Opera singer Karita Mattila is as energetic on the telephone as you would imagine from scrolling through her up-beat Twitter feed.
“Oh no! I’ve called you from WhatsApp and now you know my phone number!” she exclaims, having informed me via Twitter that she would call for our interview from a withheld number.
“Now you know my number, but I also know your number…” she trails off, as I promise not to randomly phone her. “Maybe you’ll call me again. Maybe I’ll call you again” she teases.
It’s this light flirty banter that’s become a hallmark of double Grammy Award-winner Mattila’s Twitter conversations during the coronavirus restrictions: whether she’s posting pictures of afternoon cocktails and posing at the piano, or sharing little emoji-laden insights into her life as an opera diva during lockdown.
She was one week away from opening a new production of Jenůfa at the Royal Opera House in London when the severity of the coronavirus crisis became apparent, so when the company disbanded and went their separate ways, Karita came back to Finland.
“I remember singing my heart out at rehearsals, because we were all in this uncertainty whether it was going to happen or not. We were on fire.”
“My situation in London was that I had paid the rent until the end of the whole run, which was supposed to be at Easter, and I was naively thinking that I was not in any hurry. London was not closing things. Even my gym was open. I thought I could stay in London but my option was to go to Finland!”
As it turns out, the last two months mark the longest she’s been in her homeland for any stretch of time since the start of her stellar professional career. First, in her ex-husband’s Turku apartment, and now in Helsinki.
Most of the rest of the year has already been written off. Karita’s role in Elektra, also at the Royal Opera House in London, has been cancelled for May and June; while a series of gala concerts at the Savonlinna Opera Festival in July have been postponed until 2021.
“I’ve got an empty calendar until the end of August” she states.
Life in Helsinki – “it’s a small but cosy and charming apartment” – is a world away from her sun-kissed home life in northern Florida.
“I’m living in a golfing community, so there’s a gate, and at the moment I don’t play golf but it’s a lovely environment and at least is has been safe, even for someone who spends a lot of time away from home.”
The only downsides, she concedes, are alligators and hurricanes.
End of Act One.
Living her best life online
During the coronavirus crisis it’s been online where Karita Mattila has really felt a connection.
She first discovered Twitter in October 2018 after her divorce – “it was somewhere my ex-husband was not” – and quickly built up a loyal fan base that’s come into its element during the last few months.
“Twitter is so bubbly and so welcome, and when I have some lonely moments it’s cheering me up, and I’m wholeheartedly enjoying it, especially these days when you can’t meet anyone. You always find somebody to have a conversation.”
There are certainly many opera fans who enjoy their interactions with the Finnish soprano, but it’s also noticeable the number of older Finnish gentlemen who seem thrilled when Karita pays them a little attention.
“They are very flirty on Twitter. Maybe it’s because we don’t really know each other. Because they know what I do and they think they know me. But still, it’s so heartwarming and lovely” she decides.
The playful flirting is not a one way street. The opera diva knows how to play the role of a leading lady in this libretto.
“Where are you from?”
“I love Edinburgh! And Scottish men are so sexy! With their kilts and bare legs and long red hair they are just so masculine!” she flatters.
End of Act Two.
Planning for Finland in autumn
While Karita’s calendar might be empty for now, there are a number of engagements filling up the autumn months including two concerts in Kuopio in early September and a date with the Radio Symphony Orchestra in Helsinki in the middle of the month.
“There was a time I didn’t come to Finland every year, but these days I’m coming more often, last year I was in Lahti, and with time I appreciate my Finnish audience even more and more” says Mattila, who lists an operatic role in Savonlinna, Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, and a performance at the Sydney Opera House as career prizes still to be claimed.
“I’ve been performing soon for almost 40 years and there are so many people who have been following me from my early years and it’s very moving and very touching how they are so loyal, and it is such a beautiful relationship” she says, getting a little emotional when I reminder her that she’s a genuine, certified, Finnish national treasure.
“I get a lump in my throat and I can’t talk when I think about it! I want to come back as long as they want me.”