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The federal opera house in the capital of Europe

LA MONNAIE DE MUNT

Every opera is curated for
la Monnaie
Stéphane Degout
What is your firs memory of la Monnaie?

Stéphane Degout (Baritone): My first professional experience with la Monnaie dates back to 2002, when I performed a role in Monteverdi’s Orfeo, conducted by René Jacobs and staged by Trisha Brown. A few of months prior to this engagement, I came to see Le nozze di Figaro, that was my first time at la Monnaie. I still remember how taken I was by the beauty of the building.

When were you last moved to tears by a concert or an opera?

Just after one of the many lockdowns, we had a small tour with ensemble Pygmalion. We performed Bach’s Matthäus-Passion in the Palau de la Música in Barcelona. There was a wonderful energy in the Palau that evening. The audience was clearly rejoiced by the classical music, and after cultural venues being closed for several months, they applauded as if their lives depended on it. That really moved me, especially since I hadn’t received any applause for a while either.

Why is la Monnaie so special to you?

I have been coming here for almost twenty years, but mostly I feel that I couldn’t have sung the roles I sang at la Monnaie anywhere else. Every production is curated especially for this house. You don’t experience that very often. The strong family-like vibe of la Monnaie adds to its charm. The receptionists, technicians, artists, and make-up artists all know each other, and, above all, they all play an equal part in bringing the production to life. That’s why I feel very much at home here. This feeling is enhanced by the fact that la Monnaie isn’t a repertory house, therefore you always have the building to yourself for a month and a half or two months, and you can really get to know each other.

What is the role of culture in our society in this day and age?

I dare to say that culture is one of the pillars on which our society is built. Along with education and healthcare. The profound impact that culture has on our wellbeing has never been more apparent than during the corona crisis. Both for those who create culture as for those who enjoy it and have missed it tremendously. This is the first time I’m asked this question, but while answering I’m aware of the profound impact culture has on my life and that of many others.

Why do you consider opera to be the most refined art form?

Opera explicitly pushes the boundaries of probability. In real life conversations are obviously spoken instead of sung and this unnatural presentation method creates something special. The fact that every sentence and every emotion is sung gives opera a kind of grandeur that is rarely found in other art forms. Of course, people are right in saying that opera is an art form that blends many aspects, but for me the beauty lies in the act of breathing simultaneously. Let me elaborate: breathing is an essential part of living, and the fact that we as artists play with breath, while telling a story, makes opera so unique. I’m deeply moved every time I notice everyone in the building - the performers, the audience, but also the theatre staff, the sound and lighting technicians and so on – breath in the same rhythm, even if it’s for a split second only. That is always such a captivating moment.

Why should youngsters go to the opera more frequently than they currently do?

It’s valuable to approach something that is alien – because it doesn’t feel spontaneous or natural - to them. The closer you get to opera, the closer you get to yourself. Opera challenges you to question yourself. And once you start doing that, you can approach the essence. On top of that, I think music is fundamental in the education of young people. Whether you are a child, an adolescent or a young adult, music shapes you in so many different ways that you shouldn’t disregard it.

If you were allowed to conserve one opera forever, which one would you choose and why? That is an impossible question to answer. (thinks) I can give you three: Wozzeck, Don Carlos – the French version – and Le nozze di Figaro.

Who should play the part of Stéphane Degout in an opera about your life?

I don’t have any special preference, as long as it's not me. The main reason I became a singer is so that I can forget who I am when I perform.

Which role would you love to perform?

There are a couple. My first thought is Wozzeck, but that dream will soon come true. Golaud is another one. Or perhaps those roles that I, being a baritone, will never be able to sing. Lady Macbeth, for example. The same goes for other roles. Lady Macbeth, for example. I’m not instinctively drawn to the role, but it carries so much depth and energy that I am curious to discover what I could do with that character. But, at this point we have reached the realm of fantasy. (laughs)

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