Lebanese countertenor Matteo el Khodr has become somewhat of a household name thanks to his unmistakable voice. We chat with the artist about his career and his love for Lebanon.
Your parents encouraged you to learn the piano, and you grew up surrounded by books and music. Which artists were you most inspired by as a child?
I was born into a family of art enthusiasts who appreciated the fine arts, music, literature, archaeology and architecture. We lived in a beautiful 1920s Lebanese heritage home, and I always admired Greek and Roman history and the Renaissance painters. Musically, I was most of all inspired by Maria Callas. I remember my parents used to make me listen to her music every Sunday morning; they have the record collection!
You moved to Paris at the age of 18. Did you find this challenging?
Absolutely! Signing a huge contract with Universal Music France at the age of 18 and having to deal with responsibilities as well as my studies in fine arts and graphic design and a singing career was not easy. Being an aspiring countertenor took a lot of my time, and during my spare time, I had the most fabulous life ever as Paris was mine to discover. I worked in fashion, in art galleries; I traveled, had fun, made new friends and explored new horizons.
What’s your most memorable career highlight?
I have had quite a number of highlights and they’ve been equally memorable; from the prizes I’ve been awarded to performing on stages in Munich, Kitzbuhel, Vienna, Salzburg, Paris, Doha, Beirut, Kiev, St. Petersburg or Istanbul, the feeling has been the same — thrilling.
If you could sing opera anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I would love to sing at Teatro La Fenice in Venice. It is the temple of castrati, who were the rock stars of the 18th century, and us countertenors are the proud heirs!
You recently starred in the film “Khabsa.” Tell us more.
“Khabsa” was my first experience as an actor. It came out of nowhere. This is why I believe in fate and destiny; everything happens for a reason. I read the script and totally related to the character Alex. I’ve always been interested in cinema and acting. I’m a very outgoing person, and I have a lot of love to give and feelings to express. This is why I am a professional opera singer, but I suppose acting comes naturally. I love wearing a mask.
How do you spend your free time?
I never get bored, that’s for sure. I have many hobbies, including gym and yoga, so I try to take advantage of my time every day.
What hidden gem would you recommend to tourists visiting Beirut for the first time?
A visit to Maison Rabih Kayrouz is a must. Located on Gouraud Street, Gemmayze, it’s a 19th-century palace imbued with Florentine scents; the interiors are fabulous and the ceilings are simply dazzling.
- Neighborhood: Gemmayze and Mar Mikhael, where I live. You can find everything in the area: coffee shops, restaurants, book shops, you name it. The traditional Lebanese architecture here is also stunning.
- Coffee shop: Kalei is definitely my goto place. I like the fact that its garden and secluded location make you enjoy a calm pause in our crazy city.
- Bar: I’m a fan of Standard and Cyrano. Both places boast a great atmosphere, good cocktails and a sexy crowd!
- Breakfast spot: There’s nothing better than eggs Benedict at Sage Parlour. The ingredients are so fresh.
- Lebanese restaurant: Liza, without a doubt. This 19th-century palace in the heart of Achrafieh offers an exquisite dining experience.
- Concept store/boutique: 101sqm in Saifi Village. The selection is so urban and nicely chosen.
- Road-trip destination: Hasroun would be my pick. I discovered this village in North Lebanon during the summer and slept at Nadia’s Guest House, a beautiful old Lebanese home.