She is not fat, she doesn’t have any prima donna behaviors and she isn’t ugly either, on the contrary. Perhaps opera divas aren’t really like that anymore, I forgot to ask her.
In fact there were many things I forgot to ask Madeleine Kristoffersson, because just shooting the breeze with her was so stimulating that many of my questions remained unasked and thus unanswered. I had to e-mail her and call her again to try and get a complete picture. And I still don’t have it. Perhaps it’s because she is a Scorpio, somehow a little mysterious and secretive. What emerges when I look at my notes is a picture of someone who stands out from the crowd, somebody a bit different.
“I began taking singing lessons when I was 8-years-old,” says Kristoffersson who grew up in Frösö in Jämtland. “My parents were both teachers, and they always played classical records at home. There were instruments in our home, and my mother had a lovely voice and played the piano. I studied the piano and the violin. I still play the piano — whenever I have to learn a new piece, I accompany myself on the piano.”
Kristoffersson is an only child, and she had to find means by which to occupy herself without the benefit of other kids around. Classical music became a game early on and made her stand out, too. It’s one thing to be a young girl with a pretty voice and sing at various school functions; it’s quite another to be a young girl with idols like Jussi Björling, Birgit Nilsson, Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland.
“I suppose they thought I was a little strange at school. But that was all right with me. I would just lock myself into the room and listen to these amazing singers for hours and hours.”
She won competitions, and it seemed the road ahead was clear-cut. At a very young age, she attended a masterclass in Stockholm with a well known American professor.
“I sang Elsa (from Wagner’s “Lohengrin”) and he told me he wanted me to come to New York and study with him at Juilliard. I was young, very young, actually ... perhaps too young, but I felt older than I was. I went home and packed my bags.”
Private studies in New York were followed by a tailored program at Stockholm’s Operahögskola, and then Kristoffersson was engaged at the Washington Opera. Eventually she moved to New York, where she is currently based. Sweden, however, always exercises a certain pull.
“I am Swedish,” she says, “and I always have a strong longing for Sweden, but I love America and I love New Yorkers and New York.”
Drawing parallels between young Swedish opera sensations and Jenny Lind must be an old trick by now, yet in Kristoffersson’s case Lind’s story bears repeating. Jenny Lind (1820-1887), was one of the most glorious opera singers of her time. Discovered as a child singing at an open window, Lind was soon invited to America by P.T. Barnum (who touted her as “the Swedish Nightingale”), where she gave large-scale concerts and made a lot of money. Jenny Lind toured extensively, but in 1852 she retired to England with her husband Otto Goldschmidt, and she died in Malvern, Worcestershire in 1887 from cancer. No recordings of her voice exist. There is also the famous Jenny Lind Scholarship for Sopranos, which Kristoffersson strangely never received. Nevertheless, Jenny Lind was always of interest to her.
“Jenny Lind took people by storm,” she says. “Both with her voice and with her ways. I was always fascinated by her.”
So much so, that she put together a Jenny Lind program, showcasing the songs Lind sang and the songs, Kristoffersson explains, she “would have sung had she continued her career.” More a show than some museum-like relic or tribute to Lind, the songs are tied together with Lind’s life and we get both an insight into the meaning of the songs and the story of Lind.
“I really believe in this program,” Kristoffersson says. “It’s exciting, it’s a real show.”
Kristoffersson herself performs in a replica of Lind’s own dress, a dress of rich red and lace, which sits dangerously low on the shoulders. That Kristoffersson tackles Jenny Lind at this point in her career is no surprise. Her voice is amazing, as if everything is finally in place.
“It’s the combination of a lot of things,” she explains. “But everything has just come together technically and emotionally for me. I’ve toughened up, my voice is the best it has been, and music is a great source for me.”
Earlier in 2009, Madeleine Kristoffersson gave a concert for the American Scandinavian Society at Bechstein in New York. For more information: www.americanscandinaviansociety.org
Her beautiful CD ""Celebrated Songs and Arias" (featuring among others "O, mio babbino caro", "Vissi d'arte" and "Casta Diva") is available at 1-877-579-8405.