'Opera Fashionista' (Copyright ©2010)

SHE Caribbean, October 2009

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Right at the start of our interview, it was easy to tell how passionate Marie-Claire Giraud is about music; particularly opera. When she speaks of her love, her effervescent personality takes over, and you immediately feel her vibe.

“I’m an opera singer and so much more…music is the soundtrack of my life!” she declared.

Marie-Claire Giraud was born in Dominica and grew up in the Bronx borough in New York. Following her debut performance at the Village Vanguard jazz club in Manhattan, the then twenty-three year old Archeology student decided to pursue a professional career in opera, and went on to study for three years at the Conservatory of Santa Cecelia in Rome, Italy.

For the past decade, Marie-Claire has fully embraced the operatic end of the musical spectrum, fusing classical music with hip-hop, and creating an entirely original musical genre called ‘hip-hopera’. With this creative and unusual blend, she has successfully made a name for herself throughout the Caribbean and beyond.

Her affiliation with well-known personalities in the business has given her opportunities to perform for Hilary Clinton during her electoral campaign in Washington DC, in March 2008, as well as the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival earlier this year.

The classically trained singer claims her greatest influences include Leontyne Price and Marian Anderson, two very famous African- American opera singers.

As she explained her reasons for falling in love with opera, Marie-Claire quickly searched for one of her favorite CDs- Opera’s Golden Moments, so I could have a listen and understand her infatuation. Her eyes instantly lit up at the start of Donde Lieta Uscì from the opera ‘La Boheme’ composed by Giacomo Puccini, one of the most popular operas ever written. Personally, I was quite moved by this powerful, emotive and beautiful piece of music. I found that listening to opera is somewhat mesmerizing, and tend to agree with Marie-Claire when she says “opera transports me to another place”. As I listened to Puccini’s aria, I almost felt as though I was right there at the premier performance at the Teatro Regio, and not merely listening to a CD from a car stereo on Dame Eugenia Charles Boulevard.

It was a perfect opportunity for this talented singer to give me a sample of her rich, melodious voice, and she seized the moment with wild abandon. She sang with such effortless power and expression that one would think she is on stage giving her best performance to an appreciative audience.

Sitting across from Marie-Claire, I couldn’t help but notice that along with her ability to carry a melody, be it jazz, R&B or opera, this eclectic chanteuse also carries herself with bags of confidence, while staying true to her Caribbean roots.

A member of ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Marie-Claire is known for her trademark afro-esque hair and dramatic personal style.
“My Afro has always been a part of me. To me, it’s an accessory. I am proud of the fact that I’m a Black woman from the Caribbean…from Dominica and the Bronx. This is who I am.”

Is her sense of style and fashion reflective of her personality? Indeed. She admittedly points out that her personal style is far from what one would expect of the typical opera singer. For starters, she is a self-confessed trendsetter, her signature look being long, fashionable denim skirts and flattering halter-tops. When it comes to her wardrobe, she says she is “free-spirited and creative, with an edge”. Some of her favorite fabrics are “deconstructed denim, raw cotton and materials that are not normally used for formal occasions.” To a large extent, her sense of fashion is no different from her definition of hip-hopera, “it’s simply mixing classic with the street!”

Insisting that she won’t be seen dead wearing a pair of jeans and T-shirt with sneakers, Marie-Claire believes that women, especially those in the Caribbean must develop their own individual style.

“A lot of women wear jeans and t-shirts… [unfortunately] here, you’re looked at as a freak if you have personal style.”

This evening, however, our denim devotee has betrayed her signature look. Why? “I love Kimya’s designs,” she said non-apologetically as she smoothes out her strapless flamboyant mini dress by Vincentian designer Kimya Glasgow.

In a couple days, Marie-Claire will be on her way to Jamaica for the Annual Ocho Rios International Jazz Festival. A gig arranged by her agents Nicole Brown and Dean Mundy of Imagine Dat Entertainment (IDEA) from Jamaica. She says she’s all packed and ready to go, so I was curious to know what she plans to wear for her performance on stage.

“I like to keep it simple. When I’m onstage, I would normally wear a long, strapless, halter dress, flowing all the way to the floor, with no jewelry around my neck, and no earrings. But I wear bracelets. And that’s about it. Simple, classy and elegant- no need for all the [frills]; my voice is the showpiece. My voice is the gem.”

So, how does Marie-Claire Giraud define the link between music and fashion?

“Oh, they go hand in hand,” she says without hesitation. “Everyone wants to look good when they perform. You have to create your own look before you get onstage and perform.”

Of course everyone wants to look good- on stage and offstage. Moreover, every woman that is into fashion has at least one favourite item that she is fond of. And this interview would be incomplete if I failed to inquire about Marie-Claire’s most treasured possession.

“This would have to be my Dolce and Gabbana cork heel wedges. They’re denim and gold. They cost a fortune, and weigh like nothing. They are just fabulous!”

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