A report from Trinidad’s Guardian.
“It saddens me that until a particular art form is recognised internationally, the local press or even the local T&T community will not recognise that art as being something of theirs or being something great.”
That’s the damning condemnation of T&T’s media and celebrity culture from operatic soprano Jeanine De Bique.
De Bique is performing in Switzerland after a whirlwind tour of engagements in Europe. Earlier this year, she performed as Annio in a new Peter Sellars production of La Clemenza di Tito in Poland, France, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. De Bique also made her BBC Proms debut performing Handel and Boulogne arias with Europe’s first black and minority professional orchestra Chineke! Orchestra, and her debut singing the role of Musetta in La bohème with the Scottish Opera.
She said her aim has always been to sing at these prestigious venues. “Why shouldn’t you have those goals if you’re going to become a singer, if you’re going to be a freelancer? You want to perform in all the famous houses.”
De Bique got her start in music in T&T, where she studied piano and entered the Music and Arts Festivals as part of her school choirs. She had no idea of making a career as a professional opera singer until she was given a brochure about US conservatories by fellow soprano Natalia Dopwell and chose to study singing over piano because it felt more organic.
De Bique considers being on stage is a huge responsibility. “I’m black, female and from the Caribbean and there aren’t many of us performing as freelance soloists. I think tenor Roland Samm is the only other Trinbagonian I know who’s performing internationally and it puts our name on the map.”
She said being from T&T is seen as enormously exotic in the operatic world, as she’s not African-American, British or African. “When you’re travelling in Europe, people think you’re an immigrant or a refugee, but of course I always make sure to say I’m T&T soprano Jeanine De Bique. For me it feels really lovely to be considered exotic and the only one from my country that is currently working in the business on an international scale in my field.”
De Bique said she has been lobbying the local press to write about her “because I want people to know the country is being represented internationally in a good light in something other than Carnival and soca and jazz and also it’s a good sort of international exchange when there is someone who can talk to the international community in their particular culture. It makes me sad when people say classical music and classical art forms are not part of our culture because they are part of our history and our music.”
De Bique said while she would love to come back to T&T to perform, there isn’t enough education and coverage around opera to create an audience. “Trinidad is a small community and there are maybe 10,000 people who are interested in that, and you don’t want to exhaust them. I think people don’t know about us because the press do not want to promote it. They’re either bored by it or they don’t think that it’s important. So because the community is not educated on that, the news or the newspapers don’t talk about it, then why would the country care?”