In Conversation with Rihab Chaieb

Rihab Chaieb

Rihab Chaieb is an internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano. A Tunisian-born Canadian she started her singing career almost ten years ago. She was a member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Program and has established herself as a rising star in the lyric mezzo-soprano repertoire. Elle spoke with Rihab while she was in Amsterdam to perform at the Dutch National Opera. Read their conversation to find out why we are inspired by Rihab's passion and perseverance.  

Elle: I read that your parents didn’t initially understand or support your ambition of becoming an opera singer. I can relate to that being the daughter of Persian immigrants. What’s the biggest lesson you learnt following your passion and dream?

Rihab:  It was definitely a hard path to follow. Like you said, not having the support of your own family was hard, especially at the beginning when a career in the arts is something extremely difficult to start and nurture. But after feeling angry at them for a while, I understood that it wasn’t their fault. They didn’t know any better. It was simply something they didn’t conceive as a “normal, successful job”. But that was exactly what I had to teach them. My mother now sees how happy, fulfilled and excited I am about my job, and she finally gets it. In fact, she mentioned this to me a few weeks ago! She still always wished the path of the steady nine to five job, successful marriage, kids, home, fence and so on for me, but she now sees that this is not the only recipe to happiness, and definitely not for everyone. She sees that I get to travel to follow my passion, visit incredible parts of the world, meet interesting people, and she is truly happy for me! But it did take a decade to get to this point. As they say, “better late than ever”!

Elle: Your career takes you all over the world and you’re currently in Amsterdam for a new production at the Dutch National Opera. A lot of rehearsals and work gets done behind the scenes, do you have a personal ritual or method to prepare yourself for opening night?

Rihab: I consider opening night more of an opening day. Opening night is just the culmination of your efforts, but also of how well you took care of yourself and of your body. I am pretty active and try to hit the gym three to four times a week, but leading to a big opening night, I slow down on the gym two to three days before, and do mostly yoga. I usually try to wake up later than usual if it’s an evening show. I have my “miracle morning” routine that consists of making my bed, walking my dog Nahla, having a quick breakfast, reading, journaling, and meditating. This is something I do religiously everyday. It’s been a year now and it has been a game changer. Then I go for my hour long walk or play at the park with Nahla. I also usually like to clean or do laundry on the day of the show. I would rather do “boring and mundane” things than intellectual things when I have to perform late in the day. It’s my way of gathering and nurturing my energy, and not scattering it too much too early.

A couple of hours before heading to the theatre, I try to do forty-five minutes to one hour of yoga. I find yoga to be the perfect pre-show exercise for me. I am a very intense person so I never go to the gym half way. Which is why I am always dead after a gym session and this isn’t optimal for me for evening shows. For others, it might be different. Afterwards, I have a light dinner (I don’t like to sing with a full stomach. I much prefer the slightly hungry feeling), shower, get ready and off to the theatre for makeup and hair!

Elle: What’s next for you? 

Rihab: I am about to tackle my first Carmen in Cologne, Germany, so this is quite the exciting challenge. I have waited a long time to sing this famous character, and performing in this opera house, with this cast and a new production by a director I respect and admire cannot be more ideal.  

Elle: Your performances have received critical acclaim. Do you read all the reviews and how do you shield your mind and heart from the many opinions?

Rihab: I won’t lie, I always read reviews! The day after an opening, you will probably find me scouring the Internet for them. I do not recommend it. Nobody does. But everyone does it nonetheless. I do always brace myself before picking up my computer. I tell myself “do not go through this rabbit hole if you are not ready to take on the consequences!” I have been fortunate enough to only be able to count on one hand the amount of “not completely positive” reviews I’ve had, so it’s not like I’m a pro here, and I sure hope I am not jinxing this right now, ha!

Reviews and critiques are part of our job, but they do not define us or who we are as artists. So I came up with a rule: if I get a less than ideal review, I give myself something nice. Either a nice bottle of wine, a dinner at that restaurant I’ve been wanting to try, whatever it is, it is about swapping the negative with a positive. And I always toast bad reviews haha! You can’t expect every single person to love you and the way you sing. It’s factually impossible, and honestly too much pressure to handle. So, I thank the person who wrote the bad review for making me stronger to critics, and I raise a (superb) glass of wine in their honor.

Elle: What has been your most memorable role or performance to date? Why?

Rihab: I had the pure pleasure to sing the role of Sesto in “La clemenza di Tito” by Mozart when I was a young artist at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, and to this day, it has been the performance, role, and opera that has touched me the most. The things I have felt playing Sesto, I have not felt in any other role. I really wish I get to sing “him” again soon because I just can’t get enough of that opera and of this character. One of the most complex, daunting, and human roles I’ve had the pleasure to perform to date.

Elle: I’m a fellow dog mom and you have a beautiful Mini Dachshund called Nahla. Does she travel with you? And does she feel like home for you when you have so many homes around the world?

Rihab: Nahla is an avid traveler and she has been traveling with me since I got her when she was just two months old! She’s been my rock since, and she not only procures a sense of home for me, she also forces me to a routine, no matter what and no matter where. My routine with Nahla is my routine internationally and that gives me a sense of home. It’s the things we do daily, either in South America or Europe, that makes us a family and makes this whole traveling life easier, in a way. She brings love, routine, and ease to my traveling life!

Elle: What is your favorite word or phrase?

Rihab: Voltaire said “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien”. It can be translated to "perfect is the enemy of the good”.

Elle: One person living or dead you’d like to have a conversation with?

Hiba: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Elle: At Zvelle, we believe in the idea of #GlobalCitizenry. What does it mean to you?

Rihab: It means borderless. Being a woman of the world: full of curiosity, love and kindness and without fears and limitations.

Credits: Zvelle shoes. Top to bottom image: Rayna flats (Metallic Gold). 

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