Sara Elisabeth Holmertz

The Otherness of Self

In the first chapter I went wrote about my first encounter with her and about the research from Magnus Tessing Schneider. That, alone, was the catalyst for this project. Ever since I ”working with” her that time - doing that extreme role doubling - I have wanted to meet her again.

Since that crucially important Poppea-production in Copenhagen, I’ve encountered several singers with a special interest in Anna Renzi, just like me. She seems to be someone we almost want to be. In a fantasy experiment, I went down to the Underworld (inspired by Orfeo) and met what is left of her. Not to get her back (I don’t have those magical powers), but to speak to her. This conversation is strictly fictional and based on my imagination, but so is sometimes the performance of early music.FN

She was:

Everything and nothing at the same time.

A Diva. 

A divine singer

A divinely gifted actress

A woman who could be a man.

A creature who seemed to have endless expressions

and voices  that could change completely from one second to the other.  

She ”offers a standard of measurement”, Ellen Rosand says, ”with her dramatic presence her way of make words into music and her strong acting abilities. The operas written in the 17th- century wouldn’t have been what the are, without an actor-singer like her / Her younger contemporaries and successors benefitted from her achievement and stature, though they did not share her background and training. Whereas she had put herself at the center of the drama, they were more self-centered, exigent and ornamental. Their arias resembled the scenic distraction that the author of Il corago had recommended as compensation for poor or unconvincing actors”.FN

Of course, Rosand doesn’t know this  (no one can know), but it definitely helps me paint a picture of Anna Renzi as an artist - an actor-singer - who put music and drama before herself, like I aspire to.

Who is the actor-singer today? The Cabaret singer? Someone like Ute Lemper or Tora Augestad? Or, as my imaginary Signora Anna Renzi romana proposed, the Musical Theatre singer? Tommy Körberg? Judy Garland? The cast on Zoey’s Extraordinary playlist?FN The opera singer Malena Ernman? Cecilia Bartoli? Loa Falkman in Susanne Osten’s Bröderna Mozart?

What about performers in today’s Early Baroque Opera stage (this is, after all, a project based on a baroque opera)? Like Dominique Visse! Like Trudeliese Schmidt! Especially her Octavia in L’incoronazione di Poppea.FN Ah, yes, Poppea! In the production where I performed Octavia-Drusilla in 2011, the Danish musical artist Xenia Lach-Nielsen excelled in the title role. Her background in pop and musical theatre gave her a dictional directness and vocal presence with which she sang herself far beyond the written score, right to the very core of the Favola in Musica. I would say, that not only my Octavia+Drusilla inspired me to do this project, but very much her Poppea. 


Opera singers today are formed by the Bel-Canto ideal - an ideal that wasn’t established at the time Monteverdi wrote his operas. 

Someone like Anna Renzi was a master performer of La Seconda Prattica’s Recitar Cantando, a style which was a reaction to the extravagant and lavishly ornamented singing of the late 16th century, where words progressively retreated into coloratura, melisma and technical virtuosity. Renzi’s strengths seem to have been through text and gestaltnung, which inspired her contemporary composers to write operas with room for the actor within the singer (there are many recitatives in the operas from the beginning of the 17th century…). By the second half on the 17th-century, singers in the operas (driven on by the castrato singers) again wanted to shine more, and the Beautiful Singing - the Bel Canto - took over. Now, sound, virtuosity, technical brilliance, and ’Musica’ was more desirable to audience and singers, than the ‘Favola’. So what happened? ”We can see that the singer's position in the opera hierarchy changes drastically over the century. From being part of a group of musicians, the singers became the opera sky's real stars. The road was now open to an increasing equilibrist singing aesthetic. The text had to give way to timbre, coloratura (which of course means coloring!) and vocal excesses”.FN

Or, was it simply, as Nikolaus Harnoncourt says, that many ones the singers were too bad? ”…the fact that bel canto was invented during the last 10 years of Monteverdi’s life in reaction to the dramatic speaking song, as if there were a general desire to restore genuinely melodic singing to it’s proper place. The elucidation of the pure textual truth was probably sometimes so exaggerated by the singers that they ended up singing incorrectly, and in reaction the pendulum swung in the opposite direction”.FN


(S. Is it HIP to sing ”incorrectly”?

E. Well…that is of course something scholars and performers have discussed for decades… Should we do what the composer wanted? and is that the same as how it really would have sounded? And what if that sounds horrible to our own ears? I don’t know.

But what I do know, is that I want to challenge myself to go as far as I can in my search for ”the pure textual truth” even if the outcome sometimes is ”incorrect” in terms of singing in this project.) 


Naturally, actor-singers weren’t a dying breed, just because something new had become the latest fashion. There have always been singers with a desire to communicate primarily through text, even if it is at the cost of producing a beautiful sound.


What about me? Who do I think I am?

I would love to wholeheartedly shout out ”Yes, I am an actor-singer! I am as brilliant when I speak as when I sing!” But, sadly, I struggle with the knowledge that my formal education is as a Singer, not as an Actor. Knowing how long time it takes to learn a skill, I wouldn’t presume to declare myself a ‘good speaking actor’. The knowledge and acting skills I possess have been learned on stage in several productions and countless drama lessons over many years, however nothing formal (nothing with a stamp on it). 

Having assigned myself the part of Actor-Singer in this project has equipped me with ownership of my art that I will always have with me forever and ever. (In chapter 6, I will reflect further on two other actor-singer projects: ”Beyoncé and Beyond" by Rebecka Ahvenniemi, and ”Emil”+”Die Alte”, by Carola Bauckholt.)


Who is not an actor-singer? This is the question that reveals the complexity of the concept. It shows how much it has to do with my own ideas and preconceptions. I don’t perceive them as actor-singers, but they are...AMAZING: Birgit Nilsson, Céline Dion, Susanna Wallumrød, Sidsel Endresen, Barbara Schlick, Sofia Jernberg, et al.


Chapter 4

-Becoming the Actor Singer

Opera- Favola/Dramma in Musica- in the beginning of the 17th-century was, as Wilbourne writes, ”deeply influenced by the tradition of Commedia dell’arte”FN 

She is referring to the classic paper, ”Commedia dell’arte and opera”, by Italian Musicologist Nino Pirotta. He wrote: ”I would prefer that what I am going to say about the two most typical forms of the Italian theatre - commedia dell’arte and opera - should not take the form of a parallel…. If I may be permitted to make a comparison, I would chose, even though it is old and much abused, that of two branches not quite opposite and divergent, but near each other in their origin, then sometimes separated, sometimes brought nearer by the imponderable factors of air, of light, of the juices running through them and nourishing them. Of the two branches the commedia dell’arte is the older.”FN


I like this tree. I like climbing it and sitting in its green leaves. In the 17th-century the tree was already strong and verdant, and by now it has grown even more and  the annual rings have increased by hundreds.


If we need more arguments concerning Commedia dell’arte’s influence on early opera Ellen Rosand offers the following, about the opera La finta pazza (”The feigned madwoman”) by Francesco Sacrati, and ”the extraordinary success” that followed: ”…publicity alone cannot account for its popularity. There was something inherent in the work self, like the scenario of a commedia dell’arte, a basic structure that lent itself to improvisation and accommodation, that made the opera portable”.FN


Other recent, and ongoing, research projects that look for connections between early opera and Commedia dell’arte are e.g. ”La Tragedia di Claudio M”, run by Johannes Boer, and Daniel Stighäll’s ongoing artistic research project at Luleå university of Technology. ”THE CREATIVE PROCESSES OF A CONTEMPORARY CORAGO – Translating 16th century musical dramatic Ideas into a contemporary madrigal-comedy” (a titel that might change during the course process)

Anna Renzi 

The modernist, baroque actor-singer methods: 

  • Using vocal technique for other purposes than only singing.
  • …forgetting you are a singer and just sing.
  • Text! Text! Text! 
  • Finding music in the syllables.
  • What is the melody of the consonants? Sing them! 
  • Remember! Being in the body! Who’s body? My body!
  • Story! Story! Story!
  • Who's history are you singing? Sing that.
  • Finding space for the voice in the room, in the character, in the music.
  • Use the movements of the arms, legs and feet to explore the voice.
  • The Voice lives in you! It is not you! Don't take it so personally!
  • Letting go of refined technique (or using it differently!).
  • Daring to be ugly.
  • Daring to be truly sensual.
  • Exaggerating and making caricatures of the characters - making them different from me and from themselves.
  • Giving yourself permission to just make sounds.

Dialogue with Hanne



E. Can you see any line between Artaud / Grotowski and Commedia dell’Arte? I know it’s farfetched...


H. Artaud and Grotowski do not suggest a parallel. Grotowski created a physical vocabulary for the actor. Artaud was inspired by Asian theater, stylization, fixed bodily hieroglyphs, a physical sign language that can be seen in Commedia Dell’arte, with fixed expressions for the various characters. But in the Commedia Dell’arte, a realistic situation is expressed with popularly recognizable types, while the Asian theater that Artaud was inspired by was focused on the metaphysical, with more abstraction. Grotowski was also not concerned with realistic gestural punctuations so there it is different from the Commedia Dell’arte. But, all this is body-theater.


E. But it’s interesting with the archetypes and the sometimes grotesque appearances.

How ”Artaud” is my Orfeo? I’m just asking. I think I know the answer.


H. It is very difficult to define what an Artaud theatre is. For me, it's about unpredictability, direct transitions, the unexpected. From Artaud's side, it was meant to contradict reality. Lars (Øyno) works a lot with brutal transitions and contrasts, you do not spare the spectator but rather show her a rhythm she is not used to. It should be colored with inner rage.


E. No. Yes. But I do love the idea of the unexpected and the metaphysic - the magical alchemy. Maybe not ”cruel”. I kind of think life is cruel enough. But, I also see the necessity of showing that on stage. The inner rage. Like Caronte! He definitely shows my inner rage in a cruel way. Fabulous.


H.  Yes, I think there were sections where we had some of it. It is about your own involvement, direct transition, brutalization of the voice in certain parts - for example when you threw yourself on the floor and, yes, the voice of Caronte. It broke with an expected aesthetic (I think so.). Besides, it makes you indulge in other energies than the predetermined, the controlled.



Hanne is also an actress who sometimes sing. I want to know what she thinks about singing v/s acting.  

E: When you sing, Hanne do you become a different type of practitioner than when you act? More personal, private? Why do you think it will be one way or the other?


H: I do not feel more personal when I sing, but maybe more vulnerable…  I always thought that it is due to a lack of experience or competence. I'm a little scared of the tones, if I will not hit them right. Also, when I sing with the Theatre of Cruelty (”Grusomhetens teater”), I am so inside the ”task”, the context or the text, that I do not become so self-conscious about my voice and the tones. I know that my voice has acquired certain qualities after all the voice training over the years with Grotowski's work and that it is in itself a "singing quality.”  It is an access to the voice in the body that I open to, I feel the resonance in my chest and stomach and thighs, and now as the shoulders lower, there is also resonance in the higher registers. 

I think that the voice is a tool for an idea, that it should fill the space like the body, that it is one of many components that form a theatrical or witnessed composition. When I think of just the component of singing, I get a little scared.


E. Grotowski said: ”…the actor’s wretchedness can be transformed into a kind of holiness.”FN Do you feel Holy on stage, Hanne?


H. Holy theater, not to entertain but to use the theater to convey something metaphysical, supernatural, outside of everyday realism. To dance for the gods. Do not portray yourself; be a good actor, but dedicate yourself to something bigger, so yes, I feel like I have been involved in this every time in the productions with Grusomhetens teater. This is what Grotowski was looking for. E.g they never acknowledged or received applause.


E. I love it.


Fia Adler Sandblad


Workshops and dialogues with actress, singer and teacher Fia Adler Sandblad. Roy Hart - voice work.


The *Roy Hart voice works” is a method partly built on the work of Alfred Johnson. Johnson’s method of working with the voice is very physical as well as mental, going into the mind’s and body’s unconscious voices. He wanted to break the barriers we carry in our voices, and the participants in his courses learned to sing tones ranging from the lowest key on the piano to the highest. The actor Roy Hark (and Johnson’s student) took over the work after Johnson’s death in 1953. He further developed the work until his death in 1975.


Actor-singers today?

Investigating the impact of Commedia dell’arte on the Favola in Musica.

From my diary 14/5-2020

I am watching Hanne in Lament in the video link she sent me. 

How their bodies force their voices to sound.... How do they do that? It is disturbing. Fascinating.

Violent. It’s like they could go on forever. Like they never started, but always did it.

They scream themselves into my bones. And they go on and on. It is Cruel. Just like it should. I can’t stop watching.

Could I do that? Now, maybe I could.



Roger Westberg is a Swedish actor with Commedia dell’arte and physical theatre experience (amongst many things). He has created several theatre performances of classical plays, mostly Shakespeare, with himself in all roles, which made him a perfect link between Commedia my one-woman L'Orfeo.. When he performs Shakespeare, it is a comedy - Stand up and not what I wanted to do myself,  but his playfulness and humor has been crucial in my demanding work. I’ve needed to laugh and play to dare to open my voice for the unknown. Charades as warm-ups, silly physical work, and a lot of humor.

Roger was the first one who asked me to just tell him the story. Over and over again, I told the story on a chair, standing of stage, pretending to be a tv-hostess… each time with a little more security and a little more grounding. I learned how to get close to the words and to let them go (I will get more into that later. Later! In chapter 8.). 

He asked me to describe the characters - give them purpose and posture. In a stanislavskian fashion I put words to: What do they want? Why are they there? How do they stand? What voices comes out of them? Roger taught me to walk like a man, stand like a queen, to sleep like Caronte, to look back and to disappear into Hades… I learned how to go from one to the other just by a turn of my body and my mind. 


Jon Tombre


Jon Tombre - Stage director with background from physical theatre (Lecoq et. al.). We met and worked together for the first time in 2005, in the premiere of Henrik Hellstenius opera ”Ophelias:death by water singing”. That was then my first meeting with ”physical theatre” and I’ve had a longing back to it ever since. It taught me to let my body be my body and to just stand in it. Being the body and nothing more.


We switched roles, words, sounds and music with each other. I heard my words (Or Orpheus’ words to be correct) be read by Jon and I read his. The meaning changed when he said them. How obvious, that which is clouded by my preconceptions becomes when someone else says it. I learned to turn each word at least two more times in this workshop.


Our artistic dialogue is shown in the video.


One thing being a musician teaches you is that learning a skill takes time. It requires years of training and embodiment, and not even then do some of us feel that we know what we're doing. Therefore I won’t go into details of, or discuss, specific acting methods in this chapter, nor in the chapter about ”Mise en scene” (chapter 8). I've just touched the surface on the profound knowledge of the actors I've worked with during this project... I will describe and explain how different methods and philosophies helped me move towards L’Orfeo with an open mind. Through videos and written down dialogues and interviews, I aim to explain my meetings and cooperation with actors who use their voices and bodies in other ways than this specific classically trained baroque/contemporary music singer normally does. 

We worked with different aspects of L’Orfeo - texts, specific vocal parts, or character traits - ”on the floor” which provided insights that contrasted with my own - making my neurons connect with the unknown.

Dialogue with Fia 


E. My problems with my voice seem to always come from learning that the voice is so personal - that we are our voice. So when I have muscle issues or whatever, I take that extremely personal.


Fia.  I don’t think we ”own” a voice, but the voice lives in you in some way. It is easy to think that "this is me, this is mine." But, no the voice inhabits you more than you actually own it.

I understand that you can identify with your voice. And that is a fairly lucky thing, to be able to identify with one's voice, to feel that you belong there because then you belong in the world. But a voice exists in a context: it is not only in you, but in the whole environment that in turn affects your voice (and has done so throughout your upbringing).

There are so many implicit norms and structures that are not visible, that we live with and that we relate to, and about how people relate to each other which also affects us very strongly. The room we give each other!

The voice has its own substance, its own capacity and content.


E. This certainly opens the mind for so much more. When the voice isn't Me, there is so much more you can do with it. And the voice is not against you!


F. What I have fallen in love with in Roy Hart's work and philosophy is that the Voice is everywhere.

Okay, the tone formation is here (she points to the neck), but the voice - it can be in a knee, in a toe, in contact with a floor surface, in relation to a wall. It is the whole voice and its surroundings, which live in our bodies but also in other people's bodies, other people's beings and the room we are in. So to make our own instrument open up beyond the limitations that we live in and have lived with: that is, so to speak, the task.


Elisabeth.  I do not have an acting education myself, so everything I do on stage is based on the fact that I am a singer. My title is "Certified Concert Singer" (mit Konzertexamen, bitte!). That kind of education is solid, but it has been "singing, singing, singing" and "Elisabeth's voice, Elisabeth's voice, Elisabeth's voice”. The focus is on You and Your Voice! The Voice becomes a huge part of You and your Persona. When it works, it's great, but if it gets out of balance it is easy to lose your sense of self (speaking for myself, obviously)


F. Then I can also understand that you have had such joy to have worked with Hanne (Dieserud) at the Theater of Cruelty.


E. YES! And also with your Roy Hart workshops. Fantastic! Your way of talking about the voice, that it is everywhere, (even in a toe!!) is so wonderful. How am I supposed to relate to the fact that a voice is in a knee ?! It is more like a GAME!


F. Yes, for that kind of work anchors the voice in something other than the purely ”vocal.”

Who is the actor? Well, the actor is the one who remembers, says Radu Penciulescu FN - Grotowski, too, says that it is the body who remembers. And the voice is in the body.


Contact between body and memory is so damn important.

The voice and the body inhabit us. And it is not the case that we can take them for granted, they are to some extent autonomous - they have their own qualities and traits which in turn present opportunities. Different parts of our bodies carry different experiences.

In this regard, I speak based on my knowledge as a physical actor. That is, by focusing on parts of my body, by paying attention to them, I find, or rather receive, material. To embrace the qualities and traits in one’s body. To go to certain places in the body in order to pick up things. 

And to be there, to let the breathing go there, to let the vibration go there. 

That's what I mean by having the voice in a toe: that in a way, you get in contact and enter into dialogue with the toe. But only the right intention gets you to the right place, so to speak.

It is that you get beyond that which is predetermined and planned, as I think art should be.


E. To give yourself in all your nakedness. To let go and release control: it's so scary and liberating! And very intense and wonderful.


F. Then you have to create the structures that allow you to let go of control.

You need to have everything in your hand. Grotowski said (when I worked with him in the summer of 1987): "I want to see a tiger, but a tiger in a cage". That we, the observers feel confident that you are in control. You know exactly what you are doing, but I want to be surprised by your power and the power that a tiger possesses.FN


I ask Fia about singing, because I know she sings too, especially french chansons and songs with a guitar - songs with a lot of text.


F. I have always been closest to my self when I have sung, but my starting point has always been to be an actor. My most important job has always been to make sure I have access to my self at all times. 

For many, a great actor (and it is certainly the same for singers) is the one who can really play a role! For me, that is not enough. I think "But let go a little then, just give in a little". Because it will be so hermetically sealed and sterile when it’s too controlled. 

I need to see a person who is in the full gestalt of the experience.

And that's where we get into the issue of Contact. It has to do with how the different sides of us can interact with each other and with the environment. That there is a flow between the different parts of our bodies and brains. The more it flows, the richer your expression can become and the more in touch you are. And then I also talk about the importance of an audience being able to clearly feel this is Me! It is now. This is really happening. We are now in contact. And it is then that those mental and bodily "releases" are needed.


(This connection, flow, and contact is what I am looking for in this project. The connection not only between myself and myself but between the characters of the opera.)


One of my favorite teachers at Roy Hart, Ian Magilton, frequently says "I'm trying to live the thing". Thus, not to do, but to be. To be able to move oneself and one's body to different places. This is something I have had to practice. I felt very trapped in my voice and in my body. I felt as if I were always seen in only one certain way. I was so terribly tired of it. That's how Roy Hart came to me as a great relief. They (the teachers at Roy Hart) asked about the border and what was happening on the other side of the border. "Go there!". And that border moves all the time, so suddenly you have an experience of different voices in you. Which by definition becomes organic and I think that's cool!


I, Elisabeth, suddenly think of how my voice would have sounded if it had inhabited my body in a different time, a different culture. A body with other clothes and different health. A body with other sleeping patterns. A body with other types of bodies around it. Like Anna Renzi. Where are the limits to my voice now and where will they be in a year?


Hanne Dieserud


Hanne Dieserud -Norwegian actress at Grusomhetens teater. Has studied and teaches in the Grotowski method. Her physical approach is linked to the Commedia dell’arte work of Westberg, only very different… There are archetypes here as well (as in Roy Hart) and these archetypes have their voices and gestures. 

Our work, in which we explored the characters in L'Orfeo, stretched over a year. It was based on both dialogues and practical work. Hanne Dieserud also co-directed the final performance.


To be a good actor-singer, one should above all be a good speaking actor….It is sometimes asked wether one should cast a tolerable musician who is a perfect actor or an excellent musician with little or no talent for acting…

(Il Corago) FN

From one of the Workshops in Roy Hart Voice Works. Private photo.

The story goes: One week before the premiere of the opera ”Arianna”FN, the leading singer, Caterina Martinelli, suddenly dies of smallpox. Despite this tragedy, the show must go on. The search for a new singer was intense but unsuccessful, until Andreini was invited to audition for the role. The rest is history with almost ”Hollywoodesque dimensions”. 

”Andreini would have approached the role of Arianna with an enviable stage presence, a repertoire of gestures, a knowledge of stage business, and a gift for improvisation; her performance - as a commedia dell’arte professional - must have differed in kind from those of the court singers who starred in earlier operatic productions. Indeed, there is convincing if circumstantial evidence that the surviving lament is deeply indebted to Andreini’s learned repertoire of commedia performance norms.”FN

The story of La Florinda and her Arianna fuels my imagination. It is possible to be an actress who sings. It is even possible to be an actress who sings Monteverdi.FN

(After La Florinda another commedia dell’arte actress entered the stage as Arianna: Maria Dorotea Antonazzoni FN


There is only one aria left from ”Arianna”, the famous and extraordinary ”Lasciatemi morire”. It is written in a Recitar Cantando-style with many dramatic and theatrical elements (compare to Messagiera in L’Orfeo) When considering it was performed by an actress, Emily Wilbourne says ”Rather than understanding Monteverdi’s ’Lamento della d’Arianna’ as a groundbreaking, genre-defining act of musical composition, the piece can be understood as a particularly eloquent and aesthetically appealing articulation of a standard trope of commedia dell’arte performance”. FN




Esther Maria Bjørneboe

                                                                                                                                                     Oslo/ Tuesday 31/10-2017



Anna Renzi: Why me?


Elisabeth: Because it seems to me like you are someone people like me feel some connection towards. You are the Baroque Soprano-symbol. Admired for your stage presence, the magical power of your voice, and all of that, we all wish for. And you got poems written to you, praising not only your artistic brilliance but your intelligence and quiet ways. We also want that.


A.R: To read about me is like reading a horoscope - you will always find something that will fit in your life and future.

I was lucky to live in a time when the competition was almost non-existent for singers like me. Now you go thirteen on the dozen. And, you know, I stopped singing when I was your age. I didn't get to get old. Old and weary. I was only young. FN

The idea of me is just an idea. I've been dead for centuries, and the picture of me was painted in an era when even the most prominent words were considered too small. The brushes were broad and dusted in gold.

Read between the lines when you read about me.


E: How should I proceed with this project? How do I start? Do you think I am crazy to do this?


A.R: Try to laugh more than you cry, but take yourself and the music seriously.


E. Will you be there?


A.R: The idea of me, yes, if that's what you mean. The picture of our fellow humans is always created from within ourselves. We see what we see in ourselves, and we hear what we hear in our own inner noise. You understand and see me from your time and your cultural soundscape.


E: But that is self-explanatory. We talk about that all the time! Perspectives and time and…

I am thinking about what I heard about Sarah Bernhardt's voice (so typical of me not to write down the name of the woman who said it...). Her voice was supposed to be like "gold" or "a tree in the forest, steady and firm”- but turned out to be whiney. With a musical flow, but shrill and not at all appealing to her ears. 

Would it be the same with you? Would we be touched to tears by your sheer presence on stage? Your voice, would it resonate in our vocal cords and felt like an echo of our own voices? Or would we experience you as an over-acting and over-emotional singer with poor singing technique?


A.R: Frustrating not to know, isn’t it?

Maybe it was the insight that the author (you really have to go back and find her FN), realized that she actually didn't know anything. The voice she read about and formed an idea of, sounded completely different in reality than the one she made up in the fantasy, based on the text about it. 

Like the idea of me… You will never come nearer me than you are right now. And what you come close to is only an idea of me. And that idea comes from within yourself. So, ultimately it is yourself that you will come closer. 


E. Who would you be today? I know it’s an old question to ask, and impossible to answer, but…who do you think you’d be?


A.R: A musical singer, perhaps? Or, someone like Björk? I think I’d be the one in charge, instead of being ”the muse”.


E: What is it about you that makes me want to be your best friend? Or, even be you, a re-incarnation of You?



A.R: I think it because I can be anyone you want. And I do appear as an extremely sympathetic person, with a soft and severe mind, serious and mild. Not dull, but with a face that could turn into anyone and anything, in the blink of an eye. 

But, you have to look at this image on the background of my time. Remember to put your side of the history away, even though it's impossible (it is actually impossible. But try!)

Characteristics of the Commedia dell’arte, and how I can use it in L’OrfeoFN:

  • Improvisation. 

The music and drama in L’Orfeo don’t offer many possibilities for improvisation. At least not ”big and free,” as clearly was the case in Commedia. But having improvisation in mind, makes me take personal responsibility for how, and why, I chose to read the score. 

  • A ”constellation of characters who remained the same regardless of the plot they found themselves embroiled in”. Amongst these characters, we find: Harlequin (”a mixture of cunning and ingenuousness, of awkwardness and grace”; Pantalone (”…an old Venetian merchant, sometimes bankrupt,..sometimes rich and noble…”); The Lovers - Gli Innamorati: ”The lovers loved one another, scorned one another, hated one another, hated one another, despaired, were consoled, suspicious and jealous…”FN

As one can see, the direct links are not very obvious. But there are some: the re-creation of the Greek drama, which also has a constellation, a set cast, of archetypes, stereotypes, and roles. All gods and half-gods, in different love triangles and power plays, represent hierarchies and human emotions. 

                       In chapter 8 we'll see how I got even closer to the ancient greek storytelling drama...


Virginia Andreini-Ramponi (1583 – c.1630)

”La Florinda”

E . When I do opera or music theatre I am both inside and outside of myself at the same time. On the outside, I dress myself in the character and on the inside I listen for this person’s voice in my own voice.  I am also the singer/musician who learns the music, the rhythm, and the texts.

S. Do you think that seeing yourself as an actor-singer instead of ”just” a singer will help you find all the roles in L’Orfeo?

E. I think it is inevitable. Because as a classic singer, I am formed by strong traditions and expectations. Maybe even captured by them? I recognize so much of what Barker/Huescas writes in the book ”Composing for Voice”. They say (quite harshly!): ”Singers are often pejoratively termed re-creators, a sort of bureaucratized copying machine that no act might wish to aspire to. The singer’s path to the stage is preceded by instruction from singing teachers, music coach, language coach, music director, choreographer, stage director and conductor, and accompanied by an instrument or an orchestra. There appears to be little room for the singer’s individuality here, and with such a diversity of it may understandably require the singer’s full attention simply to retain the proliferation of information offered.FN


”La Florinda” was part of the Commedia dell'Arte group "Fedeli"

Opera started as an attempt to recreate Greek Drama. All of the characters in early Operas are taken directly from Greek and Roman mythology, and many have the same plots as Ancient Greek Tragedies, although the underlying reasons for portraying the stories was different. Singing, dancing, instrumentals, and even some spoken text are the main characteristics of Opera. These features also were prominent in Ancient Greek Dramas, although Operas had much more spectacle than any Ancient Greek would have approved of. The times had changed, but the people still wanted to hear stories of how their ancestors lived and interacted with the world around them, and so the ancient stories were brought back. This time around the stories did not hold religious significance, but still taught the masses about their history and the world around them.FN


S. Elisabeth, climb the tree! If you fall. Climb again. Transform yourself into a leaf (or a tree, and become Euridice!) I dare say, it will even be quite HIP and bring you closer to the 17th-century idea of the actor-singer!

….by the movements of the body, by gestures, by the face and by the voice, now raising it, now lowering it, becoming enraged and immediately becoming calm again; at times speaking hurriedly, at others slowly, moving the body now in one, now in another direction, drawing in the arms, and extending them, laughing and crying, now with little, now with much agitation of the hands.FN

(We met in an early stage of the process and I wasn’t daring enough during our work together, however, the workshop led to the performance ”Orfevs”)



My diary 23/4-2019

Day two of the workshop.

What can you say when you lose your own voice and find it in another woman's soft hands? How should I describe the feeling of finding a vulnerability in my own voice and being raw, naked, powerful? How can others understand that I haven't really sung in my entire life until today? That my voice vibrates in another woman's story, in her spine, and in her eyes?

I am speechless, but my voice is strong.

How will I be able to write about this? 

How can we understand a description of someone’s who’s voice sounded 400 years ago? We can't. But, the voice I found today, I know it existed 400 years ago. Either it was the voice of a woman who sold vegetables on the market, or with a woman who went mad with grief or a woman that embodied a goddess in a ”Favola in Musica”. It was an authentic and eternal voice.  I dare say it.FN


From my diary 16/2-2019

I is another - Rimbaud in Africa

I don’t understand, but I hear their voices and I see their bodies (or, maybe I see their voices and hear their bodies?), so I do understand.

Ian Magilton, one of the founders of Roy Hart Theatre (Fia will refer to him later in the dialogue) says:

The Roy Hart vocal research is based on a belief that our voices are very much bigger than we think, certainly bigger than we normally use, and that there is a profound connection between our voice and our self, which is in turn very much bigger than we realise or normally admit to. The voice is more than sounds produced by the larynx and resonated in the head; the expression, the beauty and the quality that makes us want to listen come from the body, the heart, the stomach, the genitals, even the knees, and from the soul.FN

What is so special about her, for me and for this project, is that even though she was celebrated in her time for being an actress, she is remembered for her role as Monteverdi’s lost opera Arianna. 


How can the idea of the Actor Singer help me find my voice/s?


”…singers may bring a finer precision to pitch and rhythm, but actors may have a sense of discovery and experiment that will permit them to do things with their voices that singers might find contradictory to their primary obsession. The actor’s willingness to explore unknown areas of the voice contrasts with some singer’s innate conservatism”Barker and Huesca FN

Anna Renzi Romana (c.1620 – after 1661)

Xenia Lach-Nielsen as Poppea, 2011.

Photo: Bjørn Ross.

Nils Ramhøj

Felicia Fortes