The Otherness of the self – a voce sola, in dialogo

Elisabeth Holmertz, Norges musikkhøgskole

In this research project I look into the musical and artistic roles I’ve taken on as a performer; what the roles are and what they do with me as a singer and performer; what I have to do with my body and my voice to be able to perform them and where I look to find them. I will examine the mind of my early music soprano self in contrast to the mind of me as the contemporary vocalist. And then when I become an acting singer? What about that role? What kind of difference does that make to me as a musician? What about the roles in an opera? What if I take on all the roles in an opera? What happens to me when a composer writes an entire opera to me (and how does that affect him/her?)? How many roles can I take on and still be myself?

The aim of my research is to create a performance of L’Orfeo (1607, Claudio Monteverdi) where I sing all roles myself. In addition Henrik Hellstenius and I will work on a one woman opera. These two operas are both my goal and my method. I will use them in multiple ways to see what and how I change my musical personality when I switch between the roles, the characters and musical genres, or when I mix them.

My idea for the project came from the early baroque opera, an artform that partly emerged from the commedia dell’art-tradition – theatre based on improvisation and strong characters.
We know that roles were doubled for practical reasons but new research has shown that it possibly was done for artistic reasons as well; as a dramatic/dramaturgical effect and as a showcase for especially gifted ”acting singers”. One of these singers was Anna Renzi. Renzi was famed and praised for her vocal flexibility and for her ability to change from one emotion or character to the other in the course of seconds. The new research has found that she probably sang two roles in the opera L’Incoronazione di Poppea by Monteverdi (Octavia and Drusilla), which are now performed by two very different singers. This theory adds a bright new and very exciting angle to a field that has been somewhat locked by large institutions and strong leaders.

I’m doing my artistic research together with Anna Renzi. I’m singing together with her and I have many conversations with her. Having performed the two roles in Poppea myself I have seen the opera through her eyes and voice and it changed my view on opera and what a singer was and can be. What kind of singer would Renzi be if she lived today? Would she be like me? One who constantly jumps between styles and genres? I like playing with that thought, even if I put myself on a rickety pedestal by doing that.