<= No, she's not a stuntwoman. She's not earning her money as a professional athlete, either. She's not even gay (bugger…). She's a professional mezzo soprano. (and as I have already stated elsewhere: mezzos rock!)
If you asked anyone to draw a quick sketch of a typical opera singer, you’d probably end up with a collection of round-bellied tenors and huge sopranos.
Of course, opera singers, like all kinds of people, come in all sizes and shapes – whether they’re more the Montserrat Caballé type or more the wiry type like Natalie Dessay. The only thing you thankfully can’t do in opera is being abnormally thin – I wouldn’t advise anyone with a weight of a 100 pounds or less to try and survive a night battling a Wagnerian orchestra. It’s called stamina for a reason. — Just one more reason why I love opera so much is that the Tyranny of the Size Two Types can’t happen there, and I will defend this space where you can defy race, age, gender and body type by the sheer power of your voice against all Netrebkos to my last breath.
But then, of course, there are people like Malena Ernman. And Malena Ernman’s dyketastic impressive arms, thus enabling me to talk about two of my favorite things at the same time: mezzos and well-developed arms.
Those of you who know me a little better are aware of the fact that I appreciate women with a bit of muscle. And I admit that the thing that turned me into a gym slut got me to work out a little, was, in fact, Madonna’s arms. Seeing a buff opera singers is a rarity, however, since a) they work schedules that don’t really allow for gym hours (unless you are Eva Marton and have a gym built into your house) and b) too much arm and shoulder training can get in the way of your voice. There are exceptions, however.
I first heard Malena Ernman when I caught a performance of Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” in Vienna (Theater an der Wien) last spring. Initially, I had bought the ticket because of Marijana Mijanovic in the title role since I missed her when she toured with the part under Minkoskwi a few years back. Mijanovic was great (so was the rest of the cast, including Veronica Cangemi, and a fantastic René Jacobs conducting), but then Malena Ernman appeared on stage as the young, angry Sesto. The director (thank you, Christof Loy!) found a reason to have her run around in a tank top before as much as 20 minutes had passed. AND she can sing. AND she can act. AND then Marijana Mijanovic stripped down to a tank top, too. — Really, the night couldn’t have been better.
But back to Malena Ernman. I hadn’t heard her before, although we all know since ABBA Anne Sofie von Otter that Swedish mezzos are a class of their own. You can get a taste of the clarity and agility of Erman’s voice in this excerpt from Handel’s Agrippina, where she portrays a coke-snorting Nerone.
And I came across her astounding arms acting and singing abilities again in the DVD of the “Hercules” production (Handel, once more), staged by Luc Bondy. I had actually rented the DVD for the Dejanira of Joyce DiDonato (who will take up a Mezzo Watch entry on her own). But then, ten minutes into the performance, popped up a familiar pair of shoulders (pun absolutely intended): Malena Ernman.
DiDonato’s Dejanira is spectacular, but Ernman definitely holds her own as Lichas (Dejanira’s servant, who is originally male-gendered, but who cares…). Ah, too bad that oranges are the only fruit here… By the time Hercules appeared on stage, I was almost angry about the interruption.
Ernman’s voice is a lyric mezzo at its best and sometimes she reminds me of the early years of fellow Swede, Anne Sofie von Otter. Ernman’s agility is astounding and when she creates a dramatic moment, she does it much more via intensity and pronunciation than by force. Add her great acting skills, and I can only say that I hope to catch her performing live again. For this season, she is scheduled to sing Rossini’s “Cenerentola” in Stockholm in May/June, in case you’re in the area. After hearing mostly Baroque, prime lyric mezzo repertoire from her, the switch to a coloratura mezzo part like Cenerentola is intriguing me, especially when taking into account her ability to do mad scales (see Nerone clip above).
Apropos mad scales: I have no idea what exactly she is doing here, but it sure is fun to watch. ‘Idrottsgalan’ is, as far as I understood it, a huge annual sports gala in Sweden. Which means more great arms in the audience. Sign me up! – I’m assuming Ernman got invited to present/perform because her arms clearly rival those of the sports folk present among the listeners. She seems to be a lot more famous in Sweden, but I hope that she (and her sculpted deltoids) will be around Central and Southern Europe again soon. Preferably in something sleeveless.