- The most important thing is to get across whatever it is that you want to convey. That is the advice that soprano Hamida Kristoffersen (27), from the remote island of Bjarkøy in Norway’s northern Troms region, would give to this year’s participants.
Hamida was a finalist in The Queen Sonja International Music Competition in 2013, and won both the prize for best performance of Norwegian Music and the Ingrid Bjoner Scholarship, which is awarded to the best Norwegian participant.
Her career was also given an immediate jump start when she was invited to take up an internship at the International Opera Studio in Zurich. This autumn she will perform the role of Michaëla in the Norwegian National Opera’s production of Carmen.
Hamida was still a masters student at the music conservatory in Tromsø when she surpassed her own expectations by reaching the final in the prestigious competition.
- Just getting through was amazing, says Hamida. I didn’t expect it, so it was really exciting! To be able to sing at the opera house, on that huge stage with the orchestra, was pretty special.
When she also won the Premio Verdi competition in Oslo and made it to the semi-final in the Belvedere Singing Competition in Amsterdam that same summer, Hamida couldn’t quite believe it.
- I was completely thrown! My intention in applying was simply to gain experience. I had no great expectations for either of them.
What advice would you give to this year’s contestants?
- The most important thing is to get across whatever it is that you want to convey. Don’t worry about proving anything. See the competition as a mini concert, an opportunity to present yourself as an artist, rather than a singing machine. There will always be jury members with differing criteria. It’s art after all, and people have different tastes.
This artistic focus worked for Hamida. Her performance of Ave Maria by Fartein Valen secured her the prize for best presentation of Norwegian music, and she was awarded the Ingrid Bjoner Scholarship as the best Norwegian artist.
Before the competition Hamida was unknown in Oslo, but her success got her noticed in the capital.
- My agent rang me on the evening of the semi-final and told me that I had been invited to sing with the Oslo Philharmonic. It was a concert of music by Norwegian composers to celebrate the anniversary of the constitution.
She was also invited to sing with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra as part of the Aftenposten newspaper’s New Year concert. The event is known as a platform for young talents.
But there was one jury member in particular who fell for Hamida’s beautiful lyric voice.
- At the reception after the final Sophie de Lint (jury leader and artistic director of the Zurich Opera) offered me an internship at the opera house in Zurich. When presenting me with my prize on the main stage she whispered in my ear that I was a wonderful artist and had a great future ahead of me. It was a very special moment. Now I get to sing with big names like Diana Damrau and Lucio Gallo, and work with fantastic directors like Fabio Luisi (General Music Director of the Philharmonia Zurich). In many ways, Zurich is the heart of Europe. Just to see how these people work is fantastic. I would never have had the opportunity if it wasn’t for The Queen Sonja International Music Competition.
A moving story
When it comes to her own taste in opera, it’s classics like Madam Butterfly and La Boheme that move Hamida. We asked for her recommendations for those unacquainted with the genre.
- I was introduced to Mozart at first, but it didn’t work for me. The stories were too convoluted and I didn’t like the way they repeated the same text again and again. I needed Puccini to fall in love with opera. His works were more direct, and the stories easier to follow. They are more similar to film in some ways, which makes them easier to understand for my generation.
For Hamida, a clear narrative is important. - There are many directors today who try to make opera more opaque than it really is. It’s not so straightforward anymore. Contemporary productions twist things so that the action is often harder to understand. This makes it more difficult for the performer to touch their listeners, and the audience less likely to be moved.
This trend means that many experience opera as difficult and inaccessible, but it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Again, it’s a matter of taste.
- There are so many different things one can get from opera. You can experience profound emotion, and the grand themes of love and death, but it can also be funny and entertaining. I love tragic dramas, but not everyone wants to cry on a visit to the theatre. It’s good to have things that can make us glad too!