Meet Women of Vienna: Reinet

Meet Reinet

Today I would like to introduce you to Reinet. She was born in South Africa, but grew up in England, Argentina, and the US. She was in New York for the last two years before coming to Vienna to pursue her dream of being an opera singer. Being around her energy will brighten your day and make you want to pursue being creative yourself, because she has such a passion for opera and the arts. I hope you enjoy!

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Betsy

Reinet Behncke

As a kid it was difficult. Now it sounds very glamorous, very exciting. But it was really hard to be far away from family. It was really hard to adjust to one place and then have to go somewhere else. And as an adult it has made it very hard to conceptualize staying in one place forever. I have no idea what that feels like. And feeling at home has never been a consistent thing. But of course, the benefits were getting to see a lot of the world and learning different languages and gaining experiences that I absolutely would not have had otherwise. So of course there were wonderful, wonderful things about living in so many different places too.

I was supposed to end up here, in Vienna, two years ago when I finished my masters degree, but some things in my life changed suddenly and very unexpectedly so I ended up in New York instead. And at the time that was very difficult and I was very unhappy. But now I am happy for it because New York really confronts you with who you are and I came away from that experience being a very self-aware person, being a very assertive person, and being absolutely ready to be here in Vienna. And you know, I really appreciate the time I had in New York as well. The timing was just right. I came here to pursue my opera career and everything just sort of came together after being in New York and I was finally ready to move over here.

This is now my fourth month here in Vienna, I’m a Vienna baby. And I love it. I first came here when I was 17 years old and I fell in love with it right away. And this city has really always been one of the great loves of my life and I have always known that I wanted to live here. Though it’s been very exciting and very inspiring, of course it has been difficult as well. I really thought because I had such an international childhood and I moved around so much when I was young that this would be really easy and really manageable. It turned out to be quite difficult. It wasn’t until a friend put words to it that I realized that, when making a big international move, you experience a kind of grief. Your body and your emotions really react with grief for everything you had before and all the people you were friends with and everything you’ve left behind. So I’ve definitely felt a sense of that as well and that was very difficult. I had about a two week period where I asked myself what on earth I’d done and what I was doing and why did I come here? It took accepting that this was a big transition, even when I didn’t expect it to be, to kind of settle. There’s a word in German, ankommen- to arrive, and I really think in German it has a connotation of settling and growing some roots. I kind of feel like I’m doing that now, which is good.

Overall, and the reason I came here, is because there are so many more opportunities here and the arts are such an important part of the culture here for everyone. I have been exposed to that since I arrived. When I first arrived in New York I really hit the ground running and I did every audition I could and I sang for everyone, but I really burnt myself out really quickly. So I knew I didn’t want to do that there. I have certainly been out there auditioning, making contact with people, and networking and I am now starting to get work, slowly but surely. But I have also really forced myself, this time around, to take the time to settle, to focus on my German, to focus on my vocal technique, to adjust to life here instead of trying to cover that up with being busy and not dealing with it. Because I think that affects yourself as an artist, if you don’t deal with what you are living right now. I am very excited to see what happens here and how things progress.

Be patient. It’s going to take a while to feel completely comfortable speaking German, its going to take a while before you figure out the ubahn system, it’s going to take a while before you make new friends and you know, build your own community here. But that’s ok. And try to enjoy this incredible place while you are doing that. Because this really is an amazing city. Just be patient with yourself and the differences you’re experiencing. I’ve been very lucky to meet a community of musicians and others who have all been in my shoes before; they’ve all experienced being a new arrival to this city. They’ve been very welcoming; they’ve shown me around and they’ve introduced me to other people. There’s a friendliness and sense of community that I have never experienced anywhere else in the world so that’s been very positive.

I am really very hard on myself and that has really manifested itself in feeling like a failure because I’m not “at this point right now”, but you really have to remind yourself that everyone else is also struggling. Everybody’s in the same place and the time is going to go by anyways so you have to just keep going and something will happen. It’s really easy, in my field, to compare yourself to what someone else is doing and their successes. But you have to realize that that doesn’t change your talent at all. Focusing on what someone else is doing doesn’t make you a better singer. And getting caught up in that and wondering why you aren’t at that point also doesn’t make you a better singer. So I’ve noticed that if I’m just patient and I feel working hard and I keep trying to perfect my craft, eventually things start to come back to you. I’m starting to see that now and that’s really rewarding.

I have a very long list of dream roles that I will hopefully get to play and work my way through at some point. Mozart is the reason I decided to become an opera singer. I first heard Mozart’s music when I was four and that’s when I decided this is what I wanted to do. So anything by Mozart. He wrote one of his most famous operas “The Marriage of Figaro” here in Vienna and you can actually go visit the house where he wrote it, which is incredible. I also love the music of Richard Strauss. “Der Rosenkavalier” is incredible. I actually got to cover the role of Sophie in that in New York, so hopefully someday I’ll actually get to perform it.

I think the issue of opera’s future is a big one, not just here but also in the States. In the States we’re seeing a lot of major opera house close. As a person who was seeking work in the United States in opera, I was seeing less and less professional opportunities. I think that is something people here are worried about too, but I have to say that, as a singer, the art form is definitely not dead. It is evolving, it is really evolving. Singers are finding ways to bring opera to different audiences in different ways and I think that’s an important thing. I think that as long as the art form is not dumbed down and cheapened, that it keeps its integrity and we do introduce it to new people, I don’t see the art form slowing down. Especially here, I see it progressing.

Vienna really has this incredible juxtaposition of old and new, of past and present, which I have yet to see anywhere else in the world. And that allows for an environment of creativity. And I see that here, I see this blurring of genres; I see the art form being taken in different direction that I haven’t seen anywhere else, even in New York. And that gives me a lot of hope and a lot of other younger singers hope. There is a common misconception that you have to be wealthy and older to go to the opera and enjoy it. People forget that some of this music, in its time, was so controversial and created so much debate and was so fought over. And the themes in these operas are still very relevant, very controversial, and very difficult to swallow at times. Opera is not just a thing for a few people and there is a favorite opera out there for everyone, I really believe that.

This is something I think about often, I think being a young person today is very difficult no matter where you are, let alone in a big city. And I have found myself at times, here and elsewhere, really wanting to stay in my comfort zone instead of facing what’s scary. And I was really lucky when I moved here to be introduced to Clara Blume who is a singer and songwriter here in Vienna and she has a song and the lyrics go, “I’d rather love and starve than live in sorrow”. I love that and I really try to live by that. Because I think it’s much more worth it to push back on the fear instead of running away from it. Being new in Vienna and facing a lot of new and scary things that is something I have really had to urge myself to do. But I really think it’s worth it. Especially in a place like there were there really are so many opportunities and so much to see and so much to enjoy. It’s always worth it to kind of take a step into the unknown and keep going. I think Vienna is the perfect place to do that.

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