When I think of someone who is the embodiment of the highest level of expression, I have to think of German opera superstar Nadja Michael (47). This fearless feminine feminist is absolutely unforgettable in roles like Medea, Salomé and Lady Macbeth, performing phenomenally not just as a singer, but also a dancer and actress. How does she do it?
Marlies: Nadja, what does ‘expression’ mean to you?
Nadja: Thinking about it carefully, I believe ‘Express yourself’ should not be an action. Expressing ourselves happens without willingly doing something. Each word that passes our lips, each choice we make is part of the picture we draw of ourselves to be read by others around us. Effortless expression shows when a person is in harmony with his or her pure and truthful inner self. Pure truth will shine through: pure expression without creation.
Marlies: Speaking of ‘shining through’, whatever role you play, your own charisma shines through very strong. How do you make each role your own?
Nadja: That is very easy to me. I start to love the character as if it were me and imagine all actions as if they were going to happen to this new me, right now. I believe that Medea, Salomé, Elektra, Isolde and Lady Macbeth are women like any other women on earth; maybe some of them with extra skills, put into extreme circumstances. Actually, a lot of these circumstances can easily be translated into modern subjects. Murder, crime or suicide can sometimes seem like the only way to deal with the circumstances. I embrace my characters completely and to a certain degree I even become them.
Marlies: I totally see that! How did you get into singing? I heard you grew up in a very loving and musical family.
Nadja: I grew up in east Germany with four siblings. There was a lot of work and oppression, but also joy, playfulness and love. My mum was always singing, pop music mostly. At only 3 years old I already saw clearly that singing is the most wonderful expression of pure soul within us. I had no choice: I had to become a singer! Opera, of course, I discovered a little later. But again, the pure sound of soul drew me into it.
Marlies: How did you discover opera?
Nadja: When I was 16, I was blessed to witness a marvellous concert in the famous Leipziger Gewandhaus: Mahler’s 8th Symphony. Marlies, you have to experience that symphony! Everybody should! Imagine, a thousand voices singing about eternity and the power of womanhood: the power to create life. It blew me away. And at that moment it became very clear that I had to sing classical music. To this day, this music is like the Holy Grail to me.
Marlies: You were originally a competitive swimmer, and now your body is very much your instrument. Can you tell me about your relationship with your body, how you train it and how you relax?
Nadja: My body is me, I am my body. My body expresses through physical incarnation how I lean towards life. After giving birth, I understood that I had to be good to myself and that starts with being good to my body. Taking care, moving the right way, resting, being gentle. The body is the instrument with which we are able to master this life; it enables us to sing our own melody. I discovered that the challenging, sportive side of yoga combined with the mental, calming side of it makes yoga the perfect way to bring me back to myself. Which might sound a little egocentric, but when I am centred I am able to see others and be a good mother, singer, helper and so on.
Marlies: When you perform, you are larger than life: such a big, unusual voice, so much expression! Is that something you had to grow into? In other words: did you ever have to overcome a fear to really shine?
Nadja: That question contains so much truth. Yes, I was very much afraid to shine. When I was very young I was jumping fearless and reckless onto the stage. Being in the spotlight you gain envy and nastiness as well as raving publics. Unfortunately, we humans are built to care much more about the dissonances. I became shy and started to dim my voice and my inner power. I became very unhappy. Then I read something that opened my eyes: ‘Don’t let people that don’t matter too much, matter too much…’. And step by step, I came back to my truthful, strong expression.
Marlies: My motto is: dare to dream, dare to grow, dare to be. With the way you approach your roles, you strike me as someone which refuses to stop learning and growing. Is that true?
‘’ Don’t let people that don’t matter too much, matter too much.’’
Nadja: Completely. For me life is all about constant development and learning. Sometimes things turn out completely different from what we expected. But that only stimulates flexibility and keeps us alive.
Marlies: Do you consider yourself a feminine feminist?
Nadja: I am absolutely convinced that the female principal will provide the solution for our poor, wrecked world. Patriarchy only brought us wars, power games, disrespect and the hesitation to feel love. Even religions have been turned into something terrible. I am a feminist and I love fashion, sensuality and beauty. So yes, call me a feminine feminist!
Marlies: Even when you’re not working, you are expressing yourself: writing stories and movie scripts. I totally recognise that! What drives you?
Nadja: This is simply what my ‘me’ is about and I respect that. I do what I am able to do. I would love to design or be a doctor – but that’s just not the right position for me in this life. Absorbing life and transforming it into stories to create emotions, that’s my duty. I am a storyteller on and off the stage. And an observer for that reason.
Marlies: What is the best advice you can give my readers when it comes to expressing yourself?
Nadja: Before thinking too much about ‘expressing yourself’, be kind to yourself. You could be a cleaning lady, a nurse, a secretary or a doctor. Each part is right and has its dignity. Accept your position with love; then your expression becomes truthful and beautiful because it’s honest and right! Never stop dreaming, never stop going. But if your desire is to be quiet, then simply enjoy quietness.
Marlies: What is your life motto?
Nadja: Dream big and bright. There is no failure – only learning. So when you fall, never forget to look beautiful while doing it and then stand up and try again and again – and again a little different. And spread as much love as possible! Learning is the most beautiful thing!
Governed by NO ONE
Flame-haired, brave-hearted and always dressed to dazzle, Elizabeth the First, also known as England’s ‘Virgin Queen’, is one of the most unforgettable women in history. Her glorious reign is known as The Golden Age ~ a period that saw the birth of Shakespeare, the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the emergence of England as a world power. It lasted almost 45 years; Elizabeth’s legacy as a feminist icon however, has already spanned nearly 5 centuries. “My sex cannot diminish my prestige.”
Only 11 days after he beheaded his second wife (the flamboyant Anne Boleyn), King Henry VIII married a pale, fair-haired maiden called Jane Seymour. Who exactly was this girl, and what had made the king so besotted with her? To this day, historians don’t quite know what to make of her.
Glamour, the magical power of persuasion
“Dare to be the CEO of your own career”
Who run this (digital) world? For Saskia Van Uffelen, the answer to that question is crystal clear: women. And what better role model for these women than the passionate CEO of Ericsson Belux herself? Named ICT Woman of the Year in 2011, Belgian-born Saskia is a great inspiration -not only as a digital visionary but also as a top manager who gracefully combines a hectic job with a family of five children. “In disruptive times, we need women.”
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