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The federal opera house in the capital of Europe


Art helps us interpret the world around usHadja Lahbib
What is your first memory of la Monnaie?

Hadja Lahbib (journalist and documentarian): I grew up on Boulevard Emile Jacqmain, which is quite close to La Monnaie. I recall La Monnaie being an impressive building where I used to play around in my childhood. My dad also worked in a clothes shop near La Monnaie, so I used to hang out here regularly with my skateboard. However, it wasn’t until my teens, when I visited La Monnaie with a friend, to visit her big sister, that I was truly amazed by its grandeur. My friend’s sister who worked at la Monnaie as a dressmaker, gave us a tour of the workshops. I was astounded by the number of people that worked there. At the end of the tour, we were allowed to go on stage where we were able to admire the beautiful ceiling, the wonderful paintings, the ruby-red chairs and everything that gives la Monnaie its unique allure. I pictured what it must feel like to take a bow after a performance and hear the applause rising up from the audience. It’s incredible that even the empty hall has the power to spark your imagination in such a way.

What was the last opera or concert that moved you to tears?

That must have been Requiem pour L. by Alain Platel and Fabrizio Cassol. It’s a dramatic account of a woman who feels the end of her life nearing. The passage is beautifully accompanied by some forty musicians, most of whom have African roots and who interpret Mozart’s Requiem in their own way, even adding some jazz influences. This unique mix of genres, in combination with the looming threat of death (a moment that inevitably awaits us all) truly captivated me.

How do you see the role of culture in our society?

I truly believe culture is the cornerstone of our society. It helps us understand ourselves and claim our place in the world. It’s a shared notion that enables us to approach others without fear. That’s why I call culture the brick and mortar of our society. Culture opens up the public debate and gives voice to feelings and thoughts.

And that is why teenagers and young adults should absorb more culture than they currently do?

Absolutely. Culture nurtures the mind. Whether it’s a museum, the theatre or another art form, culture always helps to articulate messages in an accurate, nuanced and beautiful way, without giving rise to an overly polarised debate. Occasionally we all find ourselves feeling lost for words, and youngsters often have an even harder time expressing their feelings. When you see an artist in full flow, you can really think: “that’s exactly how I felt”. Artists possess a skill to subtly convey what we feel and experience. Art helps us interpret the world around us. That’s why I call artists the barometers and feelers of our society. They are often the first ones to experience shifts and are able to vocalise these changes through their art. I’m convinced that regularly visiting a museum, the theatre or opera will help youngsters find their voice.

How do education and culture relate to each other? And how can they strengthen one another?

Culture is a form of education. Culture is not merely the icing on the cake, it’s the cake itself. The great classics – such as Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky and others – are part of our European foundations and have shaped the different societies. The artists bring this European heritage on stage, sometimes adding a contemporary twist. A good example is la Monnaie’s interpretation of Frankenstein from a few years back. After seeing this performance, you couldn’t help but wonder if we, ourselves, aren’t acting like apprentice sorcerers. It made you doubt if Western countries should have sent troops to Afghanistan. By reinterpreting these classics, the artists encourage us to ponder current affairs.

How can la Monnaie play an even greater role in Brussels society?

By continuing to focus on poignant issues - such as sustainable development, global warming and social injustice - and by giving emerging artists the chance to showcase their talent on the prestigious stage of la Monnaie. Also, by continuing to support community projects such as Orfeo & Majnun. It was wonderful to see people without any artistic training take the stage and give it their all. Beautiful creations emerge when la Monnaie truly opens its doors to the diversity that the Brussels society has to offer. What's more, on those moments when a house with a history as rich as la Monnaie opens up to the population of Brussels, it truly becomes an integral part of the society that surrounds it.

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