Vol. 5 Num 543 Tue. December 06, 2005  

In Conversation
"I believe classical is the base of music in every culture" ---Monica Yunus

Reviewers from US dailies, New York Times, Charleston City Paper and Palm Beach Daily News had described her as -- "especially winning", "utterly captivating" and "a voice destined for super-stardom" respectively. Her voice ranges from a low A to a high F and she has been featured in several operas by prestigious opera houses, which includes New York's Metropolitan Opera.

The vivacious, charming and talented soprano, Monica Yunus has an impressive lineage. She is the daughter of Dr Muhammad Yunus, a renowned economist who has put Bangladesh on the map through his innovation of the 'microcredit system'.

Monica is the daughter of Dr Yunus and his first wife, Vera. "I've inherited my dad's perseverance and passion for classical music from my grandmother (Vera's mother)," Monica chortles. "I was born in Chittagong but my mother and I left the country when I was four months old. I grew up in New Jersey, US and this is my first visit to Bangladesh since we left Chittagong. I'm doing a show organised by Nrityanchal at the Goethe Institut on December 5, but basically I'm here to visit family, " she adds.

So how did she start her career as an opera singer? Monica says, "After graduating from the Juilliard School in music (vocals), I did an internship with the Pittsburgh Opera. I auditioned for Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro conducted by James Levine, at the Metropolitan Opera and fortunately I was selected." Monica made her critically acclaimed debut as Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro in 2003 and joined the Metropolitan Opera for productions of Die Frau Ohne Schatten, Le Rossignol, and The Queen of Spades. Following these performances she made her European operatic debut as Oscar in Un Ballo in Maschera.

Monica has also appeared in Palm Beach Opera's production of Hansel and Gretel as Gretel, Nashville Opera's Die Fledermaus/ as Adele, Granite State Opera's Rigoletto as Gilda and Anchorage Opera's Don Giovanni as Zerlina in 2004-2005 season. She also performed a recital at Madrid's Auditorio Nacional and sang as the soprano soloist in Mahler's Symphony No. 4 with New York City's MetroChamber Orchestra, the same season.

Talking about her inclination towards Western classical music and opera, Monica says, "I believe classical is the base of music in every culture. It is obvious that nowadays, the number of classical music enthusiasts is limited. An album of classical music won't sell like a Britney Spears album does. But it is music in its purest form and I feel passionately about it."

Who are the artistes she considers to be outstanding and what are her dream characters? "Maria Callas is definitely a legend; I also find Mirella Freni and Renée Fleming amazing. About characters I'd like to play: Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor and Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream come to mind," says Monica.

Memorable moments with her father? Monica gleams, "There are so many. I've had the opportunity to travel to several countries with my dad. I've met the King and Queen of Spain when I accompanied my father to the country. A truly unforgettable moment was my father having a private meeting with Bono at the Clinton Global Initiative. Bono is not just one of the biggest rock stars in the world, he is a generous person who genuinely cares for the whole world."

Is she interested in Bangla music? "I won't say I've heard a lot of Bangla songs so far but I want to learn Bangla and I do have intentions of doing something in Bangla. I'm also interested in bringing a full-fledged orchestra to Bangladesh."

Hopefully the brilliant soprano will achieve her goals and we'll get to hear more of her.

Monica in Soprano costume with Dr Yunus