Sara Elisabeth Holmertz

The Otherness of Self

Photo: Wolfgang Lehmann

The Otherness of the Self 


-  How to curate a Seventeenth-century Opera and sing all the Roles yourself. A manual.


This is the text, and material, that will communicate the reflections I’ve made during my artistic development work, the research project: How to sing and perform all the roles in Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo.



The questions I started with:

Is it possible to perform an opera and sing all the roles yourself? Is it even possible that we'll come closer to the core in the music and the narrative if everything is anchored in one single person?


Am I two (or three, or fifty) different singers/musicians/roles depending on what genre or style I'm performing? What divides them? What ties them together? What factors determine how the voice will work, or not? Can I use the interpretation of opera characters to better understand these roles?


What can I use from my knowledge of early music in my practice as a performer of contemporary music, and, maybe, vice versa?



How can the idea of the Acting Singer help me find my voice/s? Can extended vocal techniques be used in music from the 17th century? How different is really my voice when I perform different styles and roles? What happens in my mind those seconds when I go from one character to the other, from one language to the other, from the Otherness of myself to the other…mess…?


This is a wide artistic research project, and I believe it could have been divided into several different projects, but my goal has been to collect several parts of my practice into one: L’Orfeo. L’Orfeo, the music by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) and the libretto by Alessandro Striggio (1573-1630), is the core, the stem, and the starting point.

And, by performing all the roles in " L'Orfeo favola in musica” and investigating 17th-century opera with an actor-singer view, while looking at innovative ideas about role doubling - I hope to distill new understanding of what a classically trained singer can be today, but also what she might have been at the beginning of the 17th-century.



The ”manual” is divided into chapters, each with a  different perspective on how I’ve worked and searched for L’Orfeo; The text, the music, the Mise en scene, etc… The same things will be discussed more than once, but from different perspectives and with different methods. See the chapters as trees in a forest. They are themselves but together they form something else. Also, they, the trees, are also connected by their root system - a complex, entangled mess you easily can stumble over… New research shows that trees communicate with each other through this system FN, as do the chapters in this manual. 


  1. Why: - What? Why? How? What is in it for you? What is at stake? The background and context of the project. Methods and theories.
  2. Words Words Words: - What are they about? What’s inside them? Behind them? Beyond them? How I’ve worked with the libretto by Alessandro Striggo. 
  3. The Music: - The Music in L’Orfeo. How I found it (and continue to keep finding) 
  4. Becoming the actor-singer?: - What is an actor-singer? Who was she in the 17th-century, and who is she today?
  5. The Characters: - The Characters and You. Others in Yourself, the Self in the Otherness, the Otherness of The Self.
  6. Touching the Otherness of Euridice and Proserpina: - A feminist perspective on the Innamorate + the making of The Tree With a Name (short film in cooperation with Wolfgang Lehmann) 
  7. Leaving it: - Going away from the original source to see it more clearly. How to use contemporary music in Monteverdi.
  8. Mise en scene: - Finding ways to stage L’Orfeo as a Singer, Actor-singer, Musician and Il Corago, and ending up reconnecting to the source of the late renaissance/early baroque opera
  9. Doing it
  10. Concluding?


And it's not a ”manual” in a strict sense, It's more of a diary, scrabble book or a doomsday book. It is as puzzle-headed, and sometimes quite messy, as I am, because, writing in ”my own language” has been as essential as singing with my own voice (voices).

As I will come back to in this reflection, authenticity is of the greatest importance for me as an artist, as a human, and as an artistic researcher. To suddenly become an academic writer wasn’t desirable for me. My hope is that you will hear me in this text, just like I wish you to hear me when I sing and perform. 

In the opera, I switch between different roles, as a singer/musician between different genres - in the reflection I use different stylistic languages. Parts of the reflection are in a conversation/interview format where two sides of me (Elisabeth and Sara. Both names are mine, but feels like, and symbolize, two sides of my personality) discuss the project and myself. 


"…I hope this one may perhaps be of use somewhere, to someone else wrestling with his own problems in relation to another time and place. But if anyone should try to use it as a handbook, then I can definitely warn him: there are no formulae, there are no methods."

Peter BrookFN



Keywords: musical double roles, singer, double roles, actor-singer, HIP, baroque opera, Monteverdi, L'Orfeo, contact, the otherness of the self, Anna Renzi