Getting to Know...

15th December, 2016

Bass-baritone Andri Björn Róbertsson, 27, grew up in Reykjavík, Iceland. He was nominated as the ‘Brightest Hope in Classical Music’ at the 2013 Icelandic Music Awards and joined the English National Opera’s celebrated Harewood Artists this season. Andri made his performance début with the company in October as Angelotti in Tosca.

Having completed a postgraduate course and opera course at the Royal Academy of Music in London, he joined the National Opera Studio as a trainee in September 2013. He was a member of the International Opera Studio in Zürich, Switzerland for the 2014/15 season and was named a 2014 HSBC Academy Laureate of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.

None of my family are particularly musical, but we are all big lovers of music and art. I had a lot of hobbies growing up; I played the clarinet, sang in choirs, played handball and football, did athletics and ballroom dancing. I started singing in a choir at the age of five, started having private singing lessons at nine and studied in Iceland until I moved to London at the age of 21. Since then my singing has taken me to many interesting places and I’ve met some amazing people, most importantly my wife, Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson, who I met whilst studying at the Royal Academy of Music. We now live close to the coast in the North East of England, in a beautiful little town called Whitley Bay.

I’ve had so many influences over the years. My parents, who have supported me from the word ‘go’. My chorus master and singing teacher, Jón Stefánsson and Ólöf Kolbrún Harðardóttir, who taught me almost everything I know about music. Kiri Te Kanawa, who brought me to the Solti Te Kanawa Accademia in Italy when I was 20. There I was heard by people from the Royal Academy of Music and was subsequently offered a place to study there. Kiri Te Kanawa has been a great mentor when it comes to music and life in the business and most importantly, my wife – she has been a huge influence on me and supported me immensely.

It was an amazing feeling and a proud moment making my ENO debut; I have so much gratitude for all the people who have believed in me and helped me get to where I am today. Singing at the beautiful London Coliseum with the fantastic ENO chorus and orchestra and with great colleagues is everything I expected and more. This is the first verismo opera I have sung in, and actually one of my favourites. So, when I was asked to sing the role of Angelotti I was absolutely thrilled! I thoroughly enjoyed the rehearsal process lead by Maestro Oleg Caetani and the revival director, Donna Stirrup. They were so helpful, welcoming and inspiring, as were the other cast members. I’ve learnt so much from watching my fantastic colleagues work and perform.

When I finish Tosca, I will be performing the role of Ceprano in Rigoletto, again with English National Opera. This will be my first role in a Verdi opera, so that on its own is very exciting, particularly as this production is so iconic. My role as Ceprano involves working a lot with the ENO chorus, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better as we don’t share any scenes in Tosca. It will also mean more time at ENO, where I’m really enjoying the friendly atmosphere!

In Summer 2017 I will be performing my Aix en Provence recital programme, ‘Of Love and Death’ at L’Opéra de Lille with pianist Edwige Herchenroder. I’m going to Moscow in April for further performances of Trauernacht – a staged performance based on J. S. Bach’s sacred cantata. There are many more things coming up, such as my debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in a new opera by George Benjamin.

Quick fire round:

My favourite genre of music to listen to is… classical music and to Lieder in particular. I do however also enjoy listening to pop music from the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s and jazz, especially piano.

When I’m not singing, I’m… spending time with family and friends. I love cooking, collecting books, sports (football in particular) and watching films. Also, having recently bought our first house, I’ve realised I really enjoy doing DIY and gardening!

The last concert I attended was… a Bach concert with the Zurich Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Laurence Cummings at the Zurich Opera House.

My three life rules are… a) Invest time in family and friends - you never know when they might not be there b) Always believe in yourself - If you don’t, nobody else will c) Never save money on shoes!

The best advice I’ve received to date is there is more to life than music. In order to improve my understanding of music, I must enjoy everything that life has to offer. It’s about finding that perfect balance in life! Wise words from my old singing teacher!

I balance my life by… being very organised. When I’m away singing, I tend to do a lot of work - administrative and musical preparation, so when I’m at home I don’t feel pressured to spend my whole time working. Of course this doesn’t always work. It helps to have very understanding people around you. I’m at my best when I’ve had a good break from music and do some exercise or cooking. These activities clear my mind and when I return to my work, I’m a lot more focused.

If I could be any opera character, I would be… Figaro. He’s naturalistic, clever, masculine, naïve with a touch of innocence.

I have sacrificed seeing my wife, family and friends for my art.

The word ‘success’ is… to reach your goals in life, however small or big they may be. Success is to be pleased with yourself, with what you do and where you are at in life.

You would be surprised to discover... that although I’m from Iceland, I can’t stand to be cold. Houses in Iceland are all heated with geothermal energy, so we tend to have the heating on all year around and if we get too warm, we open a window instead of turning it off! I still have a tendency to do this.