— At the Festival

Published on June 25 2016

Ranine Chaar, a meaningful KalÎla

Singer, actress, star-host of a cult music programme, Ranine Chaar will make her lyrical debut as Kalîla in the world premiere opera Kalîla wa Dimna by Moneim Adwan. Encounter with a passionate artist.

How would you define yourself, as an artist?
More than a musician, I am a singer, and my vocal cords are my instrument! I love listening to music as much as I love singing. It's my life, my way of expressing all the things that it's not always possible to say in words. In fact, I often say: “Music is my sound and silence… and my soul!”. I sing in 13 different languages and in many different styles: jazz, fado, flamenco, classical Arabic style, ethnic music... But I also see it as a way of passing on emotions from different experiences. And for me, being an artist means experiencing everything!

How does your personal experience influence your interpretation of the role of Kalîla?
In Lebanon we have lived through several wars, and it's not over yet: even today, we are living in a state of injustice resulting from all these conflicts. So, yes, the story of Kalîla, which is about political power, about corruption and how personal ambition can make an entire people suffer, that is something I'm concerned about! That is why I said yes. At the same time, there are times when I have to keep a certain distance from my own story, otherwise I'm overcome by emotion. This experience is a part of me, I don't need to search very far inside my imagination: all this emotional charge is there and only needs to be released. That is how I have experienced the role of Kalîla, at any rate.  

For you, who is Kalîla?
While Kalîla is indeed a character in the libretto, for me she is above all a symbol, a symbol of an oppressed nation. There is something ambivalent about her, a feeling of injustice mixed with the guilt that characterises people living under a tyranny. People always feel guilty about being powerless, about aspiring to freedom without achieving it; in the same way, even if Kalîla does all she can to hold back her brother Dimna, she feels guilty when the poet Chatraba is executed... You can also see the "positive" side of the duo formed by Kalîla & Dimna – and the fact they are twins is not at all insignificant! They symbolise the two parts that can be found in each human being, the Ying and the Yang, the voice of peace, justice and revolution (Kalîla), on the one hand, and the thirst for power (Dimna), on the other... I like my character very much. I even said to myself, the other day, that if I had a daughter, I would probably call her Kalîla!
What was the biggest challenge for you in taking on the role?
The music and libretto are very rich: there is sadness, humour, violence, thought, love... In many scenes, I also have to place myself both in the action in the present and in the past of the narrative. It's a real challenge to express all these things clearly! Especially in the spoken parts, where I am particularly aware that French is not my native language... When I perform in Arabic, everything is fluid, I am more lively, freer, the emotion is conveyed directly. And that is something natural... In French, it takes a lot of work for me to find the same fluidity, even if the emotions are the same. And performing in front of the French public is an extra pressure, particularly since I am well known in my own country, but here I am new to the stage!

What is a typical day like for Ranine Chaar at the Aix Festival?
I go to the Théâtre du Jeu de Paume every day for rehearsals, where we work very hard. Then I make the most of my free time to go out on my bike in the late afternoon. I don't like big cities, but a town like Aix-en-Provence is exactly the right size! I love losing myself in the superb villages nearby, in this Provence that I'm visiting for the first time and that I find so beautiful. I’ve really fallen in love with Saint-Rémy and Lourmarin, where Camus spent his last days... In the evening, I do a lot of cooking, I see some friends, I go to the cinema – it's simple, I have seen all the films that have been on since I arrived. I also try to go to all the concerts in the Festival and, of course, I study a lot to prepare my role. All in all, my life in Aix involves a lot of work, but also many moments of enjoyment that I really make the most of!

Has this experience made you want to go on to do anything else?
I would like to perform in other operas, try out other roles! But the important thing is not just to sing opera: I want to take part in projects where I have my place, and give the best of myself.

Why should people go to see Kalîla wa Dimna?
Because it's a story that speaks to us about today's world! We are living in a world that is full of upheavals, and if we stay passive, we will be heading for disaster. And that is exactly what Kalîla wa Dimna talks about: the importance of speaking up, to react and to change things. There is an Arab proverb that says: “Whoever does not speak up to defend justice is a mute Satan”. In Kalîla wa Dimna, there are artists from different countries, with different mentalities, different cultures, but we all feel solidarity with each other. We put all our hearts into our work, with total investment, because we feel that the project is important. It is not only an artistic adventure, but a human adventure, too! I believe that it is a thing that audiences will be able to feel, and that the opera will give them just a glimpse of what is happening in the world...

Text by Marie Lobrichon on June 14th 2016