Tarja Soile Susanna Turunen-Cabuli (born 17 August 1977), known professionally as Tarja Turunen or simply Tarja, is a Finnish Heavy metal singer-songwriter. She is a soprano with a three octave vocal range. (C3 - G♯6 (3 Octaves + 8 Semitones))
Tarjja Turunen studied singing at Sibelius Academy and Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe. She is a professional classical lied singer, and the former lead vocalist of the Finnish Symphonic metal band Nightwish, which she founded with Tuomas Holopainen and Emppu Vuorinen in 1996. Their combination of hard and fast guitar riffs with Tarja's dramatic, "operatic" lead vocals quickly achieved critical and commercial popularity. Their symphonic metal style, soon dubbed "opera metal", inspired many other metal bands and performers.
Tarja Turunen was dismissed from the band on 21 October 2005 (just after the performance of the band's End of an Era concert) for personal reasons. She started her solo career in 2006 with the release of a Christmas album called Henkäys ikuisuudesta. In 2007, Tarja released My Winter Storm, an album featuring various styles including symphonic metal, and started the Storm World Tour.
She performed several concerts in Europe, playing in metal festivals including the Graspop Metal Meeting and the Wacken Open Air, before releasing her third album, What Lies Beneath, supported by a tour, which lasted until April 2012. Her first live DVD Act I was filmed during this tour on 30 and 31 March 2012 in Rosario, Argentina. Act I was released in August 2012. Tarja Turunen started the Colours in the Dark World Tour in October 2013 to promote her new album Colours in the Dark. Her second live DVD was filmed during the events of Beauty and the Beat and was released in May.
In September 2015, Tarja Turunen released her first classical studio album, Ave Maria – En Plein Air. In August 2016 she released The Shadow Self with a prequel EP The Brightest Void released on June 3. Her latest album In the Raw, was released on 30 August 2019.
Tarja Turunen was born in the small village of Puhos, near Kitee, Finland. She has an older brother, Timo, and a younger brother, Toni. Her mother Ritva Sisko Marjatta (Hakkarainen) worked in the town administration, and her father Teuvo Turunen is a carpenter. Her talent for music was first noted when she sang the song "Enkeli taivaan" (the Finnish version of "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come") in the Kitee church hall at age three. She joined the church choir and started taking vocal lessons. At age six, she started playing piano.
At comprehensive school, Tarja performed as a singer for several projects. Her first piano teacher Kirsti Nortia-Holopainen, "Tarja was in a school that had some very musical people. Even then she got to perform a lot. I think she sang in every school function there was." Her music teacher, Plamen Dimov, later explained that, "If you gave Tarja just one note, she immediately got it. With the others, you'd have to practice three, four, five times". At school she had a tough time, since some girls bullied her because they envied her voice. To solve that problem, Plamen Dimov organized projects outside school.
At fifteen, Tarja Turunen had her first major appearance as a soloist at a church concert in front of a thousand listeners. In 1993 she attended the Senior Secondary School of Art and Music in Savonlinna.
For several years Tarja Turunen performed various songs including Soul music by Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin. Later she listened to songs from the Classical crossover singer Sarah Brightman, especially the song "The Phantom of the Opera", and decided to focus on that genre of music. At eighteen, she moved to Kuopio to study at the Sibelius Academy.
In December 1996, former classmate Tuomas Holopainen invited Tarja to join his new acoustic mood music project, and she immediately agreed. At the recording session for the first demo Tuomas discovered that due to her classical singing lessons, her voice had become much more powerful than he recalled from their school days. At the following band practices, Emppu Vuorinen used an electric guitar instead of an acoustic guitar because he felt that it gave a better accompaniment to her voice.
Tuomas Holopainen later explained that the band members had gradually realised that Tarja Turunen's voice had become too dramatic for acoustic mood music and eventually came to the conclusion that the music had to be massive too. Hence Holopainen decided to form Nightwish as a metal band.
Nightwish recorded a second demo with "more bombastic, dramatic" songs in September 1997. Tuomas Holopainen used this material to convince the Finnish label Spinefarm Records to publish the band's debut album, Angels Fall First. The success of the first album came as a surprise to the label. As the album hit the top 40 of the Finnish charts, Nightwish started their tour The First Tour of the Angels. That same year, Tarja Turunen performed at the Savonlinna Opera Festival for the first time, singing songs from Wagner and Verdi.
Due to her commitment to the band, Tarja Turunen was not able to concentrate sufficiently on her schoolwork and her academic studies were interrupted. In 1998, Nightwish published their second album, Oceanborn. This album lacked the earlier elements of Folk and ambient music, and instead focused on fast, melodic keyboard and guitar lines and Tarja Turunen's dramatic voice. In addition to the Oceanborn Europe Tour (1999), Turunen sang solo in Waltari's rock-themed ballet Evankeliumi (also known as Evangelicum) in several sold-out performances at the Finnish National Opera. In 2000 and 2001, Nightwish recorded Wishmaster and Over the Hills and Far Away and toured Europe and South America (the Wishmaster World Tour). During the Wishmaster World Tour, Tarja met Argentine businessman Marcelo Cabuli from Latin American record label NEMS Enterprises whom she married in 2003.
Tarja Turunen enrolled in 2000 at the German music university Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe to gain a professional qualification as a soloist with further specialization in Art song. In addition to the good reputation of the university, Tarja Turunen chose to go to Karlsruhe because some people at the Finnish university did not take her seriously as a classical singer due to her commitment in a metal band. While there, she recorded vocals for Nightwish's 2002 album Century Child and for Beto Vázquez Infinity. As with the other albums, Tuomas Holopainen wrote the pieces and sent Tarja the lyrics and a demo recording of the prerecorded instrumental tracks by mail. Using the demo, Tarja designed her vocal lines and the choral passages.
In 2002, Tarja Turunen toured South America, performing in the classical Lied concert Noche Escandinava (Scandinavian Night) to sold-out houses. Following this and an exhausting world tour in support of Century Child (the World Tour of the Century), Nightwish took a hiatus and Tarja Turunen returned to Karlsruhe to finish her studies. After the hiatus Nightwish recorded the album Once; it was released in May 2004. The album has sold platinum in Finland and Germany and was the best selling album in all of Europe in July 2004. The band performed in the supporting Once Upon a Tour throughout 2004 and 2005.
For Christmas 2004, Tarja Turunen released her first solo single, titled "Yhden enkelin unelma" (One Angel's Dream), which sold gold in her native country of Finland. At Christmas 2005 it made a reentry at position one in the Finnish Charts. In spring 2005 she prepared the duet "Leaving You for Me", a collaboration with Martin Kesici, accompanied by a video.
The first change in the line up of Nightwish was in September 2001, when bassist Sami Vänskä was fired because Tuomas Holopainen was no longer able to continue working with him. In the following years the relationship between Tuomas Holopainen and Tarja Turunen's husband and manager Marcelo Cabuli deteriorated. This affected the relationship between Tuomas and Tarja as well.
At a band meeting after the concert in Oberhausen in December 2004 Tarja informed the band members that she wanted to leave the band, but agreed to record one more album and to participate in the subsequent tour, planned for 2006/2007. According to her husband, Tarja had further agreed not to make her decision public and to release her first solo album after the new studio album from Nightwish. After the last concert of the Once Upon a Tour on 21 October 2005 (which was released on video as End of an Era),
To you, unfortunately, business, money, and things that have nothing to do with those emotions have become much more important.
The split and, due to the open letter's allegations, Tarja's character became the subject of close media coverage. She responded through an open letter on her website and through some interviews in which she explained her view. She was upset that after nine years of working together, Tuomas Holopainen announced the separation via an open letter. Because of the continuing media interest, Marcelo Cabuli posted a message addressing the situation on the website in February 2006. He asked that anyone who had questions should email him. In June 2006, Cabuli posted a lengthy reply to many of the questions he had received. He answered questions related to the greed accusation by explaining that the band had agreed on the distribution of earnings in a contract at the formation of Nightwish.
Based on that contract, every band member got a fixed share of 20% of the band's income. Marcelo Cabuli stated that, unlike others, Tarja Turunen had never fought for additional songwriter royalties. For sure in her case, money is not coming first in her book of life. [...] If we would check which band member earns a lot more money than any other one in the band, you should be surprised.
— Marcelo Cabuli
Despite the circumstances of the separation, Tuomas Holopainen's appreciation of Tarja Turunen as an artist remained. He explained that he did not search for a similarly trained singer as a successor for Tarja because he considers her to be extraordinarily good in her genre and therefore irreplaceable. Tarja Turunen said in an interview that she is very proud of her career with Nightwish. She considers the remaining band members extremely talented and wishes all the best for them and their subsequent lead singer Anette Olzon.
At the end of 2005, Tarja Turunen performed several classical concerts in Finland, Germany, Spain, and Romania. Since she expected to participate in another Nightwish album, several concerts and the release of her Christmas album Henkäys ikuisuudesta (officially translated as Breath from Heaven) were the only activities scheduled for 2006. Tarja Turunen again played at the Savonlinna Opera Festival in July 2006, this time as the main act; she sang alongside Finnish tenor Raimo Sirkiä, supported by the Kuopio Symphonic Orchestra. Tarja Turunen performed classical arias like "O mio babbino caro" by Puccini, "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" by Verdi and some songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber—"Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and
"Phantom of the Opera"—among other songs. In November she performed at the charity concert "Tomorrow's Child" with the Tapiola Choir as a benefit for the UNICEF Children's Fund. On December 6, 2006, Tarja Turunen performed a big concert at the Sibelius Hall in Lahti, Finland; it was broadcast live by the Finnish channel YLE TV2 for 450,000 viewers. She was nominated for the Finnish Emma Award as Best Soloist of 2006. The following year, Tarja Turunen recorded vocals for the track "In the Picture" on the Nuclear Blast All-stars album Into the Light.
In August 2006 she started to work on her next solo album, My Winter Storm, the beginning of her main solo project. It was the first time that Tarja had written songs. She was supported by some professional songwriters. The choir and orchestral arrangements were written by film music composer James Dooley. Tarja Turunen released My Winter Storm, an album featuring various styles, including Symphonic metal with classical "operatic" lead vocals, in November 2007.
The album took the number one spot on the Finnish charts, and went platinum in Finland double platinum in Russia and gold in Germany. She was nominated for an Echo music award, as best newcomer and an Emma award for best Finnish artist. On November 25, 2007, Tarja Turunen embarked on the Storm World Tour to promote My Winter Storm.
She performed 95 concerts throughout Europe, North and South America and ended the tour in October 2009 at the O2 Academy Islington in London. In December 2008, the EP The Seer was released in the UK and the new extended edition of My Winter Storm released in January 2009.
She also contributed three songs to the Finnish charity Christmas album Maailman kauneimmat joululaulut (Finnish for "The World's Most Beautiful Christmas Songs") released in November 2009. In December 2009 she recorded her vocal part for the song "The Good Die Young", a duet with Klaus Meine which is included on the Scorpions album Sting in the Tail.
Tarja Turunen recorded her third album, What Lies Beneath, in 2009 and 2010; it was released in September 2010. The album combined metal with classical "operatic" elements in an out of the box approach. She started the What Lies Beneath World Tour performing on several festivals, including the Wacken Open Air and the Graspop Metal Meeting, with special concerts at Miskolc Opera Festival and at the Masters of Rock festival, when she performed accompanied by a full orchestra. The tour is scheduled to last until April 2012. Also in 2010 she supported Alice Cooper on the German leg of his Theatre of Death Tour. On July 17, 2011, she sang again at the Savonlinna Opera Festival along with José Cura and accompanied by the Kuopio Symphony Orchestra.
In March 2012, Tarja Turunen won the title "Europe's best crossover performer" with over 100,000 votes.
In May 2013, Tarja Turunen announced the title of her 4th solo album, Colours in the Dark, which was released on August 30. On May 31 the song "Never Enough" was released as a teaser. Later this year, in September, it was revealed that Turunen would appear as guest vocalist on the title track and video of Within Temptation's EP Paradise, released on September 27.
In January 2014, Tarja Turunen revealed through her blog that she would soon return to the studio and record vocals for a couple of songs for her Outlanders project together with Torsten Stenzel & Walter Giardino.
In May 2014, the DVD Beauty and the Beat, was released, providing live footage from 3 concerts as part of the Beauty and the Beat World Tour. The DVD shows Tarja performing live with a symphonic orchestra, choir and Mike Terrana on drums. Songs include Antonín Dvořák's "Song to the Moon" from the Rusalka opera and Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir", and also a live version of the rarely performed song "Swanheart" from the 1998 Nightwish album Oceanborn. On the same year, in July, Left in the Dark was released as an EP containing alternative versions from Tarja's album Colours in the Dark, as well as a studio version of "Into the Sun".
On October 17, 2015, Tarja performed two new songs from her then forthcoming album, The Brightest Void, "No Bitter End" and "Goldfinger", which is a cover of the title song of the James Bond film with the same name.
Tarja announced she was planning to release a new album in the summer of 2016. She explains that "she has been working hard once again with Tim Palmer to create the heaviest sound so far of her career for her fourth rock album". She also explained that the album will follow in the same footsteps as her other albums but with a new soul and growth. A teaser with a snippet of two songs was then released on her official YouTube channel. On February 17, 2016, Tarja also revealed the first letter of the album name to be T. On March 14, 2016, Tarja made public title and cover of her new album, The Shadow Self.
On April 7, Tarja announced the release, scheduled for June 3, of The Brightest Void, the "prequel" of The Shadow Self; The Brightest Void contains the song "No Bitter End", also included in The Shadow Self, the duet with Within Temptation "Paradise (What About Us?)" and several covers.
The Shadow Self was released on August 5, 2016. The lead single was the track "Innocence".
On November 17, 2017, Tarja released From Spirits and Ghosts (Score for a Dark Christmas), her second classical and Christmas album. With the album release comes also Tarja Turunen's first graphic novel, From Spirits and Ghosts (Novel for a Dark Christmas). The 40-page novel is about the world of dark Christmas scripted by Peter Rogers with accompanying art by Conor Boyle.
On July 27, 2018, Tarja released Act II, a live album and DVD recorded during the concert on November 29, 2016, at the Teatro della Luna in Milan, during the world tour The Shadow Shows.
On 30 August 2019, Tarja released In the Raw. For this album Tarja Turunen joined forces with other Heavy Metal vocalists such as Björn Strid, Tommy Karevik, and Cristina Scabbia, thus including in the album vocal collaborations with them.
On June 19, 2021, Tarja announced the release of a book in October 2021, Singing in My Blood in which the book would share the story of her life in music.
At the end of 2021, Tarja launched the ten-year project called Outlanders which combines her vocals with electronic beats, and featuring guest artists such as Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin and jazz guitarist Al Di Meola.
Tarja confirmed in an interview on August 15, 2022, that not only was she working on two albums for 2023, she stated that there will be a new album at the end of 2022.
On 2 December 2022, Tarja released her first compilation album "Best of: Living the Dream" in many formats to celebrate her 15-year solo career.
She later announced the beginning of the 2023 Living the Dream Tour in support of the compilation album, starting in the United States.
On June 14, 2023, Tarja announced her next live album, "Rocking Heels: Live at Metal Church". The new live album was released on August 11, 2023 by earMUSIC and is the first release of the live series "Rocking Heels". The album contains live recordings of her private performance which opened Wacken Open Air in 2016. The live album contains multiple metal covers, such as Linkin Park's "Numb" and Metallica's "The Unforgiven", as well as Tarja's own original music and a Nightwish cover. The first single "Numb" was released on June 14, 2023, and the second single "Alias" was released on 30 June 2023. The third single "The Unforgiven" was released on July 28, 2023.
Along with visiting the music school in Savonlinna, Tarja Turunen began serious classical vocal training at 17. After school, she began studying music (with a specialization in church music) at the Sibelius Academy. Due to her commitment with Nightwish, she had to interrupt her academic studies.
From 2001 to 2003, she studied at the music academy Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe, where she trained as a soloist with further specialization in art songs. Tarja Turunen originally applied to train as a choir singer. At the audition she attracted the attention of professor Mitsuko Shirai, who encouraged Tarja Turunen to apply for soloist training.
As a classical singer, Tarja sings with classical vocal technique. She explained that in the early days of Nightwish, it was difficult to combine classical technique with the metal sound in a way that gave her liberty of action without damaging her vocal cords.
Classical techniques helped her to play with her voice, so she decided not to pursue extra training in rock/pop singing.
Towards the turn of the millennium, the combination of hard and fast guitar riffs with classical female lead vocals attracted a great deal of attention in the metal scene. The new music style of Nightwish quickly achieved critical and commercial popularity; this Symphonic metal style was soon dubbed "opera metal". Tarja Turunen does not see herself as an opera singer. She has sung excerpts from operas at the Savonlinna Opera Festival, but she stresses that singing opera cannot be performed as a side project. She would need special training to perfectly sing an entire opera without a microphone.
When asked how the association between the opera and metal genres may have arisen, Tarja Turunen said that despite the obvious differences, the two music styles have some similarities:
The scenes are very similar. There are many people who would never go to an opera and the same goes for metal. But the real fans are incredibly loyal. And both styles are bombastic and express strong emotions. — Tarja Turunen, Metal Hammer interview, July 2002
From the first Nightwish album Angels Fall First (1997) on, critics described Tarja Turunen's vocals using adjectives such as angelic or valkyrian. The Valkyrie image was later fostered by the second video for the single "Sleeping Sun" in which Tarja walks on a battlefield as if she were guiding the dead warriors.
On the following albums the singing was technically more complex. On the Nightwish album Oceanborn (1998), her classical vocal training was much more noticeable. For the song "Passion and the Opera", Tarja performed a staccato coloratura reminiscent of the aria "Hell's vengeance boils in my heart", sung by the soprano role Queen of the Night in Mozart's opera The Magic Flute. "Sleeping Sun" required a well-trained breathing technique.
Tarja explained in an interview that when they recorded Oceanborn, she had serious doubts, fearing that she was not yet advanced enough in her studies to have mastered the required techniques.
A challenge of a different kind was the cover version of Gary Moore's "Over the Hills and Far Away" (2001), as it required a deeper voice, far below the vocal range of an average soprano. In an interview with Breakout magazine, she reported that in the studio, the band members were shaken by a paroxysm of laughter as she tried to warm up for the vocal lines. As a side benefit of her efforts, Tarja gradually expanded her vocal range considerably into the lower range, which manifested even more on the following albums.
For the album Century Child (2002), she experimented with a more "rock" sounding voice, where she maintained the classical singing technique, but, for example, sang with less vibrato. Tarja was not satisfied that she had successfully transitioned to this new style until the album Once (2004).
"I feel very comfortable with Once because I have tried to change my singing style with Nightwish already since Century Child because Tuomas requested that, the songs requested that ... It has been hard work and I didn't manage to do that on Century Child, I was not very happy with it. On Once it's all very natural, how I'm singing and what I'm singing. But as I said, it has been really hard work because I've been a classical singer for the last ten years so it was hard to start over again and think of different styles. Of course I'm always singing with my classical techniques, I never sing with my poor speaking voice – I cannot do that anymore". — Tarja Turunen, Metal Temple interview, October 2004
This deeper "rock"-sounding voice on Once—as well as on the song "In the Picture" of the album Into the Light—was welcomed by critics as a refreshing change.
Her first solo album My Winter Storm (2007) contains Rock and Metal songs as well as songs that resemble Classical songs. Tarja Turunen uses both her classical singing voice and a rock-sounding voice. In many songs she starts with a rock voice, and then switches for widely arching melodies into a distinctly classical singing voice.
Tarja's classically trained voice flies bravely over orchestral sounds and brute guitars. Like a phoenix from the ashes [...] she lifts up again and again for widely arching melodies, sometimes spurred on by multi-voiced female choirs. — Frank Rauscher, Teleschau – der Mediendienst, review of My Winter Storm
In an interview, she explained that My Winter Storm was the first album where she had the chance to use her full vocal range.
"Now that I can use the whole range of my voice, it feels very nice. I have never sung so low as I did on one of the songs on the new record and there's a song on which I sang my highest notes ever! I really have used a huge range on this album, because the moods are changing in every song and this reflects that". — Tarja Turunen, Kerrang! interview, September 2007
In the album Colours in the Dark she used her speaking voice for the first time in many years.
"I sang a repertoire of a mezzo-soprano for many years and because of that, still today, I have rarely quite low register for a lyrical soprano. Nowadays, I see myself as a light lyrical soprano". — Tarja Turunen – blog entry from 1 March 2009
Tarja Turunen's voice is described by critics as remarkably powerful and emotional. Sometimes it is stated that her voice is too trained or operatic for metal music, but even critics who do not like classical voices admit that her voice suits the kind of metal songs she sings unusually well.
Until the end of their collaboration, Tarja's singing was a trademark of Nightwish. She was known as the face and voice of Nightwish while bandleader Tuomas Holopainen was the soul. Tarja Turunen was seen as a key to Nightwish's success. She is respected by other musicians of the metal genre and is an influence on their work; for instance, Simone Simons of Epica names her as her inspiration to study Classical music and apply that vocal style to a metal band.
Tarja Turunen receives most of her media attention in Europe, especially in her home of Finland. In December 2003, she was invited by Finnish president Tarja Halonen to celebrate Finnish Independence Day at the Presidential Palace together with other Finnish celebrities.
The event is televised annually live by the state-owned broadcaster, the Finnish Broadcasting Company. In December 2007, she performed different versions of the Finnish national anthem "Maamme" (Finnish: "Our country") accompanied by the Tapiola Sinfonietta, to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Finnish independence.
The concert was televised by the Finnish Broadcasting Company for 2 million Finnish viewers. In December 2013, Tarja was the invited soloist at the Christmas Peace event in the Turku Cathedral, Finland, with the presence of Finnish president Sauli Niinistö. The concert aired on Yle TV1 at the Christmas Eve. During her solo career, Tarja Turunen has sold over 100,000 certified records in Finland, which places her among the top 50 of best-selling female soloists.
In Europe, her popularity is mainly limited to the hard rock and metal scene. She had a broader exposure on 30 November 2007, when she was invited to open the farewell fight of Regina Halmich. Her performance of "I Walk Alone" was televised live by the German television station ZDF for 8.8 million viewers. Tarja Turunen was one of the star coaches in the fourth season of The Voice of Finland in the spring of 2015 on Nelonen. After the success of the 2015 edition of The Voice of Finland, Tarja was again chosen to be one of the star coaches for the 2016 edition. In 2016 in honor of the Day of the Finnish Identity, celebrated on May 12, Finland published a new set of official emojis, which symbolizes Finnish culture and history - among other iconic Finnish imagery there were music related emojis, including Tarja Turunen as "The Voice".
Tarja Turunen married Argentine businessman Marcelo Cabuli on 31 December 2002 – their wedding was celebrated in July 2003; they lived in Buenos Aires with their daughter who was born in 2012. In an interview Tarja explained that in 2016 they had plans to move back to Europe due to her touring schedule and that their daughter was starting school in the coming year. She currently lives in the south of Spain (Andalusia). In October 2021, she revealed that she had a stroke three years earlier after a U.S. tour.
Tarja fluently speaks Finnish, English, Spanish and German.
Henkäys ikuisuudesta (2006, Christmas album)
My Winter Storm (2007)
What Lies Beneath (2010)
Colours in the Dark (2013)
Ave Maria – En Plein Air (2015, classical album)
The Shadow Self (2016)
From Spirits and Ghosts (2017, Christmas album)
In the Raw (2019)
Outlanders (2023, ambient-EDM album) with Torsten Stenzel