Matteo El-Khodr is always dressed in the finest attire and happily signing autographs in the busy streets of Paris. Apart from his infamous Berkin bag and striking black eye liner, he carries a priceless countertenor voice allowing him to sing the highest pitch in a man’s vocal capacity.
His voice is one of the rarest known to man since the seventeenth century.
El-Khodr is 26. Born and raised in Beirut, he grew up in a house hosting a cultural cocktail of art, music, and religious ideologies.
His mother is of Turkish origin and his father Greek-Lebanese.
“From the earliest years of my life, I recall listening to my parent’s choice of beautiful diverse music genres,” he says.
Introduced as a child to Madonna, Michael Jackson, Sabah, Oum Kulthoum, Vivaldi, Bach, Edith Piaf and Mozart, developed in him the musical background he needed to sing opera today.
He started playing the piano at 6. His passion for opera slowly grew with him as a young boy.
El-Khodr’s voice was recognized at age 12, when he sang Bach’s Cantata Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen.
“Everyone told me that I should sing, I was told that ‘I have a voice,’” El-Khodr explained. “Little did I know that I was blessed with a rare voice that would take me to Paris and be my career.”
Unaware of his gift as a young boy, he refused to join the Lebanese Conservatory; El-Khodr kept playing the piano and singing with his private Russian tutor.
His voice grew stronger and more mature every day.
El-Khodr was 18 when he sang Puccini’s Nessun Dorma from Turandot for his mother’s birthday at a restaurant in Beirut.
“When I finished singing that night, I was unexpectedly approached by managers talking about Paris and asking me to do business with them, saying that they can make me a star,” the young man recalled.
Two months later, he was in Paris and had signed a contract with Universal Music France.
“It all happened really fast. One day I was recording a demo in Beirut, the next I was signing a life changing contract in Paris,” El-Khodr said.
On that warm day in September, Matteo the star was born and his career began.
He released his first album Matteo Haute-Contre, a mix between pop and opera, hits from the opera world remixed and a hit from the pop world. Roxane by Sting, made into classical with the Philarmonical Orchestra de Radio France.
“I sing pop-opera in order to attract all generations,” he said. “I want the younger generation to appreciate opera and enjoy listening to it.”
Being based in Paris never took El-Khodr away from Lebanon.
For the past five years, he has performed in Lebanon at least once a year.
“I have my annual Easter Concert in Beirut, and sang in many festivals such as Beiteddeen Festival two years ago,” Al-Khodr said.
To his surprise, the Lebanese people highly valued his work; his albums were almost sold out and his concerts in Lebanon fully booked. El-Khodr realized the hunger for an opera culture in Lebanon and the Middle East.
“I was very happy to see people from all age groups coming to my concerts in Lebanon,” he said. “Knowing that a voice like mine, feminine and very rare, is appreciated in my country is a big accomplishment for me.”
Today, El-Khodr is the only countertenor from the Middle East and one of 52 in the world.
He is a phenomenon that unfortunately had to leave Lebanon to be recognized.
By Mohamad Al-Oraybi
LAU Tribune staff