The Sound of Luxury Personified: Getting to know Natalja Sticco

Arts & Entertainment

  • Author Hunter Gannet
  • Published September 9, 2020
  • Word count 1,615

For luxury brands, design is perceived by all five senses — including the ears, and the psychology of emotional sound design continues to be a critical component particularly in top-flight car and watch brands, where every single tick and rumble is an opportunity to provoke an emotional response. This “Auditory-Induced Emotion” has become an identifier almost as unique as a fingerprint for many brands which in turn becomes a reflection of distinct craftsmanship while painting a picture of comfort and effortlessness. Creating an all-encompassing sensory experience that achieves differentiation, exclusivity or mystique and aligning it with a brands overall tone of voice right means these small pieces of auditory art exerts tremendous influence on the overall feel and an impression of a brand.

Crafting the audio footprint of a product is one thing, but ca an individual’s voice accomplishes naturally what brands invest millions of dollars hiring teams of audio engineers and psychologists to do? ‘Cue-in’ Opera Mezzo Soprano Natalja Sticco. “We all have certain songs that will immediately stir some kind of emotion in us. It’s also well-established in neuroscience that music and other sounds have the ability to induce emotions that impact our mood, and even improve focus and intelligence,” She explains, “so why couldn’t a voice have the same affect?” Good question, and one I set out to answer.

Aside from her vocal chops, Natalja’s dossier lends credibility to the hypothesis. At 34 years old she’s studied voice, opera and classical music since early childhood. She is trilingual in her native Russian, in Latvian (the official state language of her home country of Latvia) and in English. She is also fluent and most often performs in Italian, German, French as well as Latin, and for fun became conversational in Dutch while studying for her Master’s Degree in The Netherlands. A music degree, you might ask? Nope. After competing a Bachelor degree in Vocal Performance and a second in Information Technology, Natalja decided to complete a Masters program in IT Engineering specializing in Robotics. All while working full-time as a chorus member of the Latvian National Opera & Ballet. “Though the work was stable I earned very little in the Opera. I knew I had to have a back-up career that would at least pay the bills.”

I first heard Natalja at the birthday party of an UHNW client who is a fan of Opera. His wife actually found her and in chatting about her performance afterwards my client could not stop talking about the finer points of Natalja’s technical skill. While she did sound amazing to my untrained ear, I became more intrigued by the passion with which my client was speaking. A few months later I attended a business event she happened to be performing at and was amazed by how an opera singer could not only command the attention of the room, but how some men and women at my table were wiping tears from their eyes. When I asked if they had heard her before or were fans of opera I was shocked that their answers were “no.” As I drove home I caught myself humming one of the arias she had sung. I’ve been to operas in the Boston area, as well as The Met. They were thoroughly enjoyable experiences but hadn’t left the impression as this had. It was then I realized there was something more to this voice and had to figure it out. I reached out to Natalja and over the course of several months engaged in a conversation and learning experience that has transformed my opinion of opera.

“Opera is the last, luxurious self-indulgence in music.” She states confidently. “Critics debate its relevance in music and society. Opera houses struggle with attracting new and more diverse audiences by staging educational programs and ‘opera is for everyone campaigns’ and the like. But it’s not for everyone, and those who enjoy it are generally better educated and wealthier.” Again she’s correct. What’s interesting though is that it’s not a matter of being an elitist that attracts people to opera. It’s the relationship between the neurological benefits of listening to opera and classical music and the fact that the benefits include better focus and higher intelligence. Applied to life that translates to doing better in school and work, and the science supports that. What’s interesting is that the same characteristics self-anointed progressive critics value in society’s are quite similar to what it takes to enjoy opera; a rich appreciation of cultural diversity, an openness to learning about different cultures and societies, and mastery of an art form. So why all the opera hate?

Natalja says in her experience it’s a hesitancy to change the perception of opera as “elitist” by people on both sides, and for the uninitiated it takes some effort. “Americans are more like to say they don’t like opera and the most common reason I hear is because they don’t understand the languages, and I can’t help easy one with that. I’m sorry to say that there are plenty of children in Italy, France and Germany who understand it just fine. If your desire is to be more globally woke — learn a language or be willing to exert the energy to read a translation.” Natalja quips. She also doesn’t see the difference between what’s valued in popular music versus opera. “I think opera crowds are generally more giving and philanthropic. Artists and fans in other genres put on elaborate displays of wealth and excessive luxury living as something to aspire to and that’s fine with people. Enjoy a lyric in Italian outside of Italy and suddenly that makes you a bourgeois elitist. I just don’t get it.”

Now that I was feeling better about enjoying opera, the question still remained about why Natalja’s voice in-particular resonated so deeply with me and the people I observed. Natalja is quick to credit the composers. “The difference between being an opera singer and a pop singer is that in opera the singer is part of the composition and orchestration. The singer is the voice of the composer. Our role isn’t to make it our own and put our own distinct spin on it. Maybe there is room for that in a concert but if you’re being authentic to the art that’s your job. So when each note is correctly executed the result is the emotion the composer intended to convey, and that’s what the audience experiences.” She continues, “if we look at your examples of the chimes to world’s finest grandfather clocks being replicated in a luxury car, if you run that same tone through the audio system of a Toyota it may sound ok, but you’re still not in a Rolls Royce. The mechanics are just not comparable. Same with a voice. There are a lot of people who graduate with degrees in opera performance. That’s a credential, not a qualification, and it doesn’t mean you possess technical expertise for certain repertoire. I’m careful to execute, to tune, every note in the way it was intended. That’s why you see people respond in the ways they do.”

“Speaking of tuning, do you have perfect pitch?” I ask. “ABSOLUTE-ly” Natalja replies with a laugh (inside joke for any students of music reading). Yes, of course she does.

When we talk about luxury brands stimulating all the senses, I can’t ignore the fact that Natalja is also strikingly beautiful and a far cry from any preconceived notions of opera’s “fat lady.” In what I’ve learned to be her trademark humble style she credits genetics with a touch of self-help. “My mother and grandmothers on both sides are all beautiful women, so I’m just lucky I guess. When it comes to fitness, I exercise daily but only because I just don’t feel well when I don’t. And my husband likes having a hot wife so it makes him happy too!”

Jokingly, I comment that opera must also help with romance at-home. With the perfect timing of, well, an Opera Singer, Natalja excitedly exclaims “Yes!” before I can say she doesn’t have to answer. “It’s another psychological benefit of opera that can help you become more emotionally available by connecting with the emotions of the music.” Natalja’s husband, who has always sat quietly tapping away on his tablet in a corner of the room as I interviewed her, interrupts for the first time, “If you haven’t checked out her Spotify Playlists, find “Between the Sheets” and play it a few nights” he says with the raised eyebrows and nodding of his head up and down of a dear friend giving serious life advice, “you’re welcome” he finishes. I hadn’t actually said “thank you” of course, but having taking his advice and experiencing the result, “Thank you Good Sir!”

Intelligence. Technical Refinement. Beauty and Sex Appeal, If Natalja were a luxury product her marketing team could easily craft a campaign around any of these attributes. In a field where tangible products and instagram-able experiences are part of defining a luxury lifestyle, the true final frontier of luxury may be the self-curation of the sounds we surround ourselves with. Sounds that evoke emotion, stimulates neurons in our brain, and allows for immersing oneself in an indulgence of musical solitude strewn with the decadence of bygone eras and a particular romantic sadism which is unique to opera, and in my experience uniquely crafted by this brilliant Mezzo Soprano.

Hunter is a Private Advisor and Luxury ‘Fixer’ for UHNW clients throughout the world. He holds an Executive Master in Luxury Mgmt from SDA Baconni, Milan.

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