Our 2022 holiday greetings featured the Hogfather with the promise of this interview. Well, to be more precise, in Terry Pratchett’s story it’s actually Death pretending to be the Hogfather … and to be even more precise, we actually talked with the man behind the Death/Hogfather mask: Tomi Andersson. Some of you might know him as the front man of the Finnish Metal act Saatanan Marionetit. Nowadays his stage presence is dedicated to an ever-so-slightly different musical genre – opera. 🙂 Tomi tells us how it all happened and why it’s worth to show up early for rehearsals:
As far as I remember, you had this remarkable career and residency change even before the pandemic?
Yes, I moved to Stockholm to study opera at the Stockholm Opera studio, this is what happened in 2018. So I decided to change my career from bar tender to opera singer, basically.
You also had this other job in Saatanan Marionetit – so what was the inspiration to change the genre, ever so slightly? 😉
(laughs) I didn’t so much change genre, as I was working as a bar tender and as a Heavy Metal musician and then I switched over to working at opera, theater AND Heavy Metal, so it was only bar tending that I left. I’m still with Saatanan Marionetit and Heavy Metal, it’s all good!
Can u tell us more details about your drama background you had mentioned back then in the band interview?
I was studying musical theater at Helsinki musical theater school back in 2005, 2006 – that was a fun year for me, I made a lot of friends and found out that because of my really low voice, there won’t be many parts for me in musicals. Basically I would do spoken roles. So right after that I did more operetta and spoken theater and children theater, playing the mean villain roles (laughs). Which is also a lot of fun, but I still wanted to do more with music, so I turned to the Heavy Metal world.
Speaking of villains – I know you are a big Skeletor fan, so how did you end up playing a character who pretty much looks like that in the Hogfather production by the FinnBrit players?
Well, I noticed on Facebook that they would be doing Hogfather, and I am a big Terry Pratchett fan, and yes, I love Skeletor, he is an adorable villain. As for Hogfather – I auditioned for the role of death, and the director said later that the moment I walked in and said „Hello“, I got the part because my voice was just echoing through the theater! (listen to Tomi’s voice yourself in this clip – he’s telling the story in more detail, the ed.)
What inspired you to pick up opera?
Oh, I have to say that I am really thankful to my mom. When I quit bar tending in 2017, all of the sudden I had more time to do things in the evening – before I was always off to work at evenings and during the day I slept. So then I got time to do something and my mom suggested I take singing lessons, which I did. And my vocal coach said that if I work hard enough, I could actually do it as a profession, so I just went for it. A year after that, I applied for schools and here I am now, singing opera. (laughs)
How was it in Stockholm, and what brought you back to Helsinki?
Stockholm was really great, but when I went there, I didn’t know anybody. So I could be in school and study all day long, from morning till evening and get things done, I could basically study my ass off, not being bothered by family or friends who want to meet me „let’s go for a beer“ – none of that, it was just school and studying, every day of the week, the odd day off here and there, otherwise none. And why coming back to Helsinki – it was basically homesickness. My wife lives here and we had a long-distance relationship going on – which is not too cool. But all in a sudden I had a chance to choose between 3 schools, 2 in Sweden, 1 in Finland, which was Helsinki Conservatory, so, yeah, a no-brainer, „I’m coming back to Helsinki“!
Can you tell us more about your roles, your performances so far, where, which productions?
Oh, well, it’s been a trajectory. At the school in Stockholm, in the first year, you get to be part of a chorus, so I was in the chorus of “The Magic Flute” and I also had a small speaking role in this „Singspiel“. The reason I got the part with the most spoken lines was that I was the only one who showed up early to rehearsals – it had nothing to do with my acting skills. In my second year I got the small part of Don Bartolo in „Le nozze di Figaro“, the marriage of Figaro, and that was a lot of fun. Not my favorite opera in the world, but I got to do a part which is extremely funny. Don Bartolo is also a part that has nothing to do with the initial story, so you can go as crazy as you want to and our director loved it a lot. And in my final third year I got to do the role of Zoroastro in Händel’s „Orlando“. Which is a huge Baroque aria a role with a lot of difficult passages, and I loved it to death. It’s still in my top 5 operas, it’s so good, a sword-and-sorcery story. If you love Conan the Barbarian or Excalibur like I do, Zoroastro was one of my dream roles!
Back in Helsinki, my first professional part in a chorus was the newly written opera ”Lisbeta” on Åland islands. The libretto was written by Carina Karlsson and Ida Kronholm, it was composed by Karólína Eiríksdóttir and our conductor was Anna-Maria Helsing. An all-women team which in opera world was extremely uncommon, or in the world of anything, really, that women are in charge of everything that was happening. The play was about the witch hunts on Åland islands in the late 17th century. So who better to tell the tale than Carina Karlsson, who has written a book about it – and then she got to write a libretto for this opera. So good. I got to sing in the chorus and I was so proud to have done that.
In the first year at Helsinki Conservatory, I got a role in the production ”Die Lustige Witwe” – I did Bogdanowitsch and it was a lot of fun. We worked with the director Markku Nenonen. Markku is a dancer and choreographer, so we got a lot of dancing, movement, action – and because I love physical theater, he let me do whatever the hell I want. So as Bogdanowitsch I was falling down the stairs being extremely drunk, and he was like ”yeah this is great, keep going, keep going – but no more dick jokes, there are enough of those in the play”. Then at Savonlinna Opera Festival I was in the chorus for Tosca, Aida and Carmen, which means in the mornings rehearsals, in the evenings a show, learning 3 operas by heart in a period of 1,5 months. It was really intense and really awesome and I got to work with some of the most talented singers in the world. After that I feel more than well equipped to take the next step and do some solo stuff in 2023. Let’s see what it will be.
Any other dream roles you’d like to perform?
There are many dream roles, Mefistofele from Arigo Boito, that’s one I definitely want to do, and also Hagen from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, one of the greatest villains ever written in drama, really. Usually people who write music for opera have a separate librettist but Wagner always insisted to write it himself, and when it comes to the Ring (der Nibelungen), I am so happy that he did it himself because it’s such a great libretto. The characters are brilliant and a lot of them extremely relateable and the tale is about greed and corruption and sword and sorcery. It is just beautiful!
You already mentioned a lot of roles that require singing in a different language – German, Italian, French… what was the most difficult role and language to learn so far?
Well, German and Italian are fairly easy, French is a bit tough – if you look a the text how it’s written, how the hell do you pronounce it? Luckily I had studied 2 years of French, so I could read it, but there are still those micro nuances are hellishly difficult, especially for a Finnish tongue. And another one, which I found extraordinary, was singing in Czech, because of Smetana, for example. And then you have to learn Czech – looking at a word with 4 consonants in a row (laughs). I was very lucky, I knew a journalist from a Czech Heavy Metal magazine who had interviewed me; I contacted her and she could read this to me rhythmically – so I basically won the lottery on this one.
What’s coming up next?
After the Hogfather production I’ll go to Stockholm and work on Bluebeard’s Castle, Bela Bartok, not in Hungarian but in Swedish, which is rather unusual but it will be amazing. Then I’ll be going to Malmö, where I’m auditioning for the role of the jailor in Tosca, My first solo role as a professional, to be performed at Åland Opera Festival in summer 2023 (update: he got the part! The ed.). And then I will graduate from Helsinki Conservatory of Music and will be a musician, officially, in black and white!
Final question: What are, in your opinion, the common features of Heavy Metal, Black Metal and opera, besides the make-up?
Well, apart from the make-up… OK, the main difference between opera and Heavy Metal – opera is a form of musical theater and Heavy Metal ISN’T necessarily, except maybe shows by King Diamond, Alice Cooper or Avantasia. But the similarities – both are an extreme form of showing your emotions. So when there’s a song about depression, you really dive deep into it. And when it’s a song about love, you really dive deep into it – take Whitesnake, for example. It’s love in its most extreme forms and really different forms, and when you want vengeance, yes, Heavy Metal will give you vengeance that’s really in your face and it hurts to hear but you really have to hear it. That’s I would say the biggest similarity of both art forms – showing emotions on a deep and extreme level. So if you are listening to Pop music or musicals, they kinda carefully scrape the surface but don’t want to make you feel terrible afterwards – but neither opera or Heavy Metal, neither genre promises you a happy ending or says that it’s all going to be fine. This doesn’t exist in the world of Heavy Metal and opera.