Sophie Dunér is not an opera singer, but she often “becomes” one when she sings. She is not a folk singer, but she “becomes” one too, often just when you think she has “become” an opera singer. And although the magical mysteries of Jazz improvisation informs all of her work she is not a Jazz singer, and she often “becomes” that too just when you thought you had her figured out. So unique a singer is Sophie Dunér that one can only describe what her chameleonic musical art as vocalastics. But if you think it all ends there, perish that thought and think again for Dunér’s work is characterised by all of the above and moreover her love of the theatrical; she is completely subsumed by The Voice, and her abiding love and willingness to engage with music of the past, the present, and – believe it or not – the future as well. Not surprisingly Karlheinz Stockhausen not only had a high regard for her when she attended his classes in 2004, even passing on some of his pearls of wisdom to one of his star pupils.
Miss Dunér also draws on a staggering array of influences that reach from Bach to Swedish folk music, the poetry of Dante and Federico García Lorca, from the operas of Monteverdi to the work of Stravinsky and Stockhausen, from Charles Mingus to the sounds of modern Jazz. It is also no secret that in addition to her extraordinary vocalastics she is also a very accomplished painter who leapt off from where the Cubist’s left off to develop a style of her own that often veers wildly from dark and foreboding to the blue-light visionary. All of these influences she weaves into a magical tapestry of music that embraces all of the major (musical) developments of time past, present and future, including electronic music, music theatre, Jazz from ragtime through the avant-garde of today and beyond, and works using quotation and collage (including projection of her masterful artwork during her stage performances) – which begs the description of her as an musical – indeed an artistic – omnivore.
Certainly Miss Dunér seems to lean towards the freedom and improvisational techniques of modern Jazz. She has, however, the keenest sense of the complexities of Jazz metres and dives into wild experimentations of its many incarnations the way Charles Mingus always did. But her vocalastics are all her own; so extreme at times that she becomes chameleonic through a song. Constantly evolving from phrase to phrase and line to line she accesses a breathtaking versatility to metamorphose between opera, folk, Jazz and other forms so that when she sings Mingus’ “Weird Nightmare”, a particular favourite song
that she recorded on her 2018 album The City of Dizzy – a recording with the brilliant cellist Jeremy Harman of the Sirius Quartet – you not only hear Mingus, but as the song heats up Miss Dunér blurs, then melts the boundaries between traditional song and musical theatre while exploring the more complex interactions of metaphysics (from the text) while indulging in moments of aching lyricism and bursts of fiery declamation, both stretching vocal and instrumental technique so that she not only fits the music of the 20th and 21st centuries, but seemingly all of the desperate fear and unbridled joy of human existence into every the extraordinary lyric.