Soprano  Karita  Mattila

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Born in Somero, Finland, on September 5, 1960, Karita Mattila graduated 1983 from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, where she studied singing with Liisa Linko-Malmio. She then continued her studies with Vera Rózsa in London. Also in 1983, Mattila won the first Cardiff Singer of the World competition.

mattila In 1985, she made her Covent Garden debut with the Royal Opera as Fiordiligi in Mozart's Così fan tutte. She was seen as Emma in the first ever televised production of Schubert's Fierrabras at the Vienna State Opera in 1988. In 1990 she made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Donna Elvira in Mozart's Don Giovanni.

In 1994, she made her Spanish debut as Tatyana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin in Madrid, and 1996 debuts in Paris in Wagner's Lohengrin, Verdi's Don Carlos.

Mattila has won Grammy Awards for "Best Opera Recording" for Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in 1998 and for Jenůfa in 2004. [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with Anja Silja, Jerry Hadley, and Bernard Haitink.] She was awarded the Evening Standard Ballet, Opera and Classical Music Award for “Outstanding Performance of the Year” in 1998 for her performance of Elisabeth in Don Carlos at the Royal Opera House.

In 2001 The New York Times chose Karita Mattila as the best singer of the year for her performance in Fidelio at the Metropolitan Opera, and in the same year she was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award “Outstanding Achievement in Opera”.

Mattila's 2004 New York performances in Salome and subsequent Káťa Kabanová inspired the New York press to write: "When the history of the Metropolitan Opera around the time of the millennium is written, Karita Mattila will deserve her own chapter."

In 2005, she was named Musician of the Year 2005 by Musical America, which describes her "the most electrifying singing actress of our day, the kind of performer who renews an aging art form and drives the public into frenzies." BBC Music Magazine named Mattila as one of the top 20 sopranos of the recorded era in 2007.

Worldwide audiences saw Mattila in Manon Lescaut live in movie theaters in 2008. The Metropolitan's Salome and Tosca were seen live in High Definition worldwide in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

In 2010 at Opéra National de Lyon, Mattila created the role of Émilie du Châtelet in Kaija Saariaho's monodrama Émilie, which was dedicated to her.


See my Interviews with Barbara Bonney, Susan Graham, Claudio Abbado, and Christoph Eschenbach

mattila This interview with soprano Karita Mattila was held early in her career, in January of 1991, when she was appearing with Lyric Opera of Chicago in her second Mozart role, Pamina in The Magic Flute.  [The cast included Jerry Hadley, Sumi Jo, Timothy Nolen, Robert Lloyd, and Thomas Stewart.  The Conductor was Gustav Kuhn in the August Everding production.  Two years previously, Mattila had sung Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni with Samuel Ramey, Carol Vaness, Claudio Desderi, Gösta Winbergh, Marie McLaughlan, and John Macurdy, conducted by Semyon Bychkov in the Ponnelle production.  She would later sing Eva in Die Meistersinger (performances and audio recording) with the Chicago Symphony, and José van Dam, Ben Heppner, Alan Opie, René Pape, led by Sir Georg Solti.  (Names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website.)]  

Her English was very good
(as it is for most Scandinavians!), but at one point she was delving deeply into a philosophical idea, and she admitted that her explanation would be just as complicated if she was speaking her native Finnish!

Since she was again singing Mozart, that is where we began our conversation . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   Tell me the secret of singing Mozart!

Karita Mattila:   [Laughs]  Oh, It’s either a long sentence to say, or just very, very simple said short.  I think the secret of singing Mozart is the simplicity, or the purest of using the voice that you have.  It takes many years to learn that, and yet we always start with Mozart.  It all lies in the line that you learn.  It’s difficult to answer in a short way, but everything lies in the line, and simplicity of this kind all lies in the style.

BD:   As you say, everyone seems to start with Mozart to train the voice.  Now that you’ve been singing Mozart for a number of years, do you feel it’s easier, or better, or different?

KM:   It’s definitely different.  The more I sing Mozart, the more I understand how to sing it, and every time I do a Mozart role, I always discover something new in my singing, in my own voice in the technical sense.  I also discover new colors in the voice.  You can always experiment with roles you have done.  I have done this role [Pamina] so many times, so when I repeat them it’s easier for me to experiment with new things, and try to find new colors, and a new way with the character.  When I change and get older, the characters change and mature.  Also the way of singing changes.  I want to believe that the more you sing, the more you learn.  The understanding of the style gets fuller and better while you are spreading your repertoire in a wider range.  So Mozart’s definitely going to stay there always.

BD:   Always?

KM:   Yes.  That’s my dream, at least, to be able to sing Pamina while I’m still singing Eva in Meistersinger, and even the lyrical Italian roles like Desdemona, or Amelia in Simon Boccanegra.  I hope to keep these Mozart roles in my repertoire because I think that’s also good for the voice.

BD:   It’s odd that you would sing Mozart and also the Eva.  They seem to be two divergent styles.

KM:   Yes, there are many ways of doing these roles, and you have to find the way that is your own, which must be the most natural way of doing it.  If it doesn’t feel natural, then the role must be wrong for you.  When I did Eva five years ago for the first time, I hadn’t even sung my first Pamina.  They never let me sing Pamina in Finland.  They were strange.

BD:   I wonder why?

KM:   I would have loved to, but I don’t think they understand too much about Fachs.  How do you say it in English?

BD:   It’s the like ‘pigeon-holes’ or groupings.

mattila KM:   Yes, groupings!  My voice would have been very suitable for Pamina, but they thought my voice was too big, and I’m too big.  Everything was wrong in me to fit in.  I had done Queen of the Night at the age of twenty, so they just didn’t think I could swap into it.  Somebody said to me a very interesting thing, that when you are among young singers, it’s easier to find a Queen of the Night than it is finding Pamina, because Pamina has its difficulties, and it’s such a rich role.  You can do it in so many ways.  I love to sing it now, and I would love to sing it in the future.  But Eva is also characteristically close to Pamina, if you have the voice to be able to spread it out till the last quintet, and then pull back again for the most lyrical scenes with Sachs.  It’s such a variety that you can play with it.  You can find new things, and you can do these two roles at the same time.  I think you can, and I hope so.  I want to believe I can!  [Laughs]

BD:   It works for you, obviously.  [More laughter]

KM:   Yes!

BD:   You’re always discovering new things about these Mozart roles.  Have you sung all of the Mozart roles that you want, or are there even more that you want to come to?

KM:   This is a good question because I’m going to do my first Donna Anna in about two months’ time at the Houston Grand Opera.

BD:   Having already sung Elvira?  [Vis-à-vis the recordings shown at left and below, see my interviews with Thomas Allen, and Francisco Araiza.]

KM:   Yes, many times, and now it’s time to try to my wings in this Donna Anna.

BD:   Why is now the time for Donna Anna?

KM:   Because I’m so curious.  It would be such a challenge, musically, because I love the music, and these two characters that are so different.  Since I’ve done so many Elviras now, it feels to be the right timing to try out Donna Anna, and they gave this opportunity in Houston.  I’ve sung there before, and I like the theater very much.  It’s a big theater, so you can really have a good challenge in good circumstances.  I’m very much looking forward to that.  I have done most of the major Mozart parts that I can think of doing in general, like Fiordiligi, Ilia...  I haven’t done Electra yet.

BD:   Will you?

KM:   I don’t know.  I will wait for it rather a little bit.  Donna Anna will come first, and it will be very interesting because immediately after Houston, after Donna Anna, I will go to do Donna Elvira again in Cologne in West Germany...
Ah! I mean, in Germany! [Note: the re-unification had happened less than four months before this interview.]

BD:   Are you going to get confused in the ensembles?  

KM:   It’s a matter of concentration, so I don’t want to believe it would be too big a problem since I’ve done Elvira many times.  I like it to be like in this
first Anna, and then Elvirabecause Anna is something new... although I studied the role already in the beginning of the 80s, but I found it too heavy then, so I left it.  I was offered it before, and I even agreed once, but I found it just too heavy so I left it.  I’ve done the Countess...

mattila BD:   Would you ever do Susanna?

KM:   [Thinks a moment]  It’s funny...  When I was a student I sang the aria, of course.  Everybody does that, but I’ve never felt too interested in singing Susanna.  I feel the character’s wrong.  I always thought if I’m something in The Marriage of Figaro, it’s always going to be the Countess.  It’s funny that’s the way I’ve always sung.  It was my debut role at the Finnish National Opera, and it was also my international debut role, so I’ve always thought only the Countess.  I’ve never even thought about Susanna.  I feel physically wrong because I think visually.  Visual things matter for me on stage.  If I were Susanna, the Countess should need to be enormous.  There should be a balance between these ladies since they are so close, and so much together.  I’ve always felt so comfortable doing the Countess.  It has always felt right that way.  It’s nothing to do with whether I could sing it or not.  Ilia felt completely natural like Pamina.

BD:   Continuing with another Mozart opera, in Così fan tutte, who should Fiordiligi end up with?

KM:   Oh, I hate the end, but I love doing it in Ponnelle’s production.  It was a genius way.  Although there were these couples
Guglielmo and Fiordiligi together, and Ferrando and Dorabella together — at the end, everybody went against the wall in their different areas.  They were separated at the very end during the last chord.  Everybody was going away and definitely apart.  It’s such a shame to waste that love that can happen between Ferrando and Fiordiligi.  When I did that opera for the first time, I realized at the end I hadn’t understood anything!  My pre-picture of this opera was so wrong.  [Laughs]  It’s so moving, and I love Fiordiligi.  I love the opera.  Some people hate it, but these are those people who haven’t understood it, either.  I don’t mean that everybody has to like everything about it, but it is just so genius.  Fiordiligi and Ferrando have something very special, so I wish that the continuity of the opera would be a second part.  They would go apart at the end of the first opera, and then would meet and really commit to themselves in the second part.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  In
Act Three!  [Così is a two-act opera, as is The Magic Flute!]

KM:   Yes!  This is a very good question.

BD:   Then let me ask the same thing about The Magic Flute.  Are Tamino and Pamina happy in the unwritten third act?

KM:   Oh, yes, in this production definitely.  I haven’t even thought about it in a different way.  It
s funny because sometimes, in certain operas I definitely feel in some way it goes wrong.  Something goes wrong, or there is something that I would disagree with.  But for me, it’s a very homogenous ending.  I think they will be very happy... although she has to go through a lot.  But he has to go through a lot, too!  It has much to do with the fact that I can’t stop admiring Jerry Hadley in this because his Tamino is just so warm and so wonderful, and so big-hearted that it just takes all your doubts away.  He responds in such a warm way that this has been a new Pamina for me.  I have done this with great Taminos before, but they are always different, and the production has been different.  This one by Everding is so warm and so human that it really has a happy ending.   

*     *     *     *     *

mattila BD:   You’ve mentioned that you like some of these roles because the music dictates in your voice what you can sing.  Do you like all of the characters that you have to sing? 

KM:   I’m the type of singer who always tends to fall in love in all the characters.  I have been very lucky.  I’ve never felt I have sung, or been forced to sing bad music.  So the music has always been good, and it has always been those roles, both musically and characteristically, that have been challenging, and I love wonderful challenges.  I’ve always liked the characters, but I do have some favorites, and I can’t actually mention any of my roles that I wouldn’t like characteristically.

BD:   When you’re offered a new role, how do you decide if you will accept it or you will turn it aside?

KM:   I have a couple of people whose opinions are important for me.  First my current singing teacher, Vera Rósza, with whom I work as often as I can in London.  I always want to hear her opinion, and if it is something that I don’t know beforehand, I want to see the music.  Then, I also have a very good agent, so I want to hear their opinions.  With those I mix my own feelings, and finally decide myself whether I’m doing it or not.  But I’m very fortunate to be able to choose.  I like to be a freelance singer because I’m able to choose what I sing.

BD:   Rather than a house-singer where you’re assigned roles?

KM:   Yes.

BD:   So you get a role, and you’re interested in it, and sing through it, and see how it fits in your voice?

KM:   That’s right.

BD:   There are, I assume, some roles where you would love to be the character, and yet it won’t fit your voice.  Do you miss those?

KM:   Oh, yes!  There are certain roles that I haven’t done and I would love to do, and some characters that I know I probably will never sing since I’m very theater-orientated, and directing in opera means a lot to me.  It is as important as music, and since it combines these two elements neither of them should be neglected.  I envy everybody who can do Carmen on stage.  I’d love to do Carmen, and I would love to do Violetta, but I’m not sure whether I can do it.  I haven’t dared to try it out for myself yet; some of the bits of the arias I have, but these are things that I would like to sing.  There are also things that I’m dreaming of singing in the future, that may be possible, like some of the German repertoire.

BD:   That means you probably will sing them fairly soon?

KM:   Yes, well not too soon, but yes, in the future.

BD:   Five or ten years down the road?

KM:   Yes, I think that’s a good estimation.

BD:   Are you pacing your career the way you wish to?

KM:   I think the major judgment is how I feel vocally, especially now since I’ve done my first Italian role in the original language in Geneva.

mattila BD:   Which role was that?

mattila KM:   It was Amelia in Simon Boccanegra, and it gave me a lot of encouragement and self-assurance for trying to find other things in the Italian repertoire as well.  I love doing Amelia, so now I have gotten the scores for certain Italian roles that I would be very interested in trying, and then seeing how they would fit, like Desdemona, and Elisabetta in Don Carlos, and things like that.

BD:   Will the Don Carlos be n French or Italian?

KM:   Italian.  Don Carlo, Elisabetta, in Italian.

BD:   The original is in French, and I pine for French productions.

KM:   [Surprised]  Oh, you do?

BD:   Yes.  It’s always done in Italian, but I’ve heard tapes of the original French a couple of times, and it works so much better.

KM:   Oh, that’s interesting!  I must get the French score also.  [As shown in the recording (DVD at left, audio CD at right) she did eventually sing it in the original French!  See my interviews with Thomas Hampson, Eric Halfvarson, and Antonio Pappano.]

BD:   Are there any of these characters which you are currently singing, or are looking at, that are perhaps too close to the real Karita Mattila?

KM:   I don’t know about that, but I certainly know that when I sing them, there are certain sides of their characters that I would like to have myself, traits which I admire, and also which emphasize.  However, I have to really work hard on trying to find in my ability to express then, because they feel so far away.  I don’t recognize them in myself; they feel so strange.  But I love that kind of work going into these characters, especially if I have a good director.  It’s such a challenge to try to discover, and find a way to discover things, and express convincingly the things that are not necessarily you, but everybody thinks she really is like that kind of person.  I must tell you this, because it happened when I did Elvira for my Viennese debut with Luc Bondy (1948-2015), whom I admire a great deal.  He is a wonderful man from the movie and theater world, and working with him was terrorizing as hell.  At the same time, it was so fantastic.  The kind of Elvira that I did with him was something that I’ve never even, and I can’t remember ever experiencing anything like it on stage.  It was something so strong and so wonderful, it took a long time for me to discover because this character was just so moving, and so real.  It could have been happening today, and it was wonderful.  I heard later that somebody asked if I was really that crazy?  I thought it was really funny, and it meant that I’d done a good job!  [Much laughter]  That is something you like to hear, as a singer who wants to be acclaimed also as one who can act.  Nowadays, it’s as important as singing, so that was one of the best compliments I could get.

BD:   When you’re on stage, do you portray the character or do you become that character?

mattila KM:   It’s probably hard to separate.  Part of both things are happening because you are combining the voice
the singing and the sayingwith this music, and since you have to express so much in your own voice, you must become partly this character for the couple of hours that you are in this character.  You have to be ableor at least you have to tryto concentrate.  ‘Concentration’ is about just forgetting everything else that would occupy your mind, and reminding yourself that this is not really me.  You have to rid yourself of everything else, and just become this person.  But in that process, because you have to pick up the ideas, sometimes it’s harder to concentrate, and then it helps to analyze and find hints for yourself about the character.  Then by thinking of them, it’s easier for you to change your appearance, or your gestures, or your physics, or your breath.  Its about the way you live to become that character.  It’s difficult to explain... I think I would sound just as unclear if I tried to explain this in Finnish because it is so difficult to explain!  [Both laugh]  But it involves these two elementsto become this character, and to portray that character.  In a way you are only portraying it, since you are an actor or an actress, and how good you do it just shows how able and flexible you are as an actor.  But the music helps us so much.  To be able to use your voice is a great help.  Sometimes we cannot fake it because you have this gorgeous music. 

BD:   The music helps carry you into the character?

KM:   Yes!

BD:   And then it helps to carry the character over the footlights to the audience?

KM:   Yes, yes!  That’s why sometimes the theater people will say that they envy the musicians, because the musicians have already been given so much by this music
all the orchestration, and the words, and the way they have been composed, and finding because of that you must know it already before you go to the stage.  You know your role by heart, and you have been discovering much of this character already when you have been working with your coach and learning the music.  So it’s a wonderful way we actuallyhow do you say?kill two birds with one stone?  [Both laugh]  So music is a wonderful help.

BD:   So, you come to the role with ideas of how it will be staged, and then learn more about it from each stage director?

KM:   Definitely!  Oh, yes.  Since the music doesn’t change, but the things that you do can.  In a way, you enhance the music both dynamically and tempo-wise.  So, you can change a lot.  Mozart is so fantastic because his music carries all these millions of different ways of creating the character, and characterizing the music because the music carries so many different elements.  I did Donna Elvira, for example, in three different productions in a row last spring where they were all very meaningful debuts.  First, the Met, then the Vienna State Opera, and the role couldn’t have been more different from the Zeffirelli production at the Met, to the Luc Bondi production in Vienna.  So, I never got bored.  A lot of people ask me if I ever get bored with just doing Donna Elvira, and I never did since I had this chance to work with these marvelous directors.  I had also been mentally preparing myself for the fact that I was doing a lot of Elviras in a row.  It was a wonderful experience... a very hard, but a wonderful experience.  I learned a lot.

BD:   A good stretch for you?

KM:   Yes!  I was trying my limits in these different productions, and it was wonderful.

BD:   In trying to think of the roles you’ve done, you don’t wind up dead in any of them!

KM:   No, but I haven’t done Tosca or Senta yet, so I survive!

BD:   Does that influence at all how you select your roles?

KM:   It’s not instinct.  No, it
s something one can’t choose.  If I was an actress, I could choose, but as a singer, you have to go where your voice leads you, and I’ve just been lucky.  Tosca would be a great role, not for my voice but as a character.

BD:   Do you have designs on Senta? 

KM:   No.  I can tell you that I’ve been offered it once or twice, and I just find it’s far, far too late to talk about it.  But it might be potentially one of the future roles.  

BD:   Are there any other Wagner parts that you’re interested in?

KM:   Not so far.   In the future, maybe Sieglinde, and Elsa in Lohengrin might be the closest, but I don’t know.  Do you think I should ever sing Tosca?

mattila BD:   Oh, ten or fifteen years from now.  It’s a very heavy part.

KM:   I know!  [Laughs]

BD:   There are many singers who have...

KM:   [Interrupting]  ...have killed themselves!  [Both laugh]  

BD:   The opinion you have to trust is your own and that of your coach.

KM:   Well, I’m not planning any.  I haven’t been even offered it.  I’ve sung the aria, but that’s a different thing.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You mentioned different houses.  Do you sing differently from one to another?  Is your vocal technique different from the large house to a small house?

KM:   I don’t know about that, but as to singing different roles, or different types of roles, I can say that one sings in a different way.  One can sing without changing, really, and I don’t feel like I change my voice.  I just sing some parts more lyrically, and some parts more dramatically.  It is the matter of using your physical strength, and if you feel physically strong, then you have a big scale where you are able to control your dynamic scale of voice, and also the different coloring of your voice.  If you have these bright, extreme colors of your voice, and you have these pastel colors that lead into these bright colors, then you can adjust.  Also, it depends on the cast.  I have the wonderful chance here in Chicago to sing one of my most dramatic Paminas... not dramatic, but a rich, passionate, full-blooded Pamina because I have a dream Tamino
Jerry Hadleywho is not only one of the most handsome tenors that you could sing with, but also such a rich, wonderful voice.  It’s just a dream, and he’s also so tall, which is just a dream for my type of Pamina!  Usually I end up with much smaller Taminos, so it’s a dream to do it with him.  Also, we have a conductor [Gustav Kuhn] who likes us to sing in a very spread-out way, and not to hesitate to show even the brightest colors, the brightest extremes of our voice.  He wants to hear them all in these parts, both in Tamino and Pamina.  In the musical rehearsals, I thought this is going to be great because sometimes it can be more difficult if you are not this lucky.  Then you have to adjust.  I don’t know if it’s as enjoyable, but it’s different, and you have to find the pastel colors and create a completely different Pamina.  I love that kind of experimenting and discovering things.  Thats why I love singing!  [Laughs]  I must sound like a student who has just started!

BD:   I hope that you will still sound that way ten or twenty or even thirty years from now!

KM:   Actually, that’s what I hope, too.  That’s also my dream.  As long as singing gives me as much pleasure as it gives me now, I would love to continue.  I love singing, and I feel very fortunate to be able to do these roles.

BD:   You say that you’re very much into the acting and the drama.  You also sing concerts.  Can you bring drama to a concert?

KM:   Very much so, but it’s a completely different kind of preparation for a concert performance or a recital performance, compared with the opera performance.  At least for me it is, because you sing operatic performances more often, and you are always different in the operatic performances.  You do things in a different way, you have the whole stage to do the things, and it is always different.  You are physically different, and you are physically doing different things.  It’s more difficult for a recital performance being just in your space.  First of all, since your space is limited, and you don’t have time to start preparing anything when you are already on the platform.  You have to have all that kind of emotional and mental scale ready and warmed up before you open your mouth, and it has to last however long the recital is going to take.  I’ve noticed it’s hard, because you need so much more time to prepare for a recital than you need for an opera.  Of course, for an operatic production, you have these six-week rehearsal periods, plus you have the time with your coach.  But it’s a different kind of preparation.  I always need some time off before a recital
one or two weeks without anythingbecause I need all that energy.  I need to do a lot of other things to be able to be as fresh as ever, because recitals can also be so boring.  When I was a student, I was such a rebellious opera singer.  I hated opera because I had seen so many boring performances before I started singing opera.  I hated it because I thought it was so boring!  But I had just been unlucky because I hadn’t seen the right type of performances to encourage a young singer how to fall in love with opera.  So I was a bit scared.  I got into this business so fast.

mattila BD:   Then why did you go into opera if you found it boring?

KM:   In the beginning I was just interested in singing, but opera was something different.  When I started studying at the Sibelius Academy, I had great interpretation teachers, and I also had my singing teacher, who was wonderful.  She didn’t only teach me singing, but she was also able to teach me so much about this profession.  So, it became more real and realistic.  I didn’t have any idols, because none of my relatives or friends were in this business, so I didn’t really know exactly what to expect.  I never had plans to become an opera singer.  It just happened, and now I haven’t regretted anything that has happened.  It
s been wonderful.  But giving a recital is a wonderful test for an opera singer.  It shows how up to date your ability is to communicate directly with your audience.  Recitals show so much about this kind of personal communication, partly because the audience is not only physically close, but they have come to listen to this particular recital.  So they have prepared for it, and that gives it a different level of performance.

BD:   Instead of coming for a big opera, in which you are a part, you are the whole thing.

KM:   Yes, that’s right.  So that’s a huge difference, and that’s why it’s such a healthy thing for an opera singer to keep recitals in your repertoire.  It also helps me, as a singer, to keep fresh contact with my abilities to express the emotions through music that I perform.  I feel it’s very important.  [Laughs at her own abundance of enthusiasm]  I just get carried away talking about it all!

BD:   Its wonderful that you feel this way, and that you are not afraid to let it show on the stage or here in this conversation.  

KM:   [With a big smile]  Thank you.  You make it very easy to speak about it.

BD:   I asked about singing in different houses.  Do you sing the same in the recording studio as you do in the opera house or in the concert hall?

KM:   Not always.  I don’t particularly like making recordings since I am real stage person, and it’s sometimes very difficult to create the kind of atmosphere which gives you an ability in front of the microphone to just get involved as deeply as you would on a live stage.  Sometimes I feel successful, and I get into it.  Then I think I wouldn’t have believed I would be able to do that in this boring place.  But it’s hard with this process, and since recording and videos and film are becoming more and more important, it’s more beneficial and better for you to learn to like it someway, because that’s something you are going to do a lot.  So, it would make my life easier to learn to like it.

BD:   Make friends with it?

KM:   Yes, but it’s actually become easier.  I remember during the first recordings I just felt so miserable because I felt so mechanical.  It was so difficult because I didn’t have the theater spirit in the studio.  I didn’t know how to deal with it, but thank God I have noticed that it gets easier the more I do it.  So, it’s a matter of taking the right mental attitude, and then improving it.

BD:   I hope you’re not displeased with the early recordings that you made.

KM:   No, but some of them I like more than I do others.  Some of them I have not-so-good memories, and some where I have nice memories in my head.  Later I feel I can say I was pleased with something, which, because I am so critical with myself, happens seldom.

mattila BD:   So far, you’ve recorded a recital, and some Mozart operas, plus the new Freischütz...

mattila KM:   Yes, and I’m also recording some modern Finnish music for a national recording company in Finland, which is also very interesting.  I have done Sallinen, and I’m going to do, this year, two different recordings by Mikko Heiniö and Jouni Kaipainen, two young Finnish composers.

BD:   I don’t know them.

KM:   You will hear from Jouni Kaipainen I think.  He’s young, and he’s doing very well in Europe where he’s known.  He has even dedicated one song series for me, which I’m going to record next summer, which is wonderful.  There are some discussions of doing more Scandinavian works, like Sibelius in the future, and at this moment we’re planning the time and repertoire.

BD:   Have you sung some operas by Finnish composers?

KM:   Only one, composed by Jorma Panula, and it was more like a folk opera. 

BD:   Is there something you can do to help bring the Finnish operas to American audiences?

KM:   I would love to if they just offered me the roles.  I have been asked to appear in these Finnish operas, but they always offer me one year beforehand, or two years at the most, and I’m sorry.  It’s just too late.

BD:   You’re already booked?

KM:   Yes, and I’ve never been free, so there is not much I can do.  I’ve always said I’m available as soon as they’re able to make the offers early enough, in three years’ time or so.  But since they have not been able to do that, I have felt quite helpless.  It is just something I have been forced to accept, that I can’t appear in them.  I’d love to be in them because we some have very wonderful opera composers, and we also have at least one or two very good directors who also come from the theater, with whom I would love to work.  But it has not worked out so far. 

BD:   Do you make sure you leave enough time for rest in your schedule?

KM:   I’m not too bad in that, especially since I’m a real summer person.  I
m a Finnish person who loves sailing, and needs certain time in the summer.  I usually take some time off in the summer when we are able to go sailing, from four to six weeks.  I try to always put some little rests between the operatic engagements, and sometimes I succeed better than others.  Lately I’ve been very good because although we live in London, I have these chances to go back to Finland.  We have a week or so in the winter time, and I feel it has been sufficient so far.  Sometimes I’ve been worse, but then I have tried to make it up for myself because I need these breaks.  I’m a very intensive worker, but then I need a break, something that completely switches me off from music.  Sailing is a good way to do that.

BD:   Thank you for speaking with me today.  I appreciate it very much.

KM:   Thank you.  It was a pleasure for me, too.



See my interviews with Kurt Moll, and Duane Schuler (Lighting Designer of the Fidelio)



See my interviews with Thomas Moser, and Michael Schade

© 1991 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded at her hotel in Chicago on January 23, 1991.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following year, and again in 1995 and 2000.  This transcription was made in 2018, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.