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Soprano, Hege Gustava Tjønn

The following has been adapted from an interview conducted by Barbara Cacao, Vienna Unwrapped, and has been transcribed from a recording.

How much do you travel for work and what’s your favorite city to work in?

I have decided to not to travel that much anymore because of my son, who is 14. Before this, I used to be home for only three months a year. Last year, I managed to stay away for just seven weeks and chose to work from home the rest of the time. As a freelance singer, I usually spend some time abroad doing auditions, too.

My favorite city to work in? Hard to say. I love going to Toronto, Hamilton, and Tokyo. I also like Chicago, Hiroshima, and London. Vienna is definitely one of my favorite cities. I got married in Innsbruck, where I first met my husband when we were singing in the operetta Im Weissen Roessl. We were interpreting our roles very well (laughs)!

In 2011, I performed for the first time in Salute to Vienna. Some of my favourite concerts were Salute to Vienna in Vancouver and Saskatoon. It is exhilarating when 3,000 people stand up and sing, or when they clap to the “Radetzky March.”

In general, what I love about Salute to Vienna is that every time you participate, you build a troupe, a little ensemble from the local orchestra, to the dancers and singers, and then you dissolve it again, and move on to do the same in another city.

At Burgtheater I worked with a series of well-known actors such as Kirchner and Peter Martic. I sang Isolde with only a small orchestra. What I love about theater work is the mutual admiration between artists. Actors strive to live up to the singers’ performances, and vice versa.

I also like working with the Salon Orchester Alt Wien and its lead Udo Zwoelfer. Since there is no real conducting, as Udo leads with his violin much like Strauss did, we have to rely on each other. The Salon Orchester is a mix of chamber music and gala concert; it's very exciting!

What is your favourite musical genre or composition?

A long time ago I sang jazz but soon found out that the timing was not compatible with opera and so I had to choose which path to pursue. My mother loved jazz and certainly influenced me in this.

I discovered church music when I was in Oslo. Actually, the greatest Christmas present I ever received was singing all those songs from Bach to Rachmaninoff, accompanied by an organist in a local church, and then praying for peace. Singing praises is magical for me and I discovered that I can bring that to the opera stage. I am grateful for this experience. In opera, when you perform something cruel or brutal, you need to remember who you are. You need to go all the way through a story on stage and come out well on the other side.

I remember performing in a Botho Strauss piece, a continuation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was Titania. Eric Greene, who was Oberon, and I had to be brutal on stage and keep hurting each other, but we went through it together. Later on, Eric was asked in an interview what the piece was about and he said, "It was about love." If you have coworkers that you can trust, you can go for anything on stage.

Essentially, in opera, you play somebody else. With recitals, you are more on your own. You have to interpret, tell stories. With opera, I can let myself fall into the character. With recitals, I am responsible for myself.

What’s next in your career?

I’m excited about singing Marguerite in Faust in Norway next year.

How many languages do you speak?

I speak Norwegian, Swedish, English, German, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, and French. And I also sing church music in Latin.

Photo Credits: Portrait © Driftwood, middle image by Barry Roden and bottom image by Todd Rosenberg

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