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Morten Messerschmidt's Guide to the Opera

The Dansk Folkeparti politician has a soft spot for opera, so we asked him to share the passion.

When I call up Morten Messerschmidt to ask him about the opera, he's pretty excited. Ecstatic, even. It makes sense: when you're a high-profile politician representing the Dansk Folkeparti in the European Parliament - the most right-wing party of the thirteen currently represented in the Danish Parliament - you probably don't get asked too many innocent questions about the opera. Questions about your party's tough policies (see point 7) against refugees and immigrants? Yep. Questions about your personal history of placing not-so-subtly racist advertisements in a magazine? Sure. Questions about that one time you thought it was a great idea to sing the first verse of Germany's national anthem that also happened to be used by the Nazis? Perhaps. So yeah, it's safe to say that Morten Messerschmidt was pretty stoked to talk about something almost irrelevant to politics. Seeing as Mr. Messerschmidt has the reputation of being a die-hard opera fan - and I'm not exactly an opera expert myself - I thought I'd take the opportunity to get his pro-tips for an opera newbie like myself—plus coax out his passion about opera and Danish culture, too. Enjoy.

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NOISEY: Hello, Morten. How did you get captivated by the opera in the first place?
Morten Messerschmidt: I can dig up that moment quite precisely. When I was ten, The Three Tenors gathered together in Rome and gave their first concert. It was a massive media event so as a kid I saw it, too. Seeing these three cool guys interacting with such brilliance and friendship, communicating this music, touched me even as a boy. It was a warmth I hadn’t experienced before, so that sparked my interest in the genre. My aunt’s a very passionate opera fan so the next year, she took me to the Royal Theatre. We saw two operas from Pavarotti’s signature era and I was just in love! I couldn’t help it. My emotions took over and opera has been a part of my every day life ever since.

You also sing opera yourself, I’ve heard.
I used to more. My ambition as a teen was to become an opera singer – that’s what I wanted – but when I was fifteen or sixteen, I developed an interest in politics and the two areas began to compete in my life. Gradually, the politics took over. I’m still singing occasionally, though. My voice is now quite different compared to what it was ten years ago, but I sing when I have a chance. Unfortunately, these days it takes me so much practice to be prepared enough for even a small concert because my voice is not at all what it used to be. However, I’m a happy amateur. If I’m at a dinner and the mood is loose, I love to stand up and sing an aria. People are very happy with that. Of course, it also plays a big role for me to just listen to it every day. I’m constantly listening to a new opera, trying to get into its details and the motions and understandings of the composer. That’s great.

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Other than singing impromptu arias at dinner parties, is it quite hard to find a community of opera lovers these days?
My experience is that basically everybody loves opera—it’s just that not everybody knows it yet. I’m lucky enough to have many friends who are interested in opera, but the majority of my friends and associates are not. I’m always happy to bring them to the opera or Copenhagen Opera Week—I know they’ll just sit there and listen and in their hearts they’ll have the same experiences I would want them to. They’ll experience the magic of opera and it’ll change their lives. So, I love to share opera with people who are already passionate about it but I also love to open people’s hearts to it.

Let's say that I wanted to give opera a chance. What’s a good entry opera to get me hooked into the genre?
The Puccini operas, for sure. First of all, they’re the best-written operas ever—or at least the best-written ones in the Italian style. The symbiosis between the voices, the themes, the orchestra… it’s just amazing. Also, the stories are really easy to approach. They have relatable characters, like in Madama Butterfly or in Tosca. The tunes are pure magic, too. They’re so easy to listen to. People might say Mozart is a good entry point, but I personally think he’s too difficult to approach whereas the bigger Puccini operas are great for beginning with.

As far as actually going to see the opera, where would I go in Copenhagen?
It’s not just limited to Copenhagen, though. I would highlight the Jutland Opera around Aarhus. It has very, very good people in it—both on stage and in the orchestra. They are normally regarded as the little brother to the Royal Opera, but I personally think they’re on an even level. Secondly, I’d recommend the Copenhagen Opera Festival in the summer. It’s such an incredible event… the organizer, Michael Bojesen, is so skilled and doing so much to attract International musicians to Copenhagen. It’s amazing to be able to walk down the street and see this kind of incredible music for free. Even if you don’t want to sit through an entire opera, just go have a coffee while you go listen to some of this International talent. We should be so grateful to have a person like Michael Bojesen in Copenhagen working in the opera. I think it’s an event that should spread internationally so we have it in all major cities. It’s quite normal to have rock or jazz festivals, but the only music genre that could actually speak to all people—that would be the opera.

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Why do you think opera’s the genre to reach the most people, though? What makes it better than other types of music for you?
I think it has to do with the connection between the full orchestra and the human voice. Obviously, the human voice is relatable: it’s somebody speaking to us with our own musical instrument. The combination of that and the orchestra and the eloquently told dramatic stories speaks directly to our emotional register in a way that no other art form can do. If I listen to a pop song or soul or whatever, I’ve never felt that it’s something that can touch you even after the music has stopped.
With opera, I think the music itself can communicate emotionally in a way that words could never. If you listen to a poem or a theatrical play, you need to think about the words—but you don’t even have to understand the words in an opera in order to understand the emotions of the singer because it’s so well underlined and emphasized in the music. The music can go straight to your heart and that is something truly extraordinary that only happens in opera.

You’ve referred to a lot of Italian opera, but would you say there is a specific Danish tradition for opera?
Definitely—especially around Carl Nielsen. There is a special tone in Danish opera. It can be difficult to describe but it’s come out of the new traditions out of the beginnings of the 20th century: it keeps the nature, coldness and melancholy that came from the traditional Nordic composers like Sibelius from the 1850s onwards.

You’ve already mentioned the Copenhagen Opera Festival, but are there other specific operas in the near future you are personally looking forward to?
I try to make it to all the performances at the Royal Theatre but because my logistics are quite difficult - I’m in Belgium or France all the time - I can’t be here that much. However, I do try to get out to Jutland and experience the Juttish opera. Also, as I said, people should experience the Royal Opera, the Jutland Opera and the Copenhagen Opera Festival. There’s a geographical spread on those so there’s no excuses!

Due to the culture funding cuts being proposed for next year (specifically, the budget cuts the Royal Danish Theatre will be experiencing), how do you view this affecting opera culture and growth in Denmark?
Indeed, it is a big challenge. I think the Royal Theatre needs to open up a lot more to communicate better and express what opera really is. On the other hand, the politicians shouldn't only focus on cutting but could also come up with more constructive ideas for new possibilities for the opera.

Thank you, Morten.