Spotlight on: Rihab Chaieb

Spotlight on: Rihab Chaieb

Photo: Fay Fox.

A graduate of the Canadian Opera Company's Ensemble Studio Program and a member of the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, Tunisian-Canadian mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb is currently at the Glyndebourne Festival to sing the role of Flora in Verdi's La traviata. This fall, she heads to Philadelphia to sing The Fairy Prince in the world premiere of David Hertzberg's The Wake World, as part of Opera Philadelphia's inaugural O17 Festival.

Chaieb is a lover of her work, inspired by the new places and faces that make up her career. In our latest Spotlight interview, she chats about the feeling of "invincibility" she gets from singing, and the meaning of patience.

Why do you sing, and why are you doing it professionally?

I sing because I have to. I tried doing other things. But I couldn't. Not because I wasn't good at anything else, much the contrary. Singing has proven to be a very hard road for me, as it didn't come naturally when I started singing, or even at times now. But it is not only a passion, it is a calling. And not just the singing part of it. It is the integrity of this art that I just can't enough of - the theatrical part, the technical part, the mental research, the history, the costumes, the trial and error part of what it is to sing opera - that I have come not only to love, but to crave. The audience sees only but the tip of the iceberg that is this art form, and I thrive deep down in the abyss, where hard work, will-power, passion and creativity are bubbling together.

I have so much love for music, opera, and singing, but I am also open to many other things. I will sing until I think it's either time to stop, or because I feel I have been fulfilled by it and had enough of it, and that my brain naturally craves something else. But right now, I am insatiable!

What does "good singing" mean to you? What does it feel like when you achieve it?

When you're in "the zone" of good singing, it's almost like doing yoga or hitting the perfect ball in golf or tennis. It's that perfect balance between strength and ease, between breath and effort. You are "in the zone" for a reason, because the mental and physical focus to achieve a sound that is natural or easy, is quite tremendous. But I think good technique is when you finally get to "enjoy" this focus and work along with your creativity and musicality, and both can happily ride together.

I also get a feeling of invincibility. When your body and soul are open, yet strong, nothing is pushed, everything is sul fiato, it feels like you can sing forever, no matter what range. But good singing is also musicality, diction, pathos in the voice, and most important of all, uniqueness and honesty of self and voice.

Rihab Chaieb, mezzo-soprano. Photo by Fay Fox.

What do young singers need to do more of? What should they do less of?

I think they should worry less about who's singing what and where! There is so much energy lost in trying to find out who is out there doing better than you, as a young singer. Instead of doing the work on you. I am guilty of having done it, and now, I cringe when people ask me if I know who is singing what and where and how they got this role, etc. IT DOESN'T MATTER. Just focus on you, on your work.

Hone your strengths, know what you are good at, and work on your weaknesses. Stop looking ahead, but be grateful for where you are and how you got there. Because the more genuinely you got there, the prouder you can be of your own work. Careers are made differently every day. Some last a few years, others, a lifetime. Be patient with yourself. Know that things will come. Sometimes they will be easy, but most times they will be hard, and that is OK.

I remember when I was a young Ensemble member at the COC, and Alexander Neef telling me to "be patient", and I would roll my eyes, fuming of impatience!!! But if I can only go back and tell myself to listen and to trust, I would. But that is the beauty of it, you see? Live and learn!

Do you have any "bucket list" roles you'd like to sing (realistically or otherwise)?

OMG YES WHERE DO I START?

Realistically, I would say the bigger spectrum of the full lyric mezzo repertoire: Carmen, Octavian (Der Rosenkavalier), Komponist (Araidne auf Naxos), Charpentier's Médée and Cavalli's Medea, Charlotte (Werther), Nicklausse (Les contes d'Hoffmann), Adalgisa (Norma), and Romeo (I Capuleti e i Montecchi). I also want to do all of the Rossini heroines: Rosina, Angelina, Isabella (and throw in Tancredi, why not). Idamante as well. It sits in a funny place for a Mozart's mezzo, but if you can get through the first aria of "Non ho colpa" the rest is - hopefully - a joyous ride!

I would also love to tackle the Handel's primo pants roles of Xerxes, Ruggiero (Alcina) and Ariodante.

Unrealistically (but a gal can dream, right?): Amneris in Aida (Cossotto also sang Cherubino, just FYI), Salome (Maria Ewing sang it!), Maria Stuarda (her strength of character is just unmatched for me, and the music is to die for), Queen of the Night (my dream role after having done one singing lesson ever. I hit the reality wall soon after!), Brünnhilde, Elekra AND Elettra in Idomeneo. Basically, just bad-ass bitches.

Rihab Chaieb, mezzo-soprano. Photo by Fay Fox.

What have you learned about your career as a singer, solely through professional experience?

The main thing I have come to realize is that there is no "one size fits all" path. Each and every one of us has a specific journey, and if we can trust ourselves, our work, our ethics and our artistry and creativity enough, I do believe everyone is bound to have a fulfilling professional experience. I have come to trust more, but work more too. No one gets there in a straight, perfect line. I'd like to think that true artists are like a start-up company! Celebrating the ups and learning from the downs.

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Written by

Jenna Simeonov

Jenna Simeonov

Jenna is the editor and co-creator of Schmopera.com. She's also a pianist, vocal coach, and répétiteur, and working with singers is how she fell in love with opera. Her favourite operas include Peter Grimes, Ariadne auf Naxos, Tristan und Isolde, Written on Skin, and Anna Nicole.

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