Tonight, all eyes are on Malmö – Sweden’s third city and one Danes like to think of as a suburb of Copenhagen.

Forget about Sweden…Malmö’s great because of the sizeable add-on it brings to the Danish capital’s culture life. You can watch an opera in Malmö and be home in bed in Copenhagen – in another country – well before midnight. Copenhagen has all the musical trappings of a major European capital (two opera houses, three symphony orchestras, two conservatories, early music ensembles, radio choirs etc). Malmö adds to that a symphony orchestra, conservatory and opera house with its own full-time chorus and orchestra. It has a beautiful new concert hall in Malmö Live and its Mid-Century opera house from 1946, designed by Sigurd Lewerentz, is a functionalist masterpiece.

These seven fine performances from both buildings spring to mind.

  1. Malmö Opera: Pelléas et Mélisande (2016)
Marc Maullon and Jenny Daviet in Malmö Opera’s Pelléas et Mélisande

One of the first main-stage shows I saw at Malmö Opera. Benjamin Lazar’s production was well sung, very well conducted (by Maxime Pascal, chief conductor at the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra from this summer) and beautifully designed and costumed in a sort of 1970s paradigm…tout un monde lointain. It was taped for DVD.

  • 2. Malmö Opera: De Vliegende Hollander (2019)
Cornelia Beskow as Senta in Malmö Opera’s De Vliegende Hollander

In Lotte de Beer’s 2019 staging of Wagner’s opera in Malmö, the character of Senta was portrayed not as the Norwegian village’s misfit loner but as a visionary artist, prone to creating daemonic, progressive canvases in black oils (an Ibsen-like figure in more ways than one). When the Dutchman arrived, all Senta needed do to prove their symbiosis was paint with him. Senta was powerfully sung by Cornelia Beskow, one of the ‘golden cohort’ to emerge from the Royal Danish Opera Academy in the early 2010s (alongside Lise Davidsen and Sofie Elkjær Jensen).

  • 3. Malmö Symphony Orchestra: Trevino’s Opening Concert (2019)
Robert Trevino opening his tenure at the Malmö Symphony Orchestra

On 12 September 2019, Robert Trevino presided over his first concert as chief conductor of the Malmö Symphony Orchestra. He chose an exact replica of Simon Rattle’s opening concert at the Berliner Philharmoniker: Asyla by Thomas Adès and Mahler’s Symphony No 5. Sometimes, it’s better to hear an orchestra straining and almost bursting to play a difficult Mahler symphony than it is to hear an orchestra that knows the score like the back of its hand. It was hard not to get swept up in the ambition and intent of Trevino’s opening concert…and in how seriously the good folk of Malmö took it.

  • 4. Malmö Opera: La Traviata (2018)
Patricia Petibon sings her first Violetta in Olivier Py’s La Traviata for Malmö Opera

Malmö Opera scored a bit of a coup in 2018, luring the French coloratura soprano Patricia Petibon to the house to sing her first Violetta. I wrote at the time for Opera News: ‘the soprano’s superlative vocal acting and unique way with special effects enabled her to find richer, deeper colors [sic] while at the same time plotting the progress of the fatal illness taking hold of her body.’ The day-of-the-dead symbolism in Olivier Py’s production was entertaining but laid on with a trowel.

  • 5. Malmö Symphony Orchestra: Dvořák 7
Alondra del a Parra (Felix Broede)

Malmö Symphony Orchestra opened its 2021-22 season with a performance of Dvořák’s superlative Symphony No 7 under Mexican conductor Alondra de la Parra, a musician I’m always intrigued to hear. Yes, it’s a cliché to talk about Central and South American conductors having a heightened sense of rhythm, but Alondra kicked and swung this symphony (in which rhythm is all-important) into action with real panache. I was on the edge of my seat for almost all of it.

  • 6. Malmö Opera: Turandot (2024)
Sofia Jupither’s production of Turandot for Malmö Opera (Jonas Persson)

I loved this – a deeply progressive production in traditional clothing, and one that proved devastatingly moving (you can read my review for Opera Now here). But it was notable for its musical achievement under Daniel Carter: probably the subtlest, most nuanced and most idiosyncratic performance I have heard from this company, and of a very tricky score (the chorus, in particular, was outstanding). The entire run, in Sweden’s biggest theatre, was sold out.

  • 7. Malmö Opera/Skånes Dansteater: Mozart Requiem (2019)

This was extraordinarily moving. I can rarely find the words to critique the most effective contemporary dance productions, and why I find them so. The choreography was by Örjan Andersson; the chorus of Malmö Opera merged with the dancers of Skånes Dansteater. I found almost every movement so umbilically connected to the Mozart and so very redolent of something in my own life I couldn’t express (and clearly can’t here).

Andrew Mellor


Luisi v. Opera

Fabio Luisi is not happy about the state of the opera industry, as he told me recently when we sat down in Copenhagen to talk about…Carl Nielsen

For the new (May) edition of Gramophone, I interviewed Fabio Luisi – Chief Conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra since 2016. When we met here in Copenhagen two months ago, we talked mostly of Carl Nielsen. That was the hook for Gramophone’s article. Luisi is back in town right now, conducting six all-Nielsen concerts across nine days starting on 20 April, coinciding with Deutsche Grammophon’s release of the composer’s complete symphonies recorded with the same orchestra.

But we also talked opera – specifically, the Italian conductor’s apparent partial withdrawl from the opera world since he resigned the general music directorship of Zurich Opera in 2021. And Luisi isn’t happy about the state of the industry…

I refer briefly to Luisi’s comments in the Gramophone article, but there wasn’t room to quote him in full. So here’s what he said, from the tape. The conversation grew from talking about the conductor’s concert Ring Cycle with his Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the first enterprise of its kind presented by a major American orchestra (Luisi conducted the Met’s last Ring, in the production by Robert Lepage). Fingers crossed it will end up on the DSO’s enterprising own label.

AM: Talk of your Ring Cycle in Dallas reminds me that you don’t have an opera house at the moment.

FL: No, I stopped Zurich two seasons ago. And I didn’t want…I wanted to reduce my opera commitment.


I was a little bit tired of the opera business. I still am, because it has changed a lot in the last 20-25 years. I started in opera in the 80s, and I was involved a lot with European opera houses and then the Met, and…the business has changed and has not changed in a good direction in my opinion. The focus is going into the visual aspect of presenting opera, which is important. But neglecting the musical aspect is not a good development in my opinion, and most opera houses are neglecting the musical aspect.

In terms of singers?

Singers, conductors.

Is that connected to the current notion that the ‘fach’ no longer exists – that singers should be more versatile?

It’s wrong. Not every voice is fit for everything.

Is this one of the reasons for your dissatisfaction?

Of course. It is very hard to find, these days, real Verdi voices, for example. Most opera houses…it’s a question of competence. If you are focused on the visual aspect, the voice becomes secondary. So you hire excellent-looking singers but if their voice doesn’t fit Don Carlo or Othello, or Lohengrin, it doesn’t have such importance anymore and I don’t want to be part of this.

Are the voices available? There are probably a dozen productions of Lohengrin happening in Europe at the moment. That suggests we have to have twelve singers doing the role just in Europe, or the opera can’t be staged.

It depends on which level. I tend to think on the highest level. Maybe we have one or two real voices for Lohengrin right now. Maybe we have a couple of voice for Ortrud, but not so many, and so in reality Ortrud is being sung by singers who are too little for this role. Elsa is fine, we have voices for Elsa. It’s a different thing for Verdi. A real Verdi voice, soprano, I can think of two or three. A real Verdi tenor? This gets very difficult. Bass? This gets enormously difficult.


A real baritone for Verdi, I mean if I hear Leonard Warren or [inaudible] or [Piero] Cappuccilli, okay. But now? We had [Željko] Lučić, who was very good, but he doesn’t sing anymore at that level.


Tezier is excellent, very good. But I wouldn’t do Iago with Tezier, he is not Iago.

In Zurich did you have full control over casting?

I had most control over casting of my productions and I was responsible for the conductors of the other productions. Somehow but not necessarily for the singers of the other productions.

So you must be casting your Dallas Ring with care?

Yes and it is not easy.


Luisi was adamant – even shaken beyond his usual demure demeanour – when talking of the quality of Copenhagen’s music life, describing it as ‘underrated’ and his orchestra here as ‘a treasure’. He talked also of Marie Jacquot, designated to the music directorship of the Royal Danish Opera from August 2024. ‘I know Marie because I taught at the academy in Vienna for a semester, and she was one of my students. So I have known her for several years, and she has developed beautifully. She was already at that time a very interesting student. I am very happy about her position here at the opera.’

The best bits, of course, were saved for Gramophone. Here’s the opening paragraph:

“Fabio Luisi is gentility personified. He has a fondness for fine tailoring and bow ties. He speaks softly and sensitively, like a surgeon imparting difficult news. His musical DNA is unmistakeably operatic. So how has this bespectacled theatre musician from Italy come to cut what one Gramophone critic has already touted as the superlative cycle of symphonies by Carl Nielsen – music that has mud on its boots, that sticks out tongues, hollers in the vernacular and trades in brusque northern European confrontation?”


Love / Ambition

The John Fulljames era at the Royal Danish Opera ended this summer. Here are some thoughts on his parting gesture, a new production of Wagner’s Die Walküre, whose messages of optimism came with their own bitter aftertaste.

This review was commissioned by and written for Opera News in New York. But a glitch meant it was never published. So here it is. Better late than never…

Wagner: Die Walküre Royal Danish Opera / 6.3.22

Tomasz Konieczny as Wotan in Die Walküre at the Royal Danish Opera (Camilla Winther)

After an absence of 16 years, Wagner’s Ring returned to the Copenhagen Opera House in March. The audience had waited long enough. Early performances of this Die Walküre sold out and there was rapt attention in the auditorium for the duration of the opening night’s 5 hours. Artistic Director John Fulljames took charge of the staging, the last he will pilot while still in post. Conducting was Thomas Søndergård, who played timpani in the pit the last time the Ring was seen at this address, in the production by Kasper Holten that opened the new opera house and put the Royal Danish Opera on the world map.

Fulljames’s intelligent production couldn’t help but bring to mind the sorry administrative mess that will see him depart this summer, and his projected complete Ring apparently aborted after he was allegedly deemed insufficiently Scandinavian to run Denmark’s national company. Here was further evidence that the boss bows out with his head held high, his staging focusing hard on the hopelessness of Wotan’s quest for power and the sort of short-term schemes that are doomed to fail in the face of true vision and genuine humanity. 

Wotan was on stage from the start, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur fixated on architectural models and spreadsheets, who assumed the status of a guru for his MacBook-wielding posse of office-bound Valkyries. When it all came tumbling down, he clasped to his chest a model of a broad staircase punctured by a giant spear, devastated that he – like Fulljames perhaps – would never get to see his plans come to fruition.

That model was the set we saw at full-scale on stage. Beneath the staircase, the under-class of Hunding and Sieglinde struggled in dirt and grime. Above it, Wotan’s elite workforce distributed Frappuccinos as they high-fived their corporation’s latest successes. It formed a strong image of the world in which we find ourselves, but proved even more resonant as a landscape of heartless ambition against which Siegmund and Brünnhilde’s visions of love and empathy proved so instantly transformative.  

The dramatic power in Act II was severe, Brünnhilde’s initial exchange with Siegmund riven with a line of tension drawn from a combination of sadness and complete stasis, the Valkyrie rooted to a single spot on stage until the pivotal moment at which she could resist the power of human love no more. After a caricature of a meek, abused partner in Act I, the Sieglinde of Act II, debilitated by a deep sense of shock, proved strikingly moving to watch.

That role was taken by Ann Petersen, her apparently ageless voice clearer than ever and offering in tone color what it can sometimes lack in agility. Her characteristic ability to rise to the occasion, even in the middle of a phrase, gave her portrayal a vital dramatic edge. Bryan Register’s Siegmund proved his heldentenor credentials, its lyricism mingled with a sense of over-excitement adumbrating a potentially fine Siegfried. Morten Staugaard found unexpected depth and growl as Hunding and his laconic acting oozed malice. Hanne Fischer’s portrayal of Fricka was deeply satisfying. Only the assembled Valkyries underwhelmed, a fragile ensemble stocked with too many promising but inexperienced singers from the Opera Academy.

There was real quality where it mattered. Both Tomasz Konieczny’s Wotan and Trine Møller’s Brünnhilde were defined by their superior approach to text. Konieczny’s bright, gleaming, legato-infused baritone does so much with words and can apparently color a note even when his mouth is closed; his ‘Abschied’ was most moving at its quietest. Møller focused on meaning and diction, drawing attention away from the size of a voice that, in the end, seemed big enough anyway.

Søndergård paced everything to the text and with ample elasticity. Strings were occasionally lost in the orchestral balance – not normally a problem with the Royal Danish Orchestra – and detail in the prelude to Act II was frustratingly low. But grandeur and scintillating rapture were kept in good balance. Ultimately, ambition and power were trumped by love and beauty, realized as effectively via the notes we heard as by the tenderness we saw.