Léonie Sonning Talent Prize 2021

When Sophie debuted as a mezzo-soprano on the opera scene at the Royal Danish Theatre on Holmen, it was not as part of a classic by Mozart or Puccini. It was, in fact, a recent operatic interpretation of Janne Teller’s youth novel Intet, where Sophie sang one of the leading parts in the horrific story about peer pressure among 7th-grade students.

“I believe you have a duty to be versatile if you have the voice for it,” Sophie states firmly about her broad approach to her choice of repertoire and adds that “you should not only keep the old stuff alive, you also need to know how to breathe life into new music,” joining those who want to clear the way for the classics of the future.

She would not have minded if her royal debut had been in a Mahler or Strauss performance, because there is a special place in Sophie’s heart for particularly the late romantic genre with its bombastic emotions. The important thing for her is that there is a depth to the role and an interesting conflict or development. Whether it is classical opera or new compositions is less important. “Although the classical works have been performed for hundreds of years, they are still popular because they are masterpieces,” Sophie states. And perhaps Dave Bruce will be remembered as the composer behind Intet in 100 years. If so, Sophie will be remembered as a contributing factor.

Sang at her mother’s wedding

When Sophie was in the 7th grade and studied Intet in her Danish lessons, she did not know that she would become an opera singer. However, it was about that time that she sang in front of an audience for the first time. She already enjoyed dancing and performing, and for her mother’s wedding she decided she would sing the Billy Joel classic Just the way you are. She could feel that this did something to her, and she started taking singing lessons, with great support from her family.

Around the age of 14 Sophie joined the Danish National Girls Choir for a couple of years. However, this was not enough to fulfil her ambitions, so after upper secondary school, where musicals, bands and dancing took up a lot of time, she suddenly found herself at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, training to be a singer.

Having completed both her bachelor’s and master’s degree, it was only natural that she applied to study at the Opera Academy at the Royal Danish Theatre. Opera had been in Sophie’s field of vision since she was introduced to her grandfather’s favourite operas as a young child. He had recorded them on VHS tape when they were on the television, and instead of reading fairy tales to his grandchild, he put on a performance and guided her through the more or less complicated dramas.

It is important to be open

“Many people think that operas or movements take a really long time and just drag on. However, when you feel something, you don’t just feel it for ten seconds, and an emotion is rarely one-sided,” Sophie explains about the strength behind operatic and classical singing. “It can stretch emotions over time, and if we open ourselves to that we can come along on that journey.”

Sophie’s own journey has only just begun. She dreams about seeing the world and maybe also using more physical expressions and dance in her performances. Anything is possible, because it is important to be open. Having recently graduated, her career has only just started, and big roles are waiting. Both new roles and the old classics, but also outside the world of opera where lied and concert repertoires seem tempting.

Her first goal is to record Olivier Messiaen’s song cycle of 12 songs, Harawi (1945), together with pianist Elias Holm. “The music in this is bombastic, but  also floating and therapeutic and extremely poetic,” Sophie says about the work that is an ode to life and not least death.

Sophie Haagen in brief

Born in Aarhus in 1991. Grew up in Hørsholm, Hellerup and Frederiksberg.
Has been singing since she was a teenager, i.a. in the Danish National Girls Choir.
Studied in the US (2017–18).
Graduated as a singer from the Royal Danish Academy of Music with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree (2019).
Graduated as an opera singer from the Opera Academy at the Royal Danish Theatre (2021). First performance in a leading role (Ursula) in Davic Bruce’s Intet (2020).

Won the first prize at the Copenhagen Lied Duo Compeetition with Olivier Messiaen’s Harawi together with pianist Elias Holm.

The scholarship from the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation

Sophie will spend the money from the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation recording and releasing Messiaen’s Harawi, a stay at the Belcanto Institute in Florence and a study trip to New York.

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