Written by By Naomi Freeman, Arts Editor
Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Tarja brought her North American tour for her first solo album to Toronto

You’ve probably never heard of popera or Tarja Turnunen (stage name Tarja) if you’re Canadian, but that should quickly change. “Popera” is defined by the Times as “a fusion of classically trained singers with popular music.” This is a term usually used for groups like Il Divo. Tarja, a professionally trained lyrical and operatic-style singer from Finland, takes this crossover act one step further by adding elements of death metal. The Sibelius Academy and University of Music Karlsruhe-trained singer is surprisingly humble considering her long list of accomplishments. Former lead singer of power metal band Nightwish, she is heralded as the voice of Finland, has been voted best-dressed and most beautiful at a variety of events and is a breakthrough female act in a musical scene dominated by some of the most testosterone-laden men in the world.

“I think it’s really important to be humble for the music because there is always someone better than you, there is always something new for you to learn for music and you can’t be the best in the world. It makes you work very hard,” Tarja told me in an interview before her Toronto appearance. “Music really makes you keep your feet on the ground. People can really see if you’re honest. That is the truth, they really can see through you,” she said. After playing with Nightwish for nine years, Tarja parted ways with the band in October 2005 before releasing her solo album, My Winter Storm, in October 2007.

“With my classical training and coming from a metal band, producers didn’t know what to expect. I like to shock people, though. It makes it fun,” she said about her solo debut. This past year she also recorded a duet with Schiller, a band that has collaborated with everyone from Celtic music groups and pop bands to death metal bands and Sarah  Brightman. The piece, “Tired of Being Alone,” has been pre-nominated for the 2009 Grammys. Tarja found that her biggest challenge in going solo was making it clear what she wanted her music to sound like. She was adamant that it would be an album that could not be categorized.

“It is a lot of responsibility [but] the freedom [of going solo] is making me really happy,” she said. My Winter Storm has a sound similar to her work with Nightwish, but is more moody and less heavy. Her first single off the album, “I Walk Alone,” a creeping, orchestral rock piece, rocketed up the charts in her home country Finland and across northern Europe when it was released in October 2007. She also covered Alice Cooper’s ’80s mega-hit “Poison” in a dark and fresh way. Now that she has one album under her belt, she feels she will not need to explain which direction she wants to go with the next one.

"I think it’s really important to be humble for the music, because there is always someone better than you
- Tarja, Musician

“I really hope with the next album I will make my sound very clear and my message very clear to my listeners, to say ‘This is it. This is me,’” she said. For her second album she wants to keep the variety but also “want[s] to make it even bigger in a way that the heavier songs will sound a bit more heavy but the moodier songs will be in the same vein as the first album.” She added that one of her goals is to record a duet for the next album. The concert itself was spectacular, but because of the music, not because of spectacle and overdone stage design. Tarja did not hold herself back from the fans: there was no assigned seating and no fences near the stage to give high-paying VIPs an exclusive close-up. She talked to her fans, let them touch her and purposely posed for pictures when she saw a particular camera on her. Her band was just as nice, dipping their guitars into the audience and letting fans touch the fret board and play a couple of notes.

It may have been disappointing for this queen of metal to come to Toronto’s Opera House (capacity 1,500) and not even have the floor sold out, but she didn’t let on if she was disappointed. She really seems to take to heart that music and stardom are both constant journeys that must always be worked at and are not natural rights once a certain plateau is reached.