Stefan Astakhov Baritone, Germany "Find a teacher who suits you and from whom you can learn a reliable vocal technique." What inspired you to become a singer? My family is very musical. My grandmother is a well-known accordeon player and teacher in Russia, my grandfather was a famous conductor, my mother is a conductor and a pianist and my father is an opera singer. When you have such a musical family there is literally no chance that one would become anything else than a musician. My first visit to the opera was when my father sang the role of Mephisto, and he had this amazing suit and make-up. I first didn't recognize him and I was scared to death by how he looked, but from there I fell in love with opera or theatre in general. What’s your dream role and why? For now or for the near future my dream role is Figaro from Il Barbiere di Seviglia by Rossini. I love the character because he is a happy-go-lucky guy who just enjoys his life as a barber, take for instance his aria "Largo al factotum", he just goes out and brags to everyone how awesome him and his life is. My other dream role for the near future is Billy from Britten's opera Billy Budd. He is somewhat similar to Figaro as a character. For me they are both light-hearted and positive guys, whereas Figaro is more of a witty character and Billy more pure and naive. Who is your favourite singer and why? There are so many amazing singers that I like, but a few years ago I discovered the great Piero Cappuccilli and since then I have always gone back to his recordings. In the internet era the information is so easily accessible which makes it so simple, compared to the past, to discover singers and recordings and to learn from that. What do you hope to achieve by participating in The Queen Sonja International Music Competition? First of all I am extremely happy to participate in this amazing competition! I want to achieve a greater artistic experience and to gain as much self-confidence as possible. I dare to do more things after each competition performance, like adding more colour and nuance which make the total performance more interesting. Tell us something surprising or unexpected about yourself! I had my first stage experience when I was 4 years old, in concert at my local music school. I sang my then most favourite song – Count Gremin's aria "Lyubvi vse vozrasty pokorny" – of course transposed and shortened. Nowadays I also compose music on my computer! It’s nothing serious though, just some simple pop music. What kind of demands do you believe the future’s opera singers must fulfill to make a career? To develop a strong and self-confident mindset, be open on stage and don't be afraid to show your feelings to the audience. Most importantly, find a teacher who suits you and from whom you can learn a reliable vocal technique.