The Queen Sonja International Music Competition aims to be a door opener for young talents to the world's opera stages. This spring four previous competitors were among the cast of The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet's critically acclaimed La Traviata. Here two of them, Audun Iversen and Caroline Christensen, tell us what effect the the Competition has had on their careers.
Baritone Audun Iversen (38) won the first prize in 2007, and played Germont in La Traviata this spring.
Soprano Caroline Christensen, who participated in 2013, is today a soloist trainee at The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet
, and performed the part of Annina.
Soprano Kristina Mkhitaryan
(Russia), who won first prize in 2013
, had the main part of Violetta. We met them on the roof of the opera building in Oslo for a photoshoot and a chat.
Created a lot of attention
"I remember it very well", Audun says with a resonnance and timbre only an opera singer can produce. "It was a very special week, the entire production. It was life changing in many ways".
Audun was still a student in Denmark, with little concert experience, when he took part in the Competition. "I was a well hidden secret", he says with a smile.
The positive feedback and the attention he got at home in Norway, was of enormous value to him.
"I was at a stage where I would still be studying for another year, and everything was so fresh. It was overwhelming really. But, it did create a lot of attention of course".
Provided valuable network
The Competition was a new and inspiring experience also to Caroline Christensen. She had recently completed her studies at Operahögskolan in Stockholm when she was chosen as a contestant in August 2013.
"It was very good training and gave me valuable experience, which I have especially benefitted from in later auditions. The most important thing I took with me was the personal feedback I got from the jury, which was both professional and honest", says Caroline.
"I also gained an expanded network, and I made contacts which have been very valuable to me".
Shortly after the Competition Caroline achieved a one year engagement as a soloist trainee with The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet, where La Traviata is her latest performance.
Audun also experienced doors opening to him after the Competition. The prize made it easier to gain auditions, and therefore jobs. He has had engangements in prestigeous opera houses, like Royal Opera House - London, Lyric Opera Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Teatro dell’Opera Roma, to name but a few.
Even now, several years later, he feels the effect of having won The Queen Sonja International Music Competition.
"The fact that the Competition gives the contestants the opportunity to showcase their talent to agents, people responsible for casting and Artistic Directors from all over the world, is of great value in a business which is international in its nature".
Winning the Competition also meant that Audun received attention at home in Norway. A few months after winning, he returned to Oslo for a new high point in his career: A role in the finale of The Marriage of Figaro during the opening of the new operahouse in Oslo.
"I remember it as one of the most honourable assignements I have even been given!"
"Not only has the building itself become one of Norway's most popular tourist attractions, but the quality of the productions here is extremely high", Audun says.
Caroline agrees. "I absolutely feel that we in Norway are proud of our opera, and we have good reason to be. It is a fantastic building and there is a lot of exciting things going on here".
The dream that came true
Caroline's been busy. The learning curve the last year has been steep, and it's getting busier all the time. This summer you can experience her in The Bat at Oscarsborg Fortress
. In the autumn she will be touring with the comical opera farce Viva la Mamma, which is a collaboration between Riksteatret and The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet.
To Caroline, being able to make a living from being an opera singer is a dream come true. Her dream started with her very first opera experience, The Wedding of Figaro at Folketeatret.
"It's a story my aunt never tires of telling, because she was the one who brought me. I went into the concert hall during the break, while it was still empty. "I'm gonna sing here one day!" I proclaimed".
For this year's young talents the Competition can also become the start of an exciting story.....