When harpist Stefania Saglietti first found out that Francisco Couto had won the trombone audition for the Orchestra of the Finnish National Opera, she was a bit disappointed. “A couple of my friends had applied for the position, and of course I’d been hoping to get a colleague from them. But the job went to some guy from Portugal,” Stefania recalls.
However, as she checked out her new colleague’s Facebook profile, she discovered that Francisco was quite good looking. Francisco, too, had looked up the orchestra musicians beforehand – and Stefania had caught his eye. They first met at the start of the autumn season in 2015. “At that time, there weren’t many non-Finnish musicians in the orchestra, so it was natural for us to gravitate towards each other,” says Francisco.
Stefania, who had started at the Orchestra of the FNO a year earlier, offered to show Francisco around Helsinki. It soon turned out that she didn’t know the city very well either. That didn’t matter, though, as they had so much to talk about. ”It was immediately obvious that we had this extraordinary connection. We just couldn’t stop chatting, and our date went on around the clock,” Stefania says, laughing.
Two weeks from the first date, the two decided they were a couple. After a month, they moved in together. They announced their relationship at the FNOB Christmas party, once Francisco’s trial period had ended. Everyone was happy for them.
An unforgettable proposal
In February 2017, Swan Lake was on at the Opera House. Unusually, at the end of one performance, the orchestra’s annual Jaska award for a great colleague was to be presented in front of the audience. The winner was Stefania, who came up from the orchestra pit during the curtain call. “Swan Lake is a demanding piece for a harpist. I was still deeply focused on the music when I went to collect the award,” she recalls.
She was stunned when Francisco appeared on stage with a huge bouquet of roses. He knelt before Stefania and proposed. The couple got engaged to the cheers of a full house and their colleagues.
“It was a complete surprise. Incredibly romantic,” Stefania says.
What impressed her most was how the entire team was in on the plan. Extending a performance just by a few minutes affects the schedule of hundreds of employees and requires the collaboration of all the departments involved. And as if that weren’t enough, Stefania’s and Franciscos’s closest colleagues from the orchestra had rehearsed a fanfare. Others had baked a cake to celebrate. All this had taken place in secret, with Stefania suspecting nothing.
”All I wanted was to surprise Stefania and make a grand gesture to express my feelings,” Francisco says.
It was only on the evening of the proposal that he realised what he was about to do in front of over 1300 people.
”The way everyone at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet got involved really moved me. We left our home countries and families behind for work. Now this workplace has adopted us and become our big family in Finland,” Stefania concludes.
The impressive engagement attracted a lot of attention. There was an article in an afternoon paper, and throughout the spring, people at work and on the streets of Töölö stopped to congratulate the two. Francisco, who’s rather private person, found it all a little embarrassing. He hadn’t planned the proposal for publicity: ”All I wanted was to surprise Stefania and make a grand gesture to express my feelings.”
It was only on the evening of the proposal that he realised what he was about to do in front of over 1300 people. That’s when he started to feel quite nervous. “I played so badly in the performance that my colleagues asked if there was something wrong with me,” Francisco reminisces.
Working together feels good
Stefania and Francisco like working together. Understanding the job makes it easy for them to give support and feedback to each other. “Even though we can’t chat during rehearsals and performances, it feels good to be in the same room, where Francisco can see me, and I can see him,” Stefania says.
The last few years have also included some time apart, as the couple have two children aged 1 and 4. Francisco spent last autumn at home with the youngest, but he’s returning to the orchestra in spring. Then, Stefania’s parents will come from Italy to Finland for three months to help with their grandkids. “I don’t know how we’d manage without my parents. It’s tough, as daycare closes in the afternoon and we work in the evenings,” says Stefania.
Though balancing work and family has its challenges, Stefania and Francisco are incredibly happy with their children. “Of course, we’re busier and more tired than before, but there’s also more joy and love in our lives than ever,” Francisco muses.
The family has settled in Finland for good. Stefania and Francisco have permanent positions in the orchestra and both enjoy working at the Opera House. They also see Finland as a wonderful, safe place to raise their children.
”There’s something very exciting about our story, the way it’s like fate. I mean, what were the chances of an Italian like me meeting a Portuguese man in Finland? And of him turning out to be the most important person in my life?”, Stefania concludes.
Text TUIKE LEHKO
Photos EMMA SUOMINEN