Erika Sunnegårdh

New York, 21 December 2006

I can’t believe it’s been three months since I last updated this page. Time is flying by, and though much of it has been fun, some of it has also just been “hold tight and wait” kind of material.

On the fun side, I did a few wonderfully fun performances of Die Zauberflöte at the Met in October. My fellow Ladies are just about the nicest and most diligent and talented people I’ve ever worked with. I feel so priviliged to get to spend time with them, both in rehearsal and in performance.
I also did a really successful TV show in Sweden in November. It is called Bingolotto, and is a cross between variety show and game show. It’s a really wonderful show as it benefits youth sports organizations all over Sweden. Great prizes are rewarded, and every week there is a musical act. Normally the show sports pop artists promoting a CD, such as David Bowie, Elton John, Julio Iglesias, Tina Turner, or the latest Pop Idol winner… Never have they had an opera singer on the show. I was flattered, and a bit intimidated, to be asked to participate. With a wonderful orchestra and a grand prize of trips to New York to see Turandot at the Met, it really spun a whole new angle on opera for EVERYONE! It was thrilling to get to talk about what I do in really simple and normal terms, making it accessible and enjoyable and personal to people who don’t even have an opera house to go to – even if they wanted to. And, the response to the music was truly exciting and moving.

On the not so easy or fun side of things, I was recently pulled from the performances of Die Zauberflöte. The reasons may be many, and from all indication varied, but the bottom line is that it is an ensemble piece, and if you don’t add good things to the whole it is better to be replaced by someone who can. Even so, it is, to say the least, a surprising and unsettling pill to swallow.
I had so been looking forward to working with Maestro Levine, and it is sad to me that this is what happened.
But as always when one has no control at all over the outcome, the major challenge is to make peace with what is so. With the present. And to not make it into something it is not. Overdramatizing is in our natures…. but it isn’t all that useful!

Two little miracles did happen during the past week.

First, the morning after I first was told I wasn’t going to be in the show, a wonderful woman in Chicago wrote me an email saying how much she enjoyed reading my website, and that although she appreciated my opera success, she felt that my most important quality was sharing my thoughts and feelings, and humanity. (Hm! That’s an interesting point of view…)

And then last night, as I walked to the Met with my best friend Tim, he said “You never know why anything happens. Consider that you being taken off the show maybe means something really amazing to someone else – or to the whole!”
Halfway through the performance I ran into my replacement in the hall. Claudia, being a lovely, competent and bubbly woman expressed to me, not only her articulate and considered thoughts on our awkward situation, but also that for her, stepping into this production had profound meaning. Ten years ago, on the day, she made her Met debut as the First Lady, replacing someone else. It was an anniversary to celebrate ROYALLY, and so, the universe made it so!

How inspiring and wonderful!!

It made me teary actually, because I had really spent most of the day yesterday meditating on letting go of my experience of this situation – to be able to see the whole.
Little did I know or expect to be so moved and overjoyed at the meaning this situation had for someone else.
Suddenly handing these performances over to Claudia (for any reason) seemed like the PERFECT situation. Anything else would be out of balance.

How eye-opening!

I am so very blessed and privileged – whether through ease or difficulty.

Oh, and I got a picture of the little boy I am sponsoring in Africa. His name is Djousling and he lives in Chad. So adorable.
Like me, he is good natured and curious in general, but gets very testy when hungry… Funny that!!

New York, 9 September 2006

I’m back in New York again, after three months of traveling. It’s been an amazing summer. Challenging, fun, successful, thought-provoking, exhausting, and hot, hot, hot. I did my first radio show in Sweden. Hosted an hour and a half of talk and music. What would you say and play if you had the opportunity? Tough question, I found. In the end, it was hard to narrow the script down. There is so much. Being the only classical musician to be chosen for this show this summer, I felt a little responsible to represent just a little…. But I did play a variety of music, because I listen to all sorts – and my life has been filled with, and been given meaning by, such a vast variety. I was happy to get many responses from people who could relate to the topics I covered. The red thread in my program was the futility of perfectionism… Especially in the un-edited world of live music performance, certainly, but in real-time day-to-day life as well. How paralyzing it can be. And how detrimental to the art of music-making, and the art of being alive.

The process of putting together this program, the process of learning Abigaille for my Danish production of Nabucco, the process of putting myself on a small stage in the middle of a shopping center in Tensta (a part of Stockholm almost entirely populated with immigrants, and one rarely visited by the cookie-cutter Swede) as part of a cultural initiative – all these had one thing in common. I had to summon up all my courage and go ahead with something I had no idea how it would turn out.

There is mystery in life, and sometimes I think we don’t tap into its vast powers enough. Living inside the mystery, inside the questionmarks in life – that takes something. I think most of us have an urge to understand, to tidy things up, to complete the pictures, to get a handle on circumstances. Before we stick our necks out and go at it. But the truth is, we can’t. And the more complex your life becomes, the less likely it is that you’ll be able to sustain a “tidy” status quo. Besides, messy can be fun! 🙂

One way to be “safe” is to refuse having a complex life. But I have certainly come to the realization that that is not for me…. It is only with complexity that life and relationships gain depth and color, and it is in our surrendering to it that we “get” the miracle that it is to be alive.

Someone once said that extraordinary people are people with really BIG problems. Meaning, they’ve chosen to dedicate their lives to solving really big issues, and in the process, they have become big human beings.

Audrey Hepburn said, “If you’re depressed, go out and do something for someone else”. She, of course, did great things for others.

I don’t know just yet how my desire to contribute will express itself. For now it is through singing – even in unlikely places, to people who wouldn’t normally listen to anything but pop radio. But, I can feel bigger problems coming on… I guess I will have to be patient in exploring them… What I do know is that life is too short to be spent obsessing about insignificant or “small-minded” problems. It is perhaps where our culture leads us, and we all have a weakness for it, but we also all have that part of us that is wanting, itching, yearning to be inspired, called upon – aching to be counted on. I have yet to meet anyone who in an unguarded moment can’t be lured into admitting that they actually really want to be called on for something meaningful. They’d love to feel that their day wasn’t spent flipping channels, or their words only used to multiply misery and boredom.

Because, basically, people are good and loving – and we want to see evidence of it – somewhere in the real world, not just in our own minds.

One of my favorite word-plays is on the word “responsible”. I am not a big fan of assigning blame in different situations. My basic belief is that people do the very best they can – sometimes it’s just not enough to make everyone happy, that’s all. But I do love when people take responsibility – as in response ability.

We will all mess up at times, that’s a given. But is there anything more stunningly amazing, inspiring, and disarming than when someone follows a mistake with taking responsibility?
It’s almost better than making no mistake at all. It’s an opportunity for something priceless to take place. To heal.

So I’ve been asking myself that a lot lately…. Where and how do I have the ability to respond? Not only within my own life circumstances, but on the planet – with and for people I don’t even know yet? Where are those priceless opportunities for responding and connecting?

I thought I’d live with those questions for a while. And let inspiration guide me to an answer, or two…

Tokyo, 23 June 2006

So much has happened since I last wrote anything for this page. Some of it very well publicized, but most, especially the things that are most important in the greater scheme of things, are very much still private and “local”.

I am overwhelmingly happy, of course, for the unbelievable explosion that happened in my career on April 1st when I made my surprise early debut at the Met. The press and the acknowledgement I have enjoyed have been amazing. As a few people have pointed out, “you can’t really pay for this kind of publicity”… which is obviously true. I am glad for it though — not because it was somehow all positive (it wasn’t) and not because it hailed me as some new revelation on the opera stage (it didn’t), but because it had the effect on people that I have always hoped to have through my singing, and have hoped to have on a greater scale through my life: it inspired people to keep their own dreams alive!

I wouldn’t know this of course, were it not for hundreds of letters, emails and phone calls telling me that in no uncertain terms.

Thank you so very much to all of you who have written and told me your personal stories! I am humbled and grateful and, in turn, inspired to work harder and ever more sincerely to be a better person, and a better artist. The support and appreciation, and just the sheer joy of your communications through this website have been so moving and strengthening for me over the past few months.

With this new “celebrity” has come much added pressure, and much added scrutiny, and maybe even one or two sceptics have raised their loud and impetuous voices — but really, this is fine, and I think necessary even. I know I can’t be in the public eye and not be ever more responsible for everything I do and everything I say — and critique keeps one on one’s toes in the best of ways – if one can be wise when listening to it… I am lucky in the midst of such scrutiny to have dear and honest friends who constantly keep my thinking straight, and my heart humble. As a favorite quote of mine from ‘A Course in Miracles’ reads, “in my defenselessness my safety lies”…

What is clear to me is that nobody thinks I’m perfect (and what a relief it is to not have that as my objective!!!!), but there are an awful lot of people who have gone out of their way to express just how happy they are for me, and how they feel personally related to my singing and my story. And that, to me, is better than perfect. I cannot think of a greater joy than to do my very best, with the greatest amount of heart I can muster, only to find out that others have gotten something out of it — for them!

Life is indeed a greater blessing than I ever thought possible!

3 March 2006

This month I am reaching a couple of really big milestones in my life. One is turnng 40. How did that happen, anyway? It’s so surprisingly soon… 🙂
The other is starting work at the Metropolitan Opera.

I sort of like thinking about them together – the latter makes the former seem much more palatible… Somehow, turning 40 isn’t as scary once you have something to show for the first forty years of your life… And, I guess for an opera singer, singing at the Met seems “significant” enough!

I have long had thoughts about this whole concept of “significance” though. (And I mean since long before I saw any end to the catering business!!) I think we all grow up thinking that somehow, at some point in our lives, we will arrive at this place where we feel significant. Where we rise up out of obscurity. Magically we will feel that we have had some impact, some purpose. I believe we all secretly suspect we ought to be up to something big, something that in the most idealistic sense could be classified as “good”.
And unfortunately, I think most of us are attached to the idea that we need a serious number of “witnesses” to our deeds…

Over the past two years, as I have been living my dream life of traveling, singing, meeting people, working and making a living doing what I love, I have been surprised time and time again by re-encountering the lessons I thought I had learned years ago. Remembering agonizing over some particular aspect of human being, while waitressing or doing that office job, or just wondering what I was thinking when dating that one…

Clearly, we re-visit old territory to learn more deeply, or to refresh our humility, and maybe most of all, gain clear insight into our magical, mystical and blessed state of “not-knowing”. It is after all then, and only then, that we can learn and grow at all!

There are two things that have come up recently for me that I know I even wrote to my friends about years ago – and they seem ever more impactful to me now:

One is, obscurity is important! Being small, feeling humbled, falling to one’s knees in desperation, asking for higher guidance, receiving it with childlike glee and absorbing it like it will, in fact, save your life – is important! Because it is close to the truth, scope and proportion of things – and, because great things cannot be accomplished by arrogant people!
And I don’t know about you, but I would much rather be at the service of great accomplishment than think myself great.

The other thing has to do with gifts. What are yours? I have always been told what mine were. A voice, a friendly disposition, tenacity, a strong will. A few years back it occurred to me that maybe gifts are not what we have at our disposal for our own purposes. Maybe they are what we have to give to others? And if that is true, maybe we are not in charge of choosing how, when and to whom we give them. Maybe the need for our particular gifts has to make itself known to us, in its own time, by the recipient of them… Which is not what a Type A personality wants to hear, trust me.

What I have learnt over the past few years of both obscurity and of this expanding area of influence in which I find myself is this – All you can do is give it. Whatever “it” seems to be in the moment. Sometimes it is what I think I have to give, and sometimes it is simply what someone else might need.

What feeds the heart is the uncompromising desire to be of value to another being – and when that happens, when you are seen and your gifts are received by even one, singular other – then obscurity is remarkably, magically and most fulfillingly gone!

Here’s to another year of giving, not some, but all of our gifts – as they are needed!