Feature – A journey of musical discovery

From Reykjavik to Copenhagen
Regina Unnur Olafsdottir is a Classical singer from Reykjavík, Iceland. She moved to Denmark in 2005 with the aim to take her musical career to the next level. She shares her story of adjustment to life in Copenhagen and the benefits of pursuing a higher education in the country.

Having started a degree in classical music in Iceland she took on a brief stint at the University of Georgia, USA where she furthered her studies. A year later, she returned to Iceland to complete a Bachelors Degree, but was not yet done and decided to make the move to Copenhagen to complete a Masters in Classical Singing at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. “I had a really great experience in the USA, but when I returned to Iceland to finish my degree, I knew that I wanted to continue my studies. At that time you could only do a BA degree in classical music in Iceland, so if I wanted to continue my studies I had to move to another country,” explains Regina.

Prior to her visit to the USA, much of Regina’s musical exposure was from within Reykjavik. “When I was around 11 years old I started singing in a children’s choir. That was the start of my singing education. The conductor and his wife had a really big impact on me. She was a famous Icelandic opera singer and would sing with the choir on different occasions. She also became my singing teacher at the Reykjavik Academy of Singing and Vocal Arts. I started to sing solos with the choir, even though I thought it was nerve wracking, I really enjoyed it. At 16 I got accepted into the Reykjavik Academy of Singing and Vocal Arts and my interest for classical singing grew. There I started singing arias from operas, lieders and art songs. It was so interesting to get to know the stories and characters behind each song. It was fascinating, and I was sold,” Regina recalls. She went on to say that having established herself as a singer, it was important, as it is for all classical musicians, to go out and study abroad. Here, she says singers get a better sense of what its like to perform in the real world.

“You basically have all the same rights as a Dane. You can start working as soon as you’ve gotten your cpr number and a bank account. Education in Denmark is also very good, it’s free and you can even get a student grant.”

Regina had heard good things of the professors at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, so decided to visit Copenhagen for a few trial lessons to see if there was good chemistry. “It´s very important that you have a good connection with your teacher and therefore important to try a few. You can have lessons with the most famous teachers in the world, but if there is no connection you won’t get great results. I had some really good lessons with Professor Kirsten Buhl Moeller and wanted to continue to work with her on regular basis and so decided to move to Denmark,” Regina enthused.

Denmark also seemed the most logical destination explained Regina, as adjusting to life in a country so close to her home was not so bad. “You basically have all the same rights as a Dane. You can start working as soon as you´ve gotten your CPR number and a bank account. Education in Denmark is also very good, it´s free and you can even get a student grant. If you want to educate yourself it is possible to do so,” she says.

During her time as a Masters student Regina also had a few part-time jobs and had time to get reacquainted with the Danish language. “I studied Danish in school in Iceland, but as everybody knows, studying a language is very different from speaking it,” she laughs. Regina does however go on to say that times have changed drastically, and that life is not as easy as it was when she first made the move. “When I moved it was relatively easy to find somewhere to live and find a part time job. I did move a lot, about once a year for many years, but I always found a place for a fair price. Now people are struggling, and rental prices are extremely high,” she cautions.

“I do love Copenhagen though,” she smiles, saying that the city is beautiful and green. “I’ve always felt that Copenhagen is one big city with many different towns (Nørrebro, Vesterbro, Østerbro, Frederiksberg, City, Christianshavn, Islands Brygge and Amager), which all have their different qualities. I now live on Amager and I love that I can walk down to the beach and smell the sea and go to Amager fælled and get lost in the nature. I met my Irish partner in 2012 and we now have two wonderful kids who I often take out to the Nature centre at Vestamager where there are sheep and horses, and all kinds of fun activities. I’m also a big fan of the bike culture and the public transport system is also very good and affordable. There is always something going on in Copenhagen, it has a rich cultural scene and a lot of different festivals,” perfect for someone in the arts she says.

Regina says that in her experience there is a rich culture for classical music in Denmark, and that making the move was a good one for her career. In the world of classical singing Regina is what you’d called a full lyrical soprano (as opposed to light lyrical soprano). It´s a high voice with a warm quality to it. “I´m a bit of a voice chameleon. I like singing different styles of music and using my voice in many different ways. As an authorised Complete Vocal Technique vocal coach I´ve leart and know how to use my voice to do different things, like distortion, grunt, growl, screams and others in a healthy way. But professionally, I mostly sing classical,” she says. Regina’s broad singing style is nicely suited to her current production CRASH, in which she plays a woman involved in a car crash. The theatre production includes a range of musical genera’s from classical to rock. You can read more about CRASH in our ‘What’s on’ section on page 5.

Text: David Nothling-Demer