The Passion’s Trap

Having passion for our job, for our studies and so on is a blessing that is not given to everyone. I’m one of those lucky ones, and I believe it would be hardly possible to be a performing artist without having passion for what I do. Passion played a key role in my studies and career, from the first piano lessons at age 12, until present time.

Sometimes, etymology helps us to understand the many facets of a word. “Passion” comes from the Latin verb “patior”, which means “to tolerate, to resist, to suffer, to feel pain”. Patior is a deponent verb, i.e., a verb with a passive form and an active meaning, a bit like passion is something that we have within ourselves and need to give out in some way. From the past participle of this verb (“passus”) came the word passio (suffering, pain). You basically know the rest of the story, but it is interesting to go back to those meanings of “resistance”, “pain”, “tolerance”, “resilience”, because they are all present in today’s word “passion”. Of course, in different amounts, depending on the language and the cultural context.

This short overview of this powerful word may help us to understand why passion for a profession can indeed become a trap under certain circumstances.

• Blind Pursuit: Sometimes, people become so enamored with the idea of a particular profession that they pursue it without considering other factors such as job market demand, financial stability, or personal aptitude. Yes, unfortunately, being passionate about something doesn’t necessarily mean that we are good at it.

• Accepting Lower Pay: If you’re deeply passionate about your job or industry, you might be more willing to accept lower salaries or benefits than you could potentially earn. While passion can be fulfilling, it’s essential to ensure that you’re fairly compensated for your skills and contributions and not to fall into manipulative traps.

• Burnout: Passion can drive people to work excessively long hours and neglect other aspects of their lives, leading to burnout.

• Limited Growth: Being passionate about a specific profession might limit one’s willingness to explore other opportunities or develop additional skills. This can hinder personal and professional growth, as staying within a narrow focus may prevent individuals from adapting to changing circumstances or finding new avenues for success.

• Lack of Balance: Focusing too much on one’s profession can lead to neglecting other important aspects of life, such as relationships and personal development. This imbalance can ultimately result in dissatisfaction and regret, as individuals may realize too late that they’ve sacrificed too much for their career.

• Identity Attachment: If someone’s passion for their profession becomes their sole source of identity and self-worth, they may struggle with feelings of inadequacy or loss if they encounter setbacks or changes in their career trajectory.

This article might inspire you to find the right balance between the flame of passion and healthy boundaries:

Where are the soloists?

Some years ago someone shared on Facebook a poster of a “Madame Butterfly” production in a famous international venue. Music by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, conducted by, directed by, blablabla.
No singers were mentioned.
I was so bewildered that I reacted to the post. “How can this be possible?” I asked. The author showed me then that – “at least!” – all artists were mentioned in the program given by the theater’s entrance.
“This cannot be a mistake of some unexperienced typesetter” I said to myself, “it’s a too big thing”.
I’m afraid I was right. Nowadays such posters without soloists’ names are more and more frequent, probably on their way to become majority.

I have been a CD and DVD cover designer years ago, so I am aware that it’s not easy to create a nice layout with too many names going around. But back then all main soloists (usually from three to five) had to be mentioned. Big stars even required to have their own name written bigger than the others’. To me all this was normal because I never had a doubt about the fact that the most difficult task in an operatic performance is the one of singers interpreting main roles.
Do you doubt about it?
A conductor can get to the end of the show with the help of a good orchestra. A director can put together a show with the help of a good team. A soloist singing a big role is like a figure skater doing difficult jumps and choreographies, often on the edge, challenging extreme vocal difficulties during every performance. A soloist having a bad day might not get to the end of an aria and cannot be helped much: he/she is alone, “solo” to the very essence of this word.

The audience knows it or, at least, feels it: it’s very often to the soloists that the public gives the most intense reactions. When this does not happen it’s usually the conductor and/or the orchestra and chorus who win the game. In 25 years in this field I have witnessed only once a stage director getting more applauses than any one else in a show. It was well deserved I must say, but this says it all.

There might be many reasons why we got to this point. The era of big operatic stars like Callas or Pavarotti is well behind us and today there are too many singers around for too few jobs. A good singer is aware that he/she must behave because there’s a long queue of competitors waiting for the job just outside the stage door. We might lack stars today, but the average level got higher, to the point that a good soloist might be found in an opera chorus, not to speak of those houses which have their own soloists ensemble. This, in practical terms, means that singers have less power than before.

Today’s world is – in many ways – a visual world, and this certainly played a role in the rise of stage directors, costume designers and scenographers in the hierarchy of an operatic performance. Furthermore, slowly but surely, directors started being appointed as artistic directors or general managers in several opera houses around the world. Which is not bad in itself, of course!, but it may create a concentration of powers and a conflict of interests. Directors’ background is often non-vocal and non-musical, which also may create a short circuit in an art form which has vocality and music as its key aspects.

Is this enough to justify the absence of singers’ names on posters or web pages? The trademark of opera as a genre is the way it’s sung. Time is ripe to take note of it again.

Stefano Olcese

A te l’estremo addio

I still remember the first time I listened to this beautiful aria by Giuseppe Verdi: it was the legendary Bulgarian bass Boris Christoff singing and I was deeply fascinated, on the spot. This piece became, after years of vocal training, one of my favorite audition and concert arias, because I feel a deep connection with the text and the story of this particular opera, ”Simon Boccanegra”, which is settled in Genoa, my birthplace.
So the least I can see is that I’m very happy to share with you this new recording, in which I’m not only the one who is singing but also the one who wrote the arrangement for string quintet and horn :)

I wish to express my deepest gratitude to everyone involved, from Malmö Opera to the curators of the beautiful location where we recorded this video, Svaneholm Castle, in the Skåne region of Sweden.

Anna Grane, violin
Alkım Berk Önoğlu, violin
Dinu Serfezi, viola
John Löfgren, cello
Magdalena Entell, double bass
John Johansson, sound
Martin Paulsson, video

The score of my arrangement is available here! –>


A Swedish Waltz

I am happy to share with you my ”Swedish Waltz” in d minor for piano solo :)

I am grateful that the pianist (and colleague and friend!) Jan Karlsson Korp accepted the invitation to play it and did it so well! It was not an easy task: this piece starts quite easily but then passion erupts and skills are needed. It starts simply, with a melancholic melody (A) and then it switches to a difficult section (B) in which the player will need power – especially on the left hand – and technical skills. The dynamic and mood contrast between A and B should be huge. The main theme then comes back, but very modified and contaminated (A1). One last theme is exposed (C) before the reprise (A) and the conclusion of the music piece. There are many modulations in this waltz but none of them leads to a stable tonaily change.

Score on sale here (at a very little price!):

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:
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:

SoundCloud link:

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 –


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!

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.

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:

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:

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