By Eric Dundon
Now through June 25, 2023, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra will perform as the resident orchestra for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, a flourishing partnership that dates back more than 45 years. Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca, one of the most popular operas in the repertoire, is one of four operas produced by OTSL in its 2023 festival season.
Bjorn Ranheim, a cellist with the SLSO, has a special reason to look forward to performances of Tosca. His daughter, Inga, age 8, will perform in Tosca as part of a children’s choir.
Bjorn and Inga discuss Tosca, and what it’s like to share a performance space with a family member.
This interview with Bjorn and Inga Ranheim was condensed and edited for clarity and length.
SLSO: What is your history with being involved in operas?
Bjorn: When I was a kid, I was in the Minnesota Opera Children's Chorus and I did a [Giacomo] Puccini opera, La bohème, and got to have the same experience that Inga is having at this age. I remember those experiences were totally different. It's a huge spectacle even for an adult. But as a kid, to be a part of that and have that experience, it's life changing. I'm pinching myself that my daughter gets to have the same opportunity I did.
Inga: I'm in the St. Louis Children's Choirs and they were having an audition for Tosca. We had to sing the theme song and 12 out of the 39 kids who auditioned were picked. I was really excited and I got in. It's just a lot of fun.
SLSO: How did you become interested in singing?
Inga: I'm not sure! I like humming and singing the songs that I really like, and then I just became interested.
Bjorn: Inga and her sister Freya are always singing around the house, always humming, and they always have been since they were little girls. I knew that there was a phenomenal choral organization in town. When the girls were old enough, I wanted them to audition for the St. Louis Children's Choirs. Inga started when she was in first grade. Our home is full of music. Both girls also play piano, and so I think with all the piano and all their singing and constant humming, there's always some kind of melody going around our house.
SLSO: What is your role in the opera?
Inga: I'm supposed to be a little boy in a church choir, and we're all happy because we think Napoleon has lost and we're all celebrating. Me and another girl from our little group have to run over and get a skull and we have to start throwing it back and forth to each other.
Bjorn: It's wonderful for us as an orchestra. There's an entirely different body of repertoire that we get to explore and that we get to learn. When you work with vocalists and singers of the caliber Opera Theatre of Saint Louis brings in, it's always a real treat for us to hear how they work and how they think of phrasing and how they think of the melodic lines. It is something so different than what we do at Powell Hall.
SLSO: What is it like sharing a performance space with your family member?
Inga: It's really cool because then I can hear like what [the orchestra] sounds like while I'm doing it, like the production.
Bjorn: Having a child that's interested in music is a total thrill. It's special for me to be able to go to work with my daughter. To say I'm a proud father is a very big understatement.
SLSO: What do you like about the story of Tosca?
Inga: The Opera Tosca is about a woman named Floria Tosca, and she is really pretty. It's in the 1800s…
Bjorn: It’s a long story. (laughs)
Inga: Yeah, it’s a long story. (laughs)
Bjorn: When Inga came home from her first choir rehearsal for the Children's Chorus, they had given them a brief synopsis of the production. And I said, “So Inga, what's the story like?” And she said, “Well, daddy, it doesn't end well.” (laughs)
SLSO: Inga, getting to see your dad play his instrument in the same production you sing in, does that make you want to try the cello?
Inga: I do want to try it because it sounds amazing, and I want to play the same instrument as daddy.
SLSO: Bjorn, do you encourage your daughters to pursue music, or did the interest come naturally to them?
Bjorn: I think as a musician and somebody who participated in children's choirs and opera performances growing up in Minnesota, I have had these experiences in my life, and I know how important they can be and how meaningful and fun. I want that for my children. I want them to be able to have the same type of outlet for artistic expression that I did and more. There's a little bit of them being excited about something and there's some of me wanting them to have these experiences and guiding them in that way. Luckily, it's something that all of us are enjoying together.
Eric Dundon is the SLSO's Public Relations Director.