La Monnaie / De Munt LA MONNAIE / DE MUNT

Fanny och Alexander

Cast drop

In the category ‘everything you’ve always wanted to know about opera’: how to find the perfect singers for each role? General and Artistic Director Peter de Caluwe reveals how the casting of Fanny och Alexander came about.

“The casting stage of Fanny och Alexander – the opera – is now behind us. As befits a work by the greatest Swedish film director ever, the first thing I did was seek the advice of the Scandinavian world of singers. This led me to Anne Sofie von Otter, herself a Swede and familiar with the work of Ingmar Bergman. She seemed the perfect fit for the role of the central character: the spirited grandmother, Helena Ekdahl, who keeps her family together. This fascinating ‘mère de famille’ has a lover: the Jewish Isak. So I asked Anne Sofie who she saw as her favourite opera partner… She didn’t need to think about it for long before naming Thomas Hampson. When we were able to tie them both down for a video call and I saw for myself the chemistry between them, I had a eureka moment. The role of Isak seemed to me much too episodic and small for a celebrated artist like Hampson. So I suggested to the artistic team that the two singers be considered for the lead roles of the bishop and his sadistic housekeeper Justine. They both leapt at the idea and the matter was decided.

This did mean that we had to look for a new granny! Our Director of Artistic Planning and Production, Bettina Giese, suggested Doris Soffel. I needed little persuasion, and the video meeting with Doris, the composer and the librettist confirmed that this was the right choice. Doris is married to a Swedish diplomat, speaks fluent Swedish and knows Bergman’s films well. In our discussion, it was suggested that we might approach a Swedish variety singer cum actor for the episodic role of her lover. The choice fell on Loa Falkman and he, too, readily agreed. For the other major roles, I took the lead from the artistic entourage of composer Mikael Karlsson and librettist Royce Vavrek who had worked with American singers before. Consideration was given to two names for whom I had long been searching for a project: tenor Peter Tantsits and mezzosoprano Sasha Cooke. They will perform the roles of Oscar and Emilie, Fanny and Alexander’s parents.

Now we just have to find the rest of the family and of course cast the children - the titular roles. I am confident that we will be able to find a solution for them in our children’s chorus, but it is a little too early as yet. December 2024 is still some way off. One person we have already brought on board is conductor Ariane Matiakh. A work with forceful women led by a female conductor. It just gets better and better!”