Culture is a synonym for freedomNora Gubisch
What is your first memory of La Monnaie?
Nora Gubisch (mezzo-soprano): La Monnaie had been asking me for a while to collaborate on different projects, and I would have loved to have done them, but somehow it never worked out with my schedule. It seemed like the collaboration was doomed. So, when I finally managed to work with La Monnaie it was nothing short of a dream come true. My first real memory is Cendrillon by Massenet in 2011. It was a great production, and what made it extra special for me was that I got to work alongside Alain (Altinoglu, La Monnaie’s current music director), who was the conductor. Our whole family moved to Brussels and our son even attended school here for a while. (Musing) It really was a magnificent production. We were constantly laughing backstage. I still remember a time I had to change costumes in a flash and at a certain moment there were eight make-up artists and dressers fussing over me at the same time. It felt like I had tumbled into an anthill. It was in that moment that I came to know La Monnaie as the warm and loving opera house it is. And that feeling has stayed with me ever since.
What is the role of culture in our society in this day and age?
It’s impossible to overestimate the role culture plays in our society. To me, culture is a synonym for freedom. The absence of culture in totalitarian states, indicates its importance and illustrates the difficulty to imagine a society void of culture. The simple act of buying a book is an expression of culture, as is tickling a child’s fantasy so their imagination can run wild. Culture is essential for children. Imagine how limited their lives would be without it. After all, even inventing a new game is a cultural expression. Culture has countless implications and influences a multitude of actions.
I must admit that the first lockdown was a welcome relief from performing. I loved being able to focus on my family for a while. However, after a couple of months I started feeling uncomfortable, but I couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason. I then realised that a part of me was withering away due to the lack of purpose caused by the absence of cultural expression.
Why is La Monnaie so special to you?
Obviously, the fact that my husband (Alain Altinoglu) works here as the music director, makes it extra special. But when I think of La Monnaie, I’m also reminded of the warmth of the house and all the people who work here. It almost sounds too simple to be true, but it’s remarkable how down to earth and generous the people at La Monnaie are. Each time I come here, I feel like I’m embraced by family members who are delighted to see me again. I’ve harboured this feeling ever since I first performed at La Monnaie. Nothing about this place is pretentious, which makes working here enjoyable and helps bring out the best in an artist.
What is your favourite spot in La Monnaie?
My favourite spot is without a doubt the terrace next to the Malibran rehearsal room. I particularly love that place because it reminds me of the moments between (often intense) rehearsals where we would all catch a breath together. The whole team, including costumiers, technicians, and performers would recharge together and go back on stage with renewed energy. It really was a marvellous experience.
Why is opera the most refined art form?
Opera is a beautiful blend of different art forms. In opera singing, writing, music, painting, sculpture, costume design and of course the splendour of the theatre all come together. Therefore, you cannot deny the absoluteness of opera as an art form. But what I think really makes the difference is the inevitable goose bumps you get when you attend a live performance. I really can’t describe that feeling to someone who’s never experienced live opera before. That’s why I believe that even people who fear that opera is too elitist or complex should, at least once, give it a chance. To attract a broader audience, opera houses should offer affordable tickets. The cheapest tickets should not cost more than a cinema ticket. People who visit the opera for the first time will see, hear, and experience the feeling the artists, supported by the power of the orchestra, are transmitting from the stage to the audience. You can watch as many DVDs as you like or visit pop concerts, the experience will never live up to a live opera performance. Simply because live music without any amplification is by far the most unique experience.
Why should young adults visit the opera more frequently than they currently do?
Because you should take the audience by the hand from the moment they’re born. You have to educate your audience, and perhaps even train them. I should know, because I have a soon-to-be sixteen-year-old son who grew up in a music-loving family. Many of his classmates didn’t have the same background, so I organised school trips for the children to see and hear me sing at the opera. At first, they thought it was strange or funny, to hear people singing a story, but it didn’t take long before they were watching the performance with fascination. After three visits to the opera, it became normal to them. The longer you wait to discover opera, the more difficult it becomes to appreciate it, because you have to overcome prejudices such as the idea that ‘opera isn’t for you’ or that ‘opera is only for snobs’. I’d like to convince parents that an opera or classical concert isn’t too long for a child. And even if your child insists on leaving after twenty minutes, don’t worry about it, you still managed to lay the foundations.
If you were allowed to conserve one opera forever, which one would you choose and why?
What a horrible question. There are plenty of operas that I’d like to conserve. (Thinks for a while). It’s really an impossible choice, but if I had to pick one, I’d choose the Ring because that way I manage to save four operas.
What was the last opera or concert that moved you to tears?
That was, without a doubt, the first concert I was able to give after the COVID-19 interruption, which lasted for a year and a half. I didn’t imagine the impact would be so profound, but as soon as I heard the overture of Carmen from the wings before that gala concert in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, I was overcome by emotion. Suddenly, I felt the impact in every fibre of my being. I even thought I could hear – from their reactions – how intensely the audience was enjoying the performance. I managed to get a hold on myself just before I had to walk onto the stage to perform a piece from Samson and Dalila. When I stood face to face with the audience again after all this time, all the emotions came flooding back down. The dialogue between an artist and the audience is indescribable. You should really go to the opera, to experience the impact of such a performance.