Singing master and mentor

Teaching several master classes in Israel this week, renowned opera singer Hakan Hagegard dazzles his students as much as his audiences.

hakan Hagegard 88 298 (photo credit: )
hakan Hagegard 88 298
(photo credit: )
'We'll have fun trying to get insight into the best profession in the world," Hakan Hagegard says before beginning his master class, one of several he's giving this week at the International Opera Workshop (IOW) in Jaffa. Before a single note is sung, the charismatic opera singer has his audience captivated, wanting more. Professional singing is all about the audience, he tells his students. Get them on your side, get them figuratively on that stage with you, and they'll do half the work for you. Lured by his charm, wit and his obvious love and respect for the song and the singer, the class immerses itself in the work with him as he demonstrates his techniques. "Sing deep into your body; bring down the center of gravity," he tells one singer. "Think, perhaps, that the audience is the 'you' the singer is addressing, include them," he tells another. "Smart composers write singing, then action. The best at that is Mozart," he tells the third. Mozart was where it all started for Hagegard, who began studying at the Royal Academy of Stockholm at the age of 23. The Opera called on him to audition for Papageno. He got the part, and in 1975 Ingmar Bergman chose Hagegard to take on the shaggy (he's still a bit that way), cheerful bird-catcher in his film version of The Magic Flute - a role that helped catapult him to international fame. Hagegard has sung all the great baritone roles in every major opera house in Europe, and of course, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Today, having retired from active performance, Hagegard teaches full time at Oslo University and at the Met, giving himself to it as fully as he did to his career. "I'm lucky," he says, recalling that seminal audition in Stockholm. "I didn't have to choose my profession. It kind of happened, so I didn't have to make the decision about trying for a career. I was very relaxed about it all." HAGEGARD, 62, grew up in Karlstadt, west of Stockholm, as one of five children. His parents were amateur musicians, "who are the happiest musicians in the world, so it was a happy home. We five kids all played or sang. I played the cello and the piano, and still do a bit. It's nice to have a second instrument." He was still at school in Karlstadt when he started to study voice at the local conservatory. At the Academy, "I got a good start because I had brilliant teachers who taught me some of these things [I teach my students]." The rest he picked up along the way during his 40-year career. Much of his teaching has to do with how to communicate with the audience. To the fascinated delight of a gentleman happily eavesdropping on our interview from a nearby sofa in the hotel lobby, Hagegard enumerates the four steps that get the audience's attention and the two additional ones that keep it. Think about the message you want to give, look at, then turn to the audience who'll receive it, then sing. "It doesn't matter how good the instrument [the voice] is, you still have to put it across," he says, insisting that unless intellect and emotion are combined and fully grounded in the singer, "the audience isn't going to get it, and will back off," whether the singer is performing lieder or opera. Preference for one or the other is a matter of personality, he says, and quips that those who like the lied, or art song, want the audience lit, while those who prefer opera like the audience in the dark. Hagegard is happy he's done plenty of both in his career, and indeed, is currently recording a song cycle by US composer Domenick Argento. In opera his favorite role was most often "the part you feel you can do the best at the time and that offers you a challenge," like Berg's Wozzek at Santa Fe in 2000, Papageno, of course, Rigoletto in Stockholm when he was only 27, Amfortas in Parsifal and Wolfram in Tannhauser - "both parts that I wanted to do." There are no regrets. "I don't miss singing," he says, "I'm very happy with what I'm doing. It's a new stage in life, and I consider myself very fortunate." So do his students.