Martti Talvela

Martti Talvela

Finnish opera bass
Date of Birth: 04.02.1935
Country: Finland

  1. Biography of Martti Talvela
  2. Early Life and Education
  3. Operatic Career and Achievements
  4. Later Life and Legacy

Biography of Martti Talvela

Early Life and Education

Martti Talvela, the Finnish opera bass singer, was born on February 4, 1935, in the village of Hiitola, which is now part of the Republic of Karelia in Finland. He was the eighth of ten children in his family, and his parents were farmers who loved to sing. Talvela earned his first fee for performing at the age of 5, and he became interested in opera after hearing the Russian bass singer Ivan Petrov perform the role of Boris Godunov. He studied music in Lahti and Stockholm, and his operatic debut took place in 1960 in Helsinki, where he performed the role of Sparafucile in Rigoletto.

Martti Talvela

Operatic Career and Achievements

At a towering height of 203 cm, Talvela is considered the tallest opera performer of the last century. In his youth, he pursued boxing and developed the endurance required for demanding roles. After completing school, Talvela initially planned to become a primary school teacher and studied in Savonlinna, Eastern Finland from 1952 to 1956. He worked for three years in different schools while simultaneously attending the music academy. In 1961, he performed at the Stockholm Royal Opera in Sweden before becoming a permanent artist at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in the same year. Talvela made his debut at La Scala and the Vienna State Opera in 1965. Wieland Wagner, the composer's grandson and opera director, heard one of Talvela's early performances, which led to his invitation to Bayreuth in 1962. Talvela excelled in Wagnerian roles, including King Marke, Hunding, Fasolt, Fafner, Hagen, Gurnemanz, and Titurel. In 1970, the West Berlin government awarded Talvela the honorary title of Kammersänger. From 1972 to 1979, he served as the artistic director of the Savonlinna Opera Festival. Additionally, Talvela performed 39 times as King Boris at the Metropolitan Opera in New York from 1974 to 1987. He was highly regarded for his portrayal of Boris Godunov and Pimen in Joonas Kokkonen's The Last Temptations. Talvela's repertoire also included roles such as Sarastro in Mozart's The Magic Flute, Dosefei in Khovanshchina, Prince Gremin in Eugene Onegin, King Phillip II and the Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlos, Osmin in The Abduction from the Seraglio, and Don Fernando in Fidelio. Towards the end of his career, Talvela particularly excelled in the role of Ivan Susanin in Glinka's opera of the same name. His last recording was a warm and sincere version of Schubert's song cycle "Winterreise". He also left two vocal cycle recordings of Mussorgsky's "Songs and Dances of Death", one with orchestral accompaniment and the other with piano accompaniment. Talvela's immense vocal power, dark timbre, and exceptional ease and flexibility in reaching both low and high notes distinguished him in every role he performed. He was a superb vocal actor who always brought an atmosphere of somber dignity to all his characters, even when portraying absolute villains like Hagen and the Grand Inquisitor.

Martti Talvela

Later Life and Legacy

In the last eight years of his life, from 1981 to 1989, Talvela worked as a farmer at the Inkilänhovi farm in Juva, Eastern Finland, while continuing his career as an opera singer. Unfortunately, his health began to deteriorate after being diagnosed with diabetes and gout in 1975. In 1982, he suffered two heart attacks while performing at the Metropolitan Opera. He also struggled with stomach problems. In 1989, he was appointed as the director of the Finnish National Opera but was unable to assume his duties. Talvela passed away from a heart attack on July 22, 1989, at the age of 54 while dancing at his daughter's wedding in Juva. He is survived by his wife Anna, daughters Kirsi and Johanna, and son Tuomo. Talvela's exceptional talent and contribution to the world of opera left a lasting legacy.