A baritone of many voices

The second prize for men went to Matija Meić, beating all the other baritones in a competition of a legendary high standard. Images of this charismatic 28-year-old Croatian will remain firmly etched in the minds of the Mirjam Helin audiences, for here was a singer whose rich, fruity voice lent itself with equal ease to the finest nuances of Lied and the lustrous glow of bel canto.

This was admirably demonstrated in his choice of repertoire for the Final, boldly juxtaposing two completely different moods: Figaro’s iconic, jocular morning greeting from The Barber of Seville and Rodrigo’s death aria from Don Carlo. Further proof of his wide-ranging adaptability was his awe-inspiring rendering of Pylkkänen’s Pastorale, which quite deservedly brought him the special prize for the best performance of a Finnish song.

On stage, the curly-headed Meić radiated a passionate love of music and singing. Being a singer does, he says, mean above all being constantly creative. “There’s always a challenge in music to create something new within the frames of the words and the melody, to build up a personal relationship with the music that is always also a comment on the interpretations that have gone before. Learning the frames of a piece and then doing your own thing within it is always a fantastic feeling. When I’m out walking, I may ask myself how many ways there are of saying “vaikene” at the beginning of Pylkkänen’s Pastorale! This really drives me forward,” he says in his characteristic winning way.

Being creative does not, for him, mean working alone, however; it always means working with others. “Music is a creative game in which you discover new things together with your colleagues.” Stimuli and ideas flow between the pianist, singer, conductor, composer and audience. At the Mirjam Helin International Singing Competition, Meić felt this very strongly, especially via the keen audience. The standard of the competition was also a tremendous incentive for him. “I’m so proud to have been competing in such company. I feel I’ve developed tremendously. The fact that I was the best of twelve baritones really means a lot to me.”

Versatility has accompanied Meić throughout his career as a singer. As a child in Zagreb, he happened on the local church choir half by accident, later joining a gospel choir where the improvisation and mutual inspiration made a very big impression on him. Then came vocal studies in earnest, his voice rose from bass to baritone and he won his first national singing competition. Choirs, works for the church and early music were important, and gradually along came opera. His first taste of this was Escamillo’s aria at an opera concert, and after auditioning at the Zagreb Opera he was immediately offered a place in the chorus and two minor roles. Over the next few years the Opera assigned him a steady stream of little parts. “I studied at the Zagreb Academy but went to Vienna now and then for lessons with Claudia Visca, my personal Yoda, my guru.”

Meić is now an exchange student in Vienna and is very tempted to stay on there after he graduates. “Almost everything interests me: opera, early music, Lied, contemporary music, oratorio, unknown composers… I like rummaging in the archives and editing music myself. I love acting, so for this reason opera is possibly ‘my’ thing. But in Vienna I could hopefully combine all of this; the city is so alive and full of opportunities.”

Matija Meić’s fiancée is also a student of Claudia Visca. “My fiancée skypes instructions about voice-opening or sends me text messages in my dressing room at the Opera when I’m about to perform. “She really is God’s gift to me.”

Text: Auli Särkiö
Translation: Susan Sinisalo
Photos: Heikki Tuuli