An interview with Marius Roth Christensen
A Norwegian opera star crosses over
When you first see Marius Roth Christensen, it is difficult to imagine that the man is both a famous solo tenor at the Norwegian Royal Opera and a famous rock musician in a band called Seigmen. You can see him on TV, and it was on Stjernekamp on NRK that many non-opera-lovers got to know him.
Most people would think that this would be enough, but not Marius. He also organized and created music shows in the city of Tønsberg, a favorite destination for summer vacations.
In other words, Marius Roth Christensen is a man of multiple talents, in addition to being humble and gracious. In the press, we learn that he is considered one of the best singers in Norway.
We had a chance to meet him in the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in New York City, where he performed, free of charge, to a delighted audience.
Now we leave the floor to Marius to learn more about this talented, active, and humble artist.
Marit Fosse: Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Marius Roth Christiansen: My name is Marius Roth Christensen. I grew up in Nøtterøy, more precisely Torød. It is south of Oslo and an area close to the sea. It was a very pleasant life growing up there.
In high school, I chose the economics electives and specialized in accounting. In my spare time, I sang and played in a band. My parents were also music lovers, so, I was, in fact, surrounded by music, although it was not necessarily the classical music that they cherished the most.
After obtaining my baccalaureate, I realized that accounting and economics was not my thing. I had, in fact, had my share of micro economics, debits, and credits. So, I decided to take classes at Toneheim Folkehøgskole at Hamar, a famous music school. It was there that it became obvious to me that I was a singer, and that this was what I was going to become. It was during my studies there that I really took off. After a year at Hamar, I was admitted to the Oslo Conservatory of Music.
While I was studying classical music in Oslo, I continued to play in a Tønsberg band called Seigmen. We started out from scratch, and it became a very popular band in Norway. So, after a year and a half, I dropped out of my classical studies. In fact, the dean at the conservatory started to question my repeated requests for leaves of absence because he did not consider being in a rock band something serious. The band Seigmen became something really huge in the 1990s. At the end of the 1990s, the band stopped, and I started to develop my voice again with the help of coaches, mentors, and professors. It all ended up with me being hired at the Norwegian National Opera as a solo tenor. It is not a very common career path, and so far, I have not heard about anybody who has had the same path as me.
It is quite amazing sitting there with a Spellemann prize (the highest distinction in the Norwegian music world) for the rock band and at the same time being a solo tenor at the opera. It is quite an unusual combination.
For me, it is all about music! I usually tell people that I’m employed by the opera, but I’m a rocker at heart. It’s great to be able to work with different types of music and to enjoy it.
MF: Do you have time to play in the rock band now?
MRC: Yes! The band was dissolved at the end of the 1990s. After about five years, we were asked if we could perform a reunion concert. It took almost a year before we decided to go ahead. So, in 2005 we started up again, but with some changes. Today, friendship, the joy of being together, and playing are what matter most.
The band is still very popular, and our concerts are quickly sold out. So, we continue composing and we keep on going. It is really great fun.
MF: How long have you worked at the opera?
MRC: I got my fixed contract in 2006. Before then, I was in and out performing various roles. At that time, I also traveled quite extensively abroad, living in a suitcase, as we say in Norway.
When Per Boye Hansen was the director of the opera, he offered me a permanent contract as a tenor solo singer. It was very gratifying, for I’m not only a singer and a performer but also the father of four children, and family life is also important for me.
I never had the wish to make an international career, unlike many of my colleagues. Lise Davidsen, who is currently performing at the Metropolitan Opera [in New York City], is a friend and a colleague with whom I have worked many times. I’m very happy to follow her from afar on her artistic journey. She is unique. You feel that when you hear her singing. Perhaps I could have worked differently to get a career path similar to hers, but that has never been my ambition. I have had enough with performing in Norway, my family, and not the least being a father of four children.
MF: Would you reconsider, when your children are grown up, relaunching your international career?
MRC: I do not really think so. I always want to be close to my children and family. Besides, it is a huge investment to take that road now. My career in Norway is going very well, so I do not need it. There are so many excellent singers out there, and the competition is extremely tough.
MF: You are also creating shows. Could you please tell us a little more about that?
MRC: I do not write the music, but I put together the musical performance. I had success in Tønsberg with several summer events. It all started during the pandemic, and those performances have been more about growing up in the 1980s. It is mainly monologues and texts in which people recognize their lives in those years. From there, it has gone over to different songs, then a new text, and so forth. It became a very nostalgic and warm performance that sold very well, in fact, better than any other performance during the same period. It was called “Mamma, Teigen, Elvis og meg.”
It was a very enriching experience, and I like doing this kind of show. It is also a way to show that the voice has a different facet and can be used to express different musical genres.
MF: Looking back on your career, what are the things you have liked the most?
MRC: It is a difficult and good question. I have had different periods in my career. I remember the joy when I got to know that I had a talent as a singer. I think I have been extremely lucky to be gifted with such a voice. It was just there! Of course, I have worked hard to develop it like any singer does, and I practice every day. It is a never-ending story.
Then comes Seigmen and all the years we have kept it going. There are so many highlights that it’s difficult to pick one in particular. It has been a long journey from how it all started to how it is today. We are currently preparing our next album, our fourth.
We are really productive these days. We go to the studio to do recordings. So there have been many highlights, and many nice things to look back on. I think that all these different elements have contributed to make me the person I am today. It is even nicer to think that in the middle of all these different events, I have been blessed with children and a family. It is perhaps the best thing of it all.
MF: Do you have some upcoming events and plans you can share with us?
MRC: I have another musical production in the pipeline. I like this type of storytelling mixed with music. We are working on one based on the story of Elvis and his life. Elvis’ life also gives me the opportunity to do more classical pieces. As you might recall, Elvis also performed classical songs. For instance, “It’s Now or Never” is in reality “Oh Sole Mio,” an Italian folk song that all opera singers worldwide perform.
Another song is “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” This year’s performance will take place in Arendal, another very tourist resort town in Norway. My friend Rolf Erik is working with me in setting this up, and then I’m bringing along five great musicians to accompany me. So it is going to be a great show, and I’m really looking forward to it. It will take place in June and July.
What I have talked about up to now are my own personal projects. I also work for the opera, and this coming season will be my last season. In the opera they have this rule that you retire when you are 52 years old. So by April next year, it will be my very last season. I will then go back to my freelance life. In the meantime, I will do quite a lot of interesting things at the opera, too. My last performance will be of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, which is a very nice piece.
MF: What is life like being an artist in Norway?
MRC: As I said earlier, I do different things. I also often perform at funerals. I started to do that when I was living in Tønsberg. So, I have also become a kind of funeral singer if I may put it that way. I often think that it’s perhaps one of the most important tasks that I do, to sing at a funeral. It is not about me. I do everything I can to contribute to make this special and often difficult time the most memorable day for the family and friends saying goodbye to a dear one. I’m there with nice music to comfort the persons who have lost their loved ones.
As I left this positive and humble man in the church, he promised to come back in a year’s time to perform again. We feel very happy that there are still artists who love their work and who keep on creating shows and events so that we can listen to good music.
This article originally appeared in the August 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE.