Singing a Universal Languagen
The first thing about Monica Yunus that is of interest to us is that she is a half Bangladeshi soprano making significant waves in the American opera scene. The fact that she is the daughter of the world famous pioneer of micro-credit, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, only makes her more intriguing. Performing for the first time in Dhaka at the Goethe Institut, has been a novel experience for the well established soprano from the US. "I am very excited," says Monica on the eve of her performance, looking more like an eager school girl in her shalwar kameez than the elegant soprano that has graced many prestigious concert halls of the US.
Monica's flexible, smooth voice has earned her some of the most coveted roles of opera. In the 2003-2004 season she made her critically acclaimed Metropolitan Opera debut as Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro and joined the company for productions of Die Frau Ohne Schatten, Le Rossignol, and The Queen of Spades.
As Gilda in Rigoletto with the Granite State Opera at the Palm Beach Opera the versatility of her voice was widely recognised. Says Opera Online: "Her delivery was sweet, strong, smooth, evocative of the moment she was singing and most importantly, flexible and dynamic. She never seemed to strain or reach at the higher end, but rather arrived wherever the score called for her to be, making her performance even more enjoyable for the audience because she carried it off with such grace."
In fact in many of her reviews it is this versatility, grace and the ability to lift the spirit that is applauded. It is Monica's fluid voice combined with an innate vivacity that has enchanted the audience. Another praising review describes her performance as Oscar in Un Ballo in Maschera as "Impishly jesting with superiors, she sparkled vocally, giving the necessary balance of light frivolity in an otherwise ominous situation."
Being able to witness such a talent at the Goethe Institute can only be described as a rare treat. In spite of the less than desirable acoustics of the hall and without her usual ensemble of musicians, Monica's voice soared, thrilling the audience with its sheer strength and lyricism. In a few moments Monica seemed to be transported to a real opera stage where she brought out all the passion and emotions of the particular character she was playing. She started with a famous Italian aria playing the part of an impassioned Loretta who implores her father to give his approval of her marrying the man she loves. The second number was a Romanov song 'Do not Sing to me My Beauty' about not being able to go back to one's homeland. Monica's voice captured the pathos and anguish of the situation, which ironically, was in contrast to her own euphoria at finally visiting her birthplace.
Monica was born in Chittagong but went to live in the US when her Russian mother and Bangladeshi father split up. Monica grew up speaking Russian and being pampered by her mother and maternal grandmother. It was in her early years that Monica developed a passion for singing, something that eventually became her life. At age 11 she was selected to sing at the Metroplolitan Opera in New York. Monica had already been taking voice lessons, which she continues to do to keep her voice in top form. "My musical instrument is my vocal chord and I have to take very good care of it; I always drink a lot of water to keep myself hydrated and I have to be careful that I don't catch a cold."
All throughout her growing years Monica performed at innumerable musical programmes ending up getting admitted at the Julliard School of Music where she completed her Bachelors and Masters in music. She has been singing professionally for the last five years.
Opera being essentially a drama set to music, involves not just being able to sing flawlessly and tirelessly, but being able to give the right expression to the emotions of the character. Monica portrays the role of the mischievous Suzannah, paramour and wife of Figaro in the Marriage of Figaro composed by Mozart, with delightful precision. In the scene Suzannah is trying to tease her love who believes that she has betrayed him. Monica brings to life this vivacious character with her expressions and enchanting voice.
Among the other treats in store for the Dhaka audience was an American folk song 'Beautiful Dreamer' and the famous number 'I could have danced all night' by Eliza Doolittle in 'My Fair Lady'.
"There is something uniquely human about singing", says Monica, "It's part of every culture. If you close your eyes, you can understand the language".
Monica says that she will be coming back to Dhaka to perform along with her ensemble. Nothing could please her illustrious father more. At the end of the programme a visibly moved Professor Yunus, expressed his joy at having his daughter by his side again. For the Dhaka audience who were privileged enough to hear her, the chance to experience the same exhilaration that her voice evoked, is indeed something to be thrilled about.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005