He is only 32 years old and he is already singing on the world’s major opera stages. However, Switzerland native Mauro Peter does not see himself as a star. In an interview, he explains how he intends to interest his generation in classical music and why he will someday give up singing altogether.
You are part of a generation that grew up believing that musicians are the product of a television show. This is pretty different from the way classical opera works. Is this an advantage or disadvantage?
Both. If we do opera properly, then we can stand apart from the world of television in a good way. In casting shows, non-professional singers are coached on how to be chart-toppers in just a few weeks. That’s not how it works with us. Opera singers go through years of vocal training before they reach the stage. Opera houses should highlight these differences and remain true to themselves without turning into museums.
But the opera world hasn’t managed to come up with any new hits, has it?
We do sing old songs, that’s true! But these old songs are so good and can be reinterpreted in so many different ways that they never lose their power.
Back to casting. How were you discovered?
It was pretty unspectacular. When I was about eight years old, the director of the “Luzerner Singknaben”, a singing group based in Lucerne, came to our class and sang a few songs with us. A couple of other boys and I were then invited to sing in the “Luzerner Singknaben” choir. At first, I sang with the entire choir and over time I was chosen to sing solos on a regular basis.
What were your plans if your singing career didn’t work out?
I’ve wanted to be a singer since I was a child. That and a professional football player, of course. That’s what I wrote in all of my friends’ friendship books. But playing football was never a serious plan (laughs). I’ve always put all my eggs in one basket and to date I’ve never had a plan B – and that’s the way I like it.
The major roles in the opera world are highly sought-after. Are there rivalries among the singers?
For the most part, relationships among singers are fine. You get really excited for your colleagues when they land a great assignment. But there is an enormous amount of competition and it’s a difficult business. The media and opinion makers play a role as well; they can either help you with your career or put the brakes on it.
You have a number of international appearances in your calendar. How much of your life is self-determined and how much of it is determined by others?
When it comes to deciding which engagements to accept, I am now very self-determined. I have reached a point in my career at which I am doing well enough financially that I can afford to say no now and then. I did not enjoy this freedom at the beginning of my career.
How much flexibility do you have in interpreting an opera role?
There is fairly little self-determination in my roles. I am strictly bound by the text and the notes. But the greater my role, the more I try to inhabit the character. There is always room for individuality. That is true art. I do use my interpretative scope in small ways. For example, by helping to define the tempo of an aria.
Opera also needs to attract a younger audience. You’re active on social media. How do you use these digital platforms?
I view social media channels – especially Instagram and Facebook – as a good medium for attracting a new, younger audience to classical music. Nowadays, you sell yourself and your product via these channels. In doing so, I try to be as authentic as possible. If I, as an opera singer, try too hard to be hip, then I’ve already lost.Instead I try to convey things from the world of opera that may interest young people. This may be a look behind the scenes, a video of me singing a piece or simply a photo of me relaxing.
Do you sometimes wish you were a star in a popular profession?
I wouldn’t mind having Leonardo di Caprio’s income, but not the amount of attention he gets. At any rate, I don’t see myself as an opera star. I like being successful, but globally there are only maybe four or five true stars in my profession. I can walk through Zurich completely unnoticed and I like it that way. And when I am recognised by opera fans in front of the opera house, then I can rely on them to be very discreet (laughs).
You still have a long career ahead of you. Can you ever be too old to sing?
Definitely. If things go well, I can imagine singing until I’m 70. But my voice will have to cooperate. I never want to be an artist that people whisper about among themselves and say he has passed his prime. Ever since I was young, my main concern each morning when I wake up is my voice. Thinking about a day when my voice may be off and it won’t matter to me is somewhat liberating.
Mauro Peter was born in Lucerne in 1987 and is one of Switzerland’s most internationally sought-after opera singers. A tenor, he can regularly be found on the world’s most well-known opera stages, such as the Scala in Milan or the Salzburg Festival. He has been part of the ensemble at the Zurich Opera House since 2013. He has put out a total of three solo albums.
Info on social engagement at Swiss Life
Swiss Life supports selected institutions in Switzerland working to promote self-determination and confidence. The institutions are all active in culture, environment, research, science and education. Swiss Life also promotes development in its own location and has two foundations of its own in Switzerland: the “Perspectives” Foundation and the Anniversary Foundation for Public Health and Medical Research. Zurich Opera House is one of ten institutions that Swiss Life Switzerland supports financially as part of the promotion of its own location. Swiss Life is project partner at the opera house of selected formats of “Club Jung”, which organises events and workshops for children and young people.