Who says opera and dance don’t mix? Not Opera Skaala, one of the big favourites to win Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu (UMK) 2015, Finland’s selection for Eurovision. They earned an impressive average score of 8.2 with our notoriously hard-to-please Wiwi Jury. We sat down with Opera Skaala’s front lady Essi Luttinen and talked about her amazing voice, their unusual song and how she knows Eurovision 2013 star Cezar.
Hi Opera Skaala. Thanks for the interview. Could you first introduce yourselves?
Hey! We are Opera Skaala, a professional company focused on contemporary opera. Founded in 1996 in Helsinki, Opera Skaala has reached a recognized and unique position as a performer of modern opera. In Opera Skaala, it’s the love of opera and searching for new perspectives to it that unites the professionals from various fields. The performer of our song “Heart of Light”, mezzosoprano Essi Luttinen is a long-time member and she was named as Opera Skaala’s artistic producer last spring.
Your musical style is something new for all of us. What made you want to mix opera and dance music and what kind of reaction do you usually get?
This synthesis was born last spring during our premiere production “La Furia delle Costellazioni“. The idea of combining baroque arias and EDM lead to a combo where richness of melodies, virtuosity, and usage of rhythms suited with EDM’s ecstasy and rhythmic minimalism. We thought this combination was brilliant. We couldn’t find anything similar, even though there has been lots of different kinds of crossovers in the music industry before this. The reactions have been polar – you love it or hate it, but at least it seems like it doesn’t leave you cold.
We are loving your song “Heart Of Light”. What is it about?
The song is about the general frustration at opera and classical music’s old-fashioned traditions and unwillingness to modernize. In the song opera breaks from its cage, clears away the dust and is born again, earning its place back in the spotlight and in the hearts of a large audience.
What’s the idea behind the video clip for the song?
The director Taku Kaskela’s vision for the video is mainly focused on the visual and aesthetic perceptions and modern dance improvisation. In the main role are different kinds of looks and costumes, where elements from different decades and time periods combine, just like in the song.
We also adore your voice. What is your background?
I graduated from Sibelius Academy’s opera training in 2005. Before that I also studied in London’s Royal College of Music. After graduation I worked as a freelancer and in different kind opera and concert productions in Finland and abroad. My repertoire is wide and includes everything from baroque music to modern music. I always search for something new and I’m interested in alternative ways to perform traditional vocal music.
Why did you want to take part in UMK this year?
The thought of taking part in UMK came about after the production, which I already mentioned. We had come up with new music concept, which broke borders and music style, which we believed might interest a larger audience. This really was new music. We also believed that this kind of music style, combined with dramatic, strong staging would fit in with Eurovision very well.
There has been overwhelmingly positive feedback about your song, and it is ranked among the favourites to win. Are you surprised by this and do you think you have a strong chance to win?
Of course, we are also surprised by the feedback, as you can never predict the reactions of the audience. The song is certainly not an easy one to take in on the first listen and the vocals may seem unfamiliar for those who haven’t listened to opera before. We are not mainstream, which usually leads to dividing opinions. I believe in our victory. It will be in our favour if with our live performance we can convince Finnish televoters to send this professional and different song to Eurovision. I also believe that there won’t be anything like our stage performance in UMK, so that’s our trump card.
Have you followed the contest in past years? Any favourite songs?
Of course I have followed the competition, although I can’t say I’m a Eurovision fanatic. From recent years, my favourite song would be Loreen’s “Euphoria”. The song is fantastic and her performance is different and artistic.
We have had some opera singers in Eurovision recently, including Malena Ernman with “La Voix” and Cezar with “It’s My Life“. Have you heard these songs and do you think you could do better in Eurovision than they did?
I have heard these performances and I actually know Cezar personally. We were in the same classical music singing competition in 2004 in Dresden – both in the final. Cezar won the whole contest. I think that the main difference in their entries compared to ours is that their songs are more pop-songs, where just the singing style is classical. In our song the crossover is different. In “Heart of Light”, the melody follow the rules of baroque aria’s style, and only the backing is EDM. Neither of these genres make compromises in their own style.
Thank you for this interview! Finally, do you have a message for all the wiwibloggs readers around the world?
Of course I want to thank everyone in of all the support so far. We come from outside of the commercial music scene, so we have lots of people to convince. But I’m really happy with all the interest our song has had around the world. I hope viewers have the courage to vote for us in UMK as well as open minds and ears for those who are still hesitant. Love and passion equally to all music lovers all over the world!
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Photo: Anton Sucksdorff