7/14/15)
Timothy Augustin, tenor (Nov. 16/20/24/26/27/30, Dec. 6/7/14/15)
Stefano Olcese, bass (Nov. 16/20/24/26/27/30, Dec. 6/7/14/15)

Laine Quist, soprano (Nov. 21/29)
Katarina Lundborg, mezzo (Nov. 21/29)
Darko Neshovski, tenor (Nov. 21/29)
Per Fernesten, bass (Nov. 21/29)

Malmö Opera Chorus
Malmö Opera Orchestra
Olof Boman, conductor

Skånes Dansteater
Örjan Andersson, choreographer
Rolf Hepp and Niels Simonsen, guest dancers
Bente Lykke Møller, set and costume designer
Ulrik Gad, light designer

https://www.malmoopera.se/mozarts-requiem

 

“La Morte di un Eroe”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agZ6zsj33iw

A dive into the past! I was 20 years old when I wrote this romantic piano piece. When my piano teacher listened to it she exclaimed: “Oh wow, it really sounds like the death of a hero!”. So that’s how the title was found :)

I have slightly modified this “song without words” before the recording (a few details in the piano accompaniment in the middle section and the finale). There is a bit of Beethoven, of Chopin, of Paganini in this ”Death of a Hero” but there is also a lot of myself and I consider this work, in many ways, as my ”Opus One”, the first composition I was proud indeed to have written.

A special thank you to Elisabeth Boström for playing it so beautifully!! It is a pleasure and a great emotion to hear my music played so well!!

Score on sale here: https://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/la-morte-di-un-eroe-death-of-a-hero-digital-sheet-music/21319188

 

Quasi una Mazurka

Here is the YouTube link to my composition “Quasi una Mazurka” for violin and piano:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M23srl-k4eY

I originally written this piece in F minor and for piano solo in 2013. Even though I have always loved its melody, I felt something was missing. Then I met and got friend with Anders Hjortvall (a very talented Swedish violinist who has also been the soloist in my previous recording, “Skåne”) and I arranged and slightly modified the music for violin and piano. Now I clearly feel that this music was always meant to be a violin melody :)

You can find the score for sale here:

http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/quasi-una-mazurka-digital-sheet-music/20525954

Enjoy!

Pelléas et Mélisande on Swedish TV!

Leo Nucci says that there are not small roles, but indeed there are small artists. There’s a lot of truth in this statement I think. The role of the Doctor in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande is far to be a dream role for a bass (he appears only in the fifth and last act of the opera and sings short sentences here and there) but the whole scene has been so well conceived by Debussy and so well directed by Benjamin Lazar that the Doctor becomes a key presence on stage during Mélisande’s farewell to life.

If you want to watch this marvellous production please click here! https://www.svtplay.se/video/14933532/kulturstudion/kulturstudion-pelleas-och-melisande