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Lenneke Ruiten

Six highlights at La Monnaie

Laura Roling
Reading time
5 min.

For over a decade, soprano Lenneke Ruiten has been moving and mesmerizing the audience at La Monnaie in a diverse repertoire: from Mozart to belcanto, and from grand opéra to Czech modernism. Now that she is gearing up for her first recital in Brussels, we take a look back at six of her highlights in our house.

1. Ophelia in Hamlet (2013-14)

‘A vos jeux, mes amis’

Lenneke Ruiten: “Every singing career has several moments in it that decide the future course of your life as an artist. To me, this Ophelia in Hamlet was one of them. Up to that point, I was mainly regarded as a soprano for orchestral and chamber music, and I found it tricky to gain a foothold in opera. But then I got a call from my agent: would I be able to step in as Ophelia in Brussels? The last time I sang Ophelia’s mad scene was during my final exam at the conservatory, but fortunately, it didn't take too much effort to bring it back out in my voice and muscle memory. I dropped everything at once to audition — and I got the role! It was a dream to work with conductor Marc Minkowski, director Olivier Py and Stéphane Degout to deliver ‘my’ Hamlet. Mad scenes always have such a stunning arc, sustained by the big human emotions — love, sorrow, mourning — all expressed in their extreme form.”

2. Aspasia in Mitridate, re di Ponto (2015-16)

‘Pallid’ombre, che sorgete’

“Ever since my album Exsultate, jubilate caught the attention of conductors and programmers in 2009, Mozart has gradually become the cornerstone of my career. At La Monnaie too: Aspasia, under the musical stewardship of Christophe Rousset and directed by Le Lab, was the first of five Mozart roles I have played in Brussels.”

“Perhaps it’s because I often find myself standing in front of an audience all alone during concerts, but I enjoy having a counterpart on the opera stage. You get to lift each other to another level, even in solo arias. This was absolutely the case during the heart-wrenchingly beautiful ‘Pallid’ ombre’. Aspasia is not considering suicide in solitude; instead, Mitridate, brought to the stage by the fantastic Michael Spyres, is urging her to go ahead with it. And that adds a whole new dimension of theatrical tension to this reflective aria.”

3. Bystrouška in Foxie! (2016-17)

Duet second act

“When I think back to Foxie!, I only have great memories. The Belgian artist Christophe Coppens added an extra special and beautifully bold twist to Janáček's opera The Cunning Little Vixen. As a performer, I find it difficult to be part of a production in which I feel that the staging concept clashes head on with the music and lyrics, but Christophe’s interpretation — in which it is not mankind and the animal kingdom, but young people and adults who find themselves in a juxtaposition — just made perfect musical and theatrical sense. One of the highlights was my duet with Eleonore Marguerre, who played the role of the Fox. Being able to bring this young, burgeoning love to the stage together with her was a genuine delight.”

4. Giunia in Lucio Silla

‘Ah se il crudel periglio’

“The role of Giunia in Lucio Silla — an opera Mozart wrote when he was only sixteen (!) — is renowned for this aria, which is often deemed unsingable. Not only is it long, it also covers an extraordinary range, all at breakneck pace. To perform it properly regardless, I had to leave out a note here and there, take a quick breath, and continue. In tip-top condition and with complete focus, it was just about doable. Of course, my great artistic rapport with conductor Antonello Manacorda also went a long way to help. Getting that sense of confidence from him was necessary when you attempt an aria of this notorious difficulty.”

“Working with director Tobias Kratzer also proved extremely valuable to me. I had sung the role of Giunia at La Scala in Milan shortly beforehand, in a very traditional production. Now, he was challenging me to play the same role in a completely different way, as part of a staging that really drew on the darker aspects of power-hungriness and inhumanity contained in this opera. I believe this production genuinely gave me the chance to grow as an actor.”

5. Margaret of Valois in Les Huguenots

‘Ô beau pays de la Touraine’

“The second act of Les Hugenots is set in the garden of la reine Margot's palace. Her character — and as a consequence, this entire act — stands out through its sense of lightness. In a world in which Catholics and Protestants are constantly at each other's throats, she is one of the few people not interested in politics or mind games. To her, love is the only thing that matters. This is reflected in a character that at times comes across as extremely mature, as she is above political intrigue, but equally as pretty naive and childish. Olivier Py brought this to life beautifully in his staging: when Margaret and Raoul de Nangis meet, their sexual attraction is instantly palpable! I really clicked with Enea Scala, who played the role of Raoul, and we had a lot of fun during our joint scene, in which we even end up diving into the water. Even so, my opening aria, ‘Ô beau pays’, is the most challenging of the evening. As a singer, you need to make sure that you get it spot on, that what you sing is technically correct and beautiful — and once you've done that, you can simply relax and enjoy the rest of the act.”

6. Mary Stuart in Bastarda

‘Deh! Tu di un’umile preghiera’

“I sang the role of Mary Stuart in Bastarda, a double bill recounting the life story of Queen Elizabeth I, based on the highlights from four operas by Donizetti. It was reminiscent of a Netflix series, and I noticed this format was a hit with the audience. Even so, the focus on Elizabeth meant that my character, which is the key figure in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, spent a bit more time on the sidelines.”

“My highlight in Bastarda was the closing scene from Maria Stuarda, in which Elizabeth's Scottish rival bids farewell prior to her execution. The prayer she sings as part of this is just devastatingly beautiful. I found myself wiping away a couple of tears in my dressing room following that scene in nearly every show.”