The policeman who sings opera
Being an artist of ANY field is one of the best ways to bring people together despite their" cultural differences," which mostly I think are just minor hindrances.
I heard about Petrus for the first time when living in England, with a lovely description of him from my husband. He talked enthusiastically about Petrus as an excellent tenor who also had a unique story of becoming an opera singer. We used to listen to his performances, and I wished to see him performing in Finland. After many years of wait, We finally saw Petrus singing in 'Elisir d'amore.' and interviewing him is a great honor.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Petrus Schroderus, 46 years old, and father of 5 children from two marriages. I live in the city of Oulu. I work as a policeman now, but I used to sing in the opera. At the moment, I sing only for private customers in concerts.
Have you always known that you wanted to be an opera singer, or did the passion develop over time?
No, as a child, I didn't know that I wanted to be an opera singer. Nobody had told me that I really could become an opera singer. At school we all sang, I thought everybody sings, and there is nothing special about singing. After all, I realized that indeed it is very special.
How did you get started with your singing career?
I always knew how to sing a little bit at school, but some people later convinced me that I had the talent to be an opera singer, and they suggested me to go to courses.
How do you become an Opera singer?
I trained like any other singer, for three years, and half, for then singing in opera stage. It is so complex; it takes years to develop. I won the Savonlinna Timo Mustakallio singing competition in 2004 when I was 31 years old.
What made you choose opera instead of any other type of music, pop for example?
I wanted to become an opera singer; it was a decision that I took after I listened to the best voices of opera. I saw that having a voice like that is so powerful, so supernatural to have a voice like that for a human; it is manly. I was honored to get the chance to sing at the opera.
How long have you been in opera?
I left my job as a policeman and sang in the opera for seven years.
Is opera competitive? Is there a lot of politics when it comes to choosing leads, or does the best voice usually win?
Yes, absolutely. Regarding politics in music, I would add that music is APOLITICAL in itself as beauty is. No one can" own" beauty, and that is why I hate when music becomes a political tool, I am generally talking about music here, WITHOUT lyrics.
Of course, the lyrics change the nature of any music because it brings a message that can be comprehended by anyone who understands the language of that particular song.
What do you do to keep your voice in good shape? Do you practice singing at home, and if so, how does your family feel about it?
Yes, I am practicing at home and in the conservatory as well, in the city of Oulu, where I live. The family is OK about it, no problem for them if I sing at home. They really like me singing, and they listen to me, I am very happy about it.
Have you ever had an on-stage voice-crack or forgotten a line? How do you deal with pressure or stressful situations?
Yes, I had a very few times, and it is very humiliating. It is mostly due to physical stress and being tired, never due to illness or the flu, because even if ill, one can still sing. But although failing sometimes, one must learn something about it. If you refuse to learn from failing experiences, then you are an idiot. For sure, it is always a conflict, but I learned a lot after every failure.
The opera is full of rules. Do you always follow those rules?
Yes, the conductor's rules one must follow, never go against conductors. But against directors, one can go, because they don't know anything about music. They want to reinvent the wheels. They only want to show off their philosophy on the stage, and they are interested in showing their vision even if it is unlikable. Therefore, their attitude is not good. They want to politicize everything, and I hate it. Art is not politics. We don't need to make it feminist, for example. Art is something that, even if you disagree about everything else, you can listen to it together in peace. But people often don't like modern opera's directors anymore; it is like a dead-end to opera, I would say.
How would you describe your working style?
I hate running on stage; it can destroy your breathing; it is not a marathon. The important thing is; let the music carry itself. I think music is the most important, music makes the rules. The people who work in opera must respect the music. People get distracted when they see there is too much going on the stage, which most of it has nothing to do with story and music. Directors do it only because of reinventing the wheels.
What type of work environment do you prefer?
Did you ever have problems with coworkers?
No, I never had any problems with them.
What are your greatest professional strengths?
I have a long breath; my strength is intonation. I have a good legato.
What do you consider to be your weaknesses?
In music style, for example, I am not good at singing Rossini's operas. I find it hard.
What do you think are the most important qualities? What are your expectations?
To be patient and brave. Not being afraid to sing in front of people, this can be an obstacle. One must be polite and having good manners.
Can you tell us about a time when you overcame a challenge?
In the beginning, it was hard to learn and memorize even two pages; it was a big challenge. But in the end, 300 pages I learned in four weeks by heart. You learn to learn. Challenges do change all the time. After hard work and practice, when you stress in the right way, your brain can memorize. You learn. In opera, the important is music and text.
As a young and exceptional opera singer who had another main job as a policeman, how do you view opera and where would you like to see this art form heading?
I wish it would go back to its roots, that the music would be the main theme. That there wouldn't be attitudes from directors to destroy the music. They need to keep it simple, but not complicated, not politicizing it.
What makes opera a suitable art to engage the audience?
If people understand the story, they can always relate to it. Stories are about love, which everybody can make a connection with, all humans understand it. For example, Tosca is in human experience, La Traviata, or Carmen the same, even that, the directors can destroy.
How did you feel when you left the opera and went back to work as a policeman?
There was a significant management change, and it created a problem for me. They started casting roles differently, and seemingly those (including me) who had done a lot have less to sing. I lost all my roles suddenly, and I was wondering all the time what happened, did I become a bad singer suddenly?! After I left opera and back to my previous job as a policeman, I was glad that I had a paid job, but of course, I miss singing in opera.
What's your favorite part about working as an opera singer?
I miss singing in a big orchestra, and I miss the music. Because I think it is an honor to sing in the orchestra, all these people are working with you, I appreciate it. It is heavenly beautiful; it feels so good.
What is your favorite opera?
Who is your favorite opera singer as a tenor?
Mario del Monaco and Franco Bonisolli
Do you agree that the Italian language is a beautiful language and easy to learn, suitable as to be the language of opera?
Yes, I agree that Italian is a beautiful and harmonical language, and it was easy to learn. French was hardest, Russian, and German were less difficult to learn.
Can you tell us about anything inspiring you would like to share with us and our readers?
Teach children classical music when they are young. My parents bought a CD record of Pavarotti for me, it was in a TV commercial, and I told them that I wanted to listen to that man. I listened to it every day for two years, the same CD and nothing else. I learned all those songs by heart, and then I could sing them very well, my teacher was surprised. That was mind-blowing, the music is powerful. If I didn't have that CD of Pavarotti, I wouldn't have become a singer, absolutely not. It is always the matter and power of examples. Children will appreciate and understand that it is not easy to sing; it is difficult. I'm not saying that only opera singers know how to sing, actually good singing is hard.
As for last, for people who don't like opera, is there a particular show that you'd recommend that might change their minds?
The first time must be classic, La Traviata, Carmen, Tosca, Magic Flute. Because these are understandable, they are in human's experience. But Wagner, for example, it is not suitable for the first time to listen to, that is for the next level.
In the end, I wish to say that, I sincerely believe that there exists NO PERSONS who are AMUSICAL, everyone can grasp beauty, and music can be learnt. This of course does not mean that anyone can become a good singer or violinist or pianist, etc. But that the basic tenets of music, and appreciation of its heavenly beauty, can be comprehended by all people everywhere.
Interviewed by: Mehri Riviere
Photo by: Juha Roisko