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Sounds of Sweden; Soprano Hillevi Martinpelto performs at St. Paul's in Worcester.

Byline: Richard Duckett

Hillevi Martinpelto remembers hearing a radio broadcast featuring the singing of renowned Swedish tenor Jussi Bjorling.

She was a young teenager growing up in the Darlana region of Sweden. The singing, meanwhile, was beautiful. Such combinations can be portentous, even life defining.

"I heard something very special on the radio" Martinpelto said. "Jussi Bjorling. He sang something. I realized that is something that's really wonderful."

Thirty-eight years later, Martinpelto is a Swedish soprano who has realized acclaim both in Sweden and on stages worldwide. She will be coming to Worcester for the first time on Wednesday, when she appears with the Darlana Sinfonietta orchestra as part of the sixth annual St. Paul's Music Festival at St. Paul's Cathedral, 38 High St. The 7 p.m. concert will include classical arias as well as romantic songs from Norway, Finland and Sweden.

Martinpelto was aware that Worcester has many people of Swedish heritage while chatting during a telephone interview from her home in Stockholm. However, the closest she has been was the Tanglewood Music Festival four years ago.

Meanwhile, she said that Darlana is an exceptionally beautiful region "a little below the middle of Sweden." It is a two-hour drive from Stockholm, Sweden's capital.

Martinpelto said she performs often with the Darlana Sinfonietta because of their respective regional ties. The orchestra has 28 permanent musicians and tours Darlana as a regional ensemble playing more than 80 concerts every year. Darlana Sinfonietta also hosts an annual international chamber music festival called "Vinterfest," and give concerts every summer at the Dalhalla outdoor arena, a limestone quarry that forms a natural amphitheatre.

The orchestra is heavily subsidized by the Swedish government, which is one of the reasons Wednesday's performance is free. Actually, the orchestra and Martinpelto are on a very short U.S. tour. After the Worcester engagement on Wednesday, they will head to Washington, D.C., for special performances on June 6 - Sweden's national holiday.

But Martinpelto does have a U.S. return journey coming up on the calendar. She will make her debut at the Mostly Mozart Festival in the Lincoln Center, New York City, on Aug. 3 when she performs the role of Vitella in Mozart's "La clemenza di Tito" as part of the festival's "Opera in Concert" series.

While hearing that radio broadcast had awakened an interest in singing, "I didn't know I could do this," Martinpelto (speaking in good English that is delightfully Swedish accented), said modestly about her subsequent career. Still, she was motivated enough to move to Stockholm to study voice. "I grew into it."

Her big break came when in 1987 when she was Cho-Cho-San in Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" in a new production at the Royal Opera in Stockholm.

"It was very successful. It opened a lot of doors for me," she said.

One person who was impressed was the English conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner, founder of the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra.

"He engaged me for many different jobs, so that was very important for me."

That has included jobs on stage, in concert and recording. She has performed extensively for audiences at top international opera houses and festivals such as Brussels, Berlin, Glyndebourne, Vienna and Los Angeles. A tour with the ensemble of the Deutsche Oper Berlin led her to Japan. But she has stayed active in Sweden, particularly with the Royal Opera. Part of it has been practical - she has a 13-year-old son to raise. But the opera company has also given her a steady stream of new roles and challenging works, she said.

In May 2006, King Carl Gustaf XVI of Sweden bestowed on her the prestigious singing title Hovsangare.

Earlier in the day of the interview she had sung at the funeral of an employee at the Royal Opera. Then later it was time to practice, as Martinpelto seeks to continue to expand her repertoire.

"As a singer you never stop work. I always do something new and conquer it every time. You never relax. That's what's so fantastic. There's so much to learn. It's very exciting."

The Swedish government is also a supporter of the Royal Opera in Sweden. "Well, the opera house is supported, but of course you never get enough," Martinpelto said. "It is not like America where you have to get sponsorship for everything. So it's different."

That said, both countries face the challenge of getting young people into opera house seats. Martinpelto acknowledged that in Sweden, like America, opera can have a stuffy image for the uninitiated. Who, today, would even hear a life-altering aria on the radio?

"We have a new opera company in an old cinema (in Stockholm). That's a very good way of getting people in. Some people are scared to go to the opera house," she said.

"You always have to involve the new generation. I think we have to change that, and it's on its way, I think."

The Darlana Sinfonietta with Hillevi Martinpelto

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: St. Paul's Cathedral, 38 High St., Worcester

How much: Free

Darlana Sinfonietta orchestra, above, and soprano Hillevi Martinpelto will appear Wednesday as part of the sixth annual St. Paul's Music Festival.

Ian Watson is the music director for St. Paul's Cathedral in Worcester.

Music festival begins

Beginning Sunday, the sixth annual St. Paul's Music Festival will feature eight days of performances by internationally acclaimed artists and many talented local musicians. Following each performance there will be a social gathering and refreshments. Tickets for each performance - unless otherwise noted - are $15 adults; $10 students and seniors; $5 children 12 and younger. All performances will be in St. Paul's Cathedral, 38 High St., Worcester. For more information, call (508) 754-9822 or visit

The full schedule is as follows.

4 p.m. Sunday: The LaBarre Family Singers, a Worcester vocal group, will perform works by such composers as Barber, Vivaldi and Mozart.

7 p.m. Monday: The Mideast Players will present traditional Middle Eastern folk music and dance.

7 p.m. Tuesday: Nth Stage Productions performs "All Through the Night: An Evening of Music from America's Great Songwriters." Free (offering).

7 p.m. Wednesday: The Darlana Sinfonietta with Hillevi Martinpelto. Free (offering).

7 p.m. June 5: The Dynamics - the acclaimed a cappella group from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

7 p.m. June 6: Recital by soprano Emily May. Free.

7 p.m. June 7: The Monica Hatch Jazz Trio.

4 p.m. June 8: Festival Finale. Vivaldi's "Magnificat" and Mozart's "Missa Brevis" performed by the Worcester Collegium and Festival Choir conducted by Ian Watson. Guest soloists are Brenda McDonald, Monica Hatch, Paulette LaBarre, Ray Delisle and Matt Rippere. Free.



CUTLINE: (1) Darlana Sinfonietta orchestra, above, and soprano Hillevi Martinpelto will appear Wednesday as part of the sixth annual St. Paul's Music Festival. (2) Ian Watson is the music director for St. Paul's Cathedral in Worcester.
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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 30, 2008
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