Tunisian-Canadian Rihab Chaieb was a member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Program, where she appeared in productions of L’italiana in Algeri, Luisa Miller, Cavalleria Rusticana and Hänsel und Gretel among others, earning praise for dramatic charm, vocal clarity, and sensuous tone. She has performed in opera houses around the world.
Here, Rihab discusses coming home to Montreal, and infusing her Messiah/Complex performance with the experience of being an outsider.
“For Messiah, we started from the idea of not belonging. Of being rejected, and of being despised — every immigrant who has ever come to Canada has been despised.”
“I did a lot of zooming with Joel (Ivany) and Huei (filmmaker) prior to the Messiah film shoot. The piece that was assigned to me was He Was Despised, and it’s about Jesus before he was crucified.”
“I thought: this version of Messiah doesn’t belong to Jesus anymore. It is now very much a secular, COVID-19, #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, hashtag everything production. I changed the lyrics to She Was Despised, and the piece became more personal for me on many levels. It became about my family, who were first-generation immigrants from Tunisia. We came to the city of Montreal, and there were crosses everywhere — a cross on top of the mountain.”
“Growing up, kids made fun of my name, and as a teenager, people started singing that Amy Winehouse song when they saw me. I never felt like I fit in completely. I had a rough patch as a teenager, became a goth, made some questionable decisions. It took me a few years to figure out what I owed to my family, and what I owed to myself.“
“My last address was in New York — I’ve been a vagabond the last couple of years, living out of my suitcase with my dog Nahla. I was in Geneva rehearsing for a world premiere, about two weeks before the opening, when COVID hit. Suddenly, I was at the end of a road…. I didn’t have an apartment anywhere. I had a storage unit in Manhattan. I came home to Montreal.“
“I still feel like a stranger a lot of the time, wherever I am, probably because I’ve always had to keep moving, and make new friends wherever I went. So, where’s home? Home is where my people are, and my people are not one in place. Home is in Tunisia, New York, Toronto, Montreal, Bordeaux. Home is all the places where I’ve made wonderful friends.”
Thank you to Rihab Chaieb for contributing her artistic voice and being a part of this project. Rihab’s performance has been generously supported by Kris Vikmanis & Denton Creighton.