Léonie Sonning Talent Prize 2020
An unusual journey
When Nicolai Elsberg later this year becomes part of the Royal Danish Theatre’s soloist ensemble and sings his first great role as Sarastro in The Magic Flute, it would be easy to think that it was the initial culmination of a strictly planned, dead straight career plan. However, that is not the case. Far from it.
When Nicolai Elsberg saw Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Royal Danish Theatre as a child, he did decide that he wanted to work with music in some way when he grew up. However, he did not necessarily want to become an opera singer.
Nicolai’s musical life has also in fact been quite an unusual journey through many different expressions and genres, and for a long time there was nothing to suggest that he would become an opera singer.
When he was seven, he started playing classical guitar. He later switched to electric guitar and started singing in different rhythmical music groups in his teenage years. In his early twenties he established the critically acclaimed band Spillemændene (‘the folk musicians’) with his friend from the Rhythmic Music Conservatory, Thorbjørn Radisch, who has since become known as “Bisse”.
From rhythmic to acoustic
At the Rhythmic Music Conservatory Nicolai developed a taste for singing acoustically without a microphone. His singing teacher Hanne Boel suggested he take lessons with Susanna Eken at the Royal Danish Music Academy.
“It was bloody amazing! It was nearly a therapeutic experience to feel how I sing with my whole body,” Nicolai tells us with a big smile.
He soon gave up all rhythmic music and switched to classical singing. And Nicolai, Thorbjørn and the other members of Spillemændene parted ways.
Once Nicolai had finished his bachelor at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory, he started , at the age of 25, all over again at the classical preparatory course, the MGK (ten years after he had attended rhythmic MGK) in preparation for the Royal Danish Music Academy, where he was admitted in 2016.
“It was a bit weird having a sensation of being back at square 1. However, it still felt right,” says Nicolai about the big decision he made halfway through his education.
You take on a role
Nicolai Elsberg finds that as an opera singer you have many more options.
“There is more to play with. In classical music perfection is the ‘bottom line’. After that, you can start building on top. There’s always something you can do better and work on from a technical point of view.”
As a bass singer Nicolai has the characteristic dark sides of the bass character to play with, which is in great contrast to his own positive personality. As a young man with a promising career it is quite a contrast to be playing the bass roles, as they are often old, tormented and sad men of power.
Indeed, Nicolai Elsberg does not have any reason to feel gloomy about his career prospects in 2020. At the start of the year he was awarded Dronning Ingrids Hæderslegat, a royal scholarship of DKK 250,000. Just six months after playing his first real opera role as Colline in Puccini’s La Boheme at the Østre Gasværk theatre, he had his first performance at the Royal Danish Theatre in March 2020 as Plutone i Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo.
In 2020 he will also finish his master and will then become part of The Royal Danish Theatre’s soloist ensemble, where his first role will be as the high priest Sarastro in Mozart’s The Magic Flute – 23 years after this very show had him spellbound as a child.
Nicolai Elsberg in brief
Born in 1989. Grew up in Skovshoved.
Graduated as a musician and singer at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in 2014. As a rhythmic singer, Nicolai was primarily part of the critically acclaimed band Spillemændene.
Has been studying classical singing at the Royal Danish Academy of Music since 2016.
Because of his background in rhythmic music, he has participated in several cross-over projects, a.o. with the band Efterklang, and been a soloist in first performances by Fundal and Rasmus Zwicki.
In the summer of 2019 he was part of Festival D’Aix-en-Provence’s Voice Residency where he sang ’Il Commendatore’ in Christian Lollike’s reinterpretation of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
In 2019 he could also be seen as ’Colline’ in Copenhagen Opera Festival’s production of Puccini’s La Boheme at the Østre Gasværk theatre.
Nicolai Elsberg had his first performance at the Royal Danish Theatre in March 2020 as ’Plutone’ i Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo.
Received Dronning Ingrids Hæderslegat in 2020, a royal scholarship of DKK 250,000.
From 2020 he is a part of the soloist ensemble at the Royal Danish Theatre, where his first role will be Sarastro in Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
The scholarship from the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation
Nicolai Elsberg will spend the money from the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation on study trips to Italy and Germany with the aim to strengthen his linguistic skills within the two main languages used in opera.
He will also spend the scholarship on coaching in key repertoires within both opera and oratorios.