The Flying Dutchman 101: Q&A with Olafur Sigurdarson

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Icelandic baritone Olafur Sigurdarson returns to Opera Colorado after portraying the title role in Falstaff in 2018. While he is no stranger to playing the Dutchman, this is his first time performing the role in the Mile High City. An expert on the works of Wagner, Olafur is a wonderful addition to this cast. Meet the man, the myth, the legend in the following Q&A before you see him live in Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman.

See Olafur in The Flying Dutchman from February 24 to March 3. Get tickets here>>

How did you get involved in opera? Was music part of your life as a child in Iceland?

A gound boy plays the piano with his father who plays the violin
Olafur Sigurdarson at age 10 playing with his father
Photo: Olafur Sigurdarson

With music being a huge part of my life from early on, I came quite late to opera. My dad is a professional musician, as was my grandfather. Their work kept me close to the Icelandic music industry, be it classical, rock, pop, or theater. I then spent years working in my father’s recording studio in (Reykjavík, while studying music myself with the violin as my main instrument.

Singing is also a big part of Icelandic culture. I sang a lot as a kid, on albums and in choirs. However, I only took up formal singing studies at the age of twenty-one. After that, there was no turning back.

 

This is not your first time singing The Dutchman. What do you like about playing this role and how do you relate to the character?

I was fortunate to get The Flying Dutchman into my repertoire in 2014 and have revisited the role in a few different productions since. It is impossible not to get completely enthralled by the magical music Wagner gives the story and characters; he moves the storyline forward in such a brisk and exciting way. It really is an edge-of-your-seat ride. The Dutchman himself is a wonderful opportunity for me to explore the many layers of his journey, musically and emotionally. Perhaps, I see myself in this character. I grew up by the sea in Iceland, I have been away from my homeland for years and years, and I hope for a nice opera contract at least every seven years that brings me close to the Dutchman. Whatever it is, I am a lucky boy getting to put his coat on.

 

You are quite the Wagner expert and have even performed in multiple seasons at the Bayreuth Festival. What do you like about Wagner and performing his work?

A man in w leather jack lies on a blue floor and looks up at the audience
Olafur Sigurdarson as Alberich in Der Ring des Nibelungen at the 2023 Bayreuth Festival.
Source: OperaPlus

I would be the last person to refer to myself as an expert. Nevertheless, Wagner has become a huge presence in my life and career. It has changed my life to be able to sing every summer at the Bayreuth Festival. Wagner gave us baritones some of the most magnificent roles and music in operatic history. He was fascinated with old sagas which relate directly to my background coming from Iceland. As soon as I sang my first Wagner opera, it really felt like coming home, both vocally and dramatically. Associating Wagner with simply being loud and too big is a grave mistake. He has given us some of the most delicate and beautiful musical moments possible. What’s not to like?

 

You were last in Colorado in 2018 to portray the title character in Falstaff. What do you like about Colorado and what are you excited to do during your free time here?

Well, the only thing better than singing at Opera Colorado is getting to sing at Opera Colorado again, right? I had the most fantastic time working on Falstaff in 2018. Lasting friendships were made, and I have kept in touch with many of my gorgeous friends and colleagues since. It really means a lot when a company invites you to return, something I treasure greatly. I was able to enjoy the Colorado spring in 2018 with some spectacular locations visited. I am excited to return earlier in the year this time around and to enjoy both the city of Denver and hopefully some trips outside when possible. Oh, and a cheeky breakfast at the Delectable Egg might be in the cards!

 

What do you like to do outside of opera?

I have always enjoyed traveling and, thankfully, my job allows me to do a lot of it. My wife and I love cooking and are constantly looking for new and interesting experiences. I do enjoy taking my camera for walks and hikes as often as possible, and Colorado is, most certainly, the place to be. Another one of my hobbies is fishing. There is only one downside to singing at the Bayreuth Festival every summer–the fishing there isn’t as good as in Iceland.

 

BONUS: You have “mum’s 2nd favourite baritone” on a few social media accounts. Who is her favorite baritone?

A man in a black and gold cape faces the audience while another man in a black and red cape stands beside him
Olafur Sigurdarson and his son Fjölnir Olafson in Icelandic Opera’s Tosca
Photo: Icelandic Opera

I can’t tell you enough how much I love this question! It so happens that a young Icelandic baritone, Fjölnir Olafson, is, without doubt, my mum’s favourite. I have been fortunate enough to perform with him on many occasions. He was, for example, Sciarrone to my Scarpia in Tosca, both in Germany and in Iceland. On top of this, he is a successful lawyer in Reykjavík. Oh, and he happens to be my son. When it comes to mum, I didn’t stand a chance!

Now that you have met the man behind the myth, are you ready to see Olafur bring the Dutchman to life? What else do you want to know about Olafur? Let us know in the comments below.

Experience Wagner’s supernatural drama this winter at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Get tickets today>>

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