I learned about family from my time growing up in and travelling to Beirut, Lebanon. It's the place that guides my soul. I was born in Lebanon and moved to Canada when I was six and my heart never left. I visit family and friends whenever I can and have had opportunities to perform there too. I've recently started exploring the Lebanese music I grew up with – music my grandfather used to sing. This season I programmed some of those songs into a recital and it felt like the most natural thing in the world.
I was taught about freedom in Amsterdam. The city is vibrant, full of diversity, art, and colour. I immediately connected to its energy. It taught me to let go, forget judgment and be myself. I return often to power up on that vibe. There's an overwhelming "be yourself" mantra whispered throughout the canals and alleyways – refreshing.
I was taught to really paint with my voice, to express and to truly communicate, in Philadelphia. It was the place where I immersed myself into the operatic art form fully and completely – learning from great artists, colleagues and teachers. It was a place I called home for many years, so it taught me how to express myself personally as well as professionally. It's so important to find places in the world where I feel comfortable, especially when I travel so much for work, and Philadelphia was one of those places where I learned how to do that.
There's a reason why I call Toronto my home now. It is a place of continuous self-evaluation, and reflection and so I find it easier to engage in those same processes with myself when I'm there. It's hard to stop the clock when on the road so much, so a rare opportunity to be home is a great occasion to revisit my voice with no expectations and see where I am and where I want to go next with it. I'm fortunate to make regular returns to my home opera company where I feel nurtured and am given a space to expand my repertoire and artistry.
For me, London is synonymous with discovery. The city gifted me wonderful, rare or unheard scores to bring back to life. It is where I got to know Donizetti while recording Belisario, Les Martyrs and most recently, his "new" opera L'ange de Nisida in a live concert performance at the Royal Opera House. To be a part of a historic world premiere like that was something I will never forget, and it's only encouraged me to want to learn and uncover more about the world I live in and the places I travel to.
Joyce El-Khoury is an acclaimed, award-winning Lebanese-Canadian soprano. She is performing the role of Mimi in Opera Australia's La Boheme at the Sydney Opera House until March 28. See opera.org.au