Nicolas Certenais: an operatic voice on the Way

- through Francois Leclercq

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Meeting with the famous lyrical singer, keen on philosophy and Zen Buddhism, for whom “the art of singing is a small work; the art of living, a great work. »

Nicolas Certenais who vibrates his bass voice on opera stages around the world could impose. It's quite the opposite. From the outset, he is familiar with you. In this Parisian café far from the small town of Bois-le-Roi, in Seine-et-Marne, where he lives with his wife of Vietnamese origin and their two children, he even has the delicacy to offer me a homemade jam , made with figs from her garden. This graduate of a master's degree in philosophy, who for a time considered a career as a teacher, sweeps away conventions. With everyone, he is direct, sincere and enjoys simply chatting. “To have a coffee together is to take this “motionless journey” of Jean Giono; it's seeing the same thing, but with the gaze of the other and stepping out of one's little ego point of view for the duration of the conversation”. Without detour, therefore, he opens up, evoking his daily life in the light of Zen Buddhism, discovered five years ago: “An opera singer friend who was interested in it had spoken to me about it. She opened the door a crack. My curiosity did the rest. He who is neither dogmatic nor mystical is seduced. "In Buddhism, there is nothing to believe and everything to discover", he summarizes in a formula borrowed from Lama Surya Das. He likes this idea of ​​freedom of conscience. In Brest, where he was born 36 years ago, his parents – atheists of Catholic origin – moreover awakened him more to moralists than to religion. “Each time I did something stupid, I had to learn a human rights article and copy a page from La Bruyère's Characters,” he recalls, amused. This does not prevent him from leaning on Saint-Augustin. And to find similarities with Buddhism in its praise of a personal experience of religion, far removed from doctrine, when this saint wrote about the churches: "There are those who say they are outside and who are inside, and those who say they are inside and who are outside.

Don't think of a God while peeling potatoes,
just peel the potatoes...

When you ask him what he does for a living, Nicolas Certenais, who studied at the National Conservatory of Music in Paris, only mentions his job last, which he describes as “intermittent”. What is close to his heart? “Have a great simple life”. His begins at dawn, around 5 o'clock, his "monk's life", as he says, devoted to listening to teachings and conferences on Buddhism or philosophy. Then comes his family life – he happily accompanies his two boys aged 4 and a half and 9 to school, taking on other children twice a week, via the neighborhood association Pedibus. And finally, his life as an artist.

“In Buddhism, there is nothing to believe and everything to discover. »

The interpreter of Rigoletto also finds time to run in the forest very close to Fontainebleau, to pick mushrooms when the season is right, to cook – his hobby – in his fireplace, to help one of his old neighbors to get reads or admires, at nightfall, the stars through his telescope. And in every moment of his day, the same spiritual impregnation. “Zen teaches involvement in actions. It's not about thinking of a God while peeling potatoes, it's just about peeling the potatoes. The most important and simplest thing is to be constantly in the present moment, here and now. Thus, every act done in full consciousness becomes spiritual. Nicolas Certenais forces himself to get rid of the mental toxins of the past and the future, thinking of Montaigne's prophecy: "Our affections always take us beyond" (implied "of ourselves"). Zen also embodies for him a school of precision and efficiency. "When I peel an onion, I improve myself by purifying my gesture each time more", says this esthete who willingly quotes Aldous Huxley: "Happiness is never grandiose".

Create, don't own

His practice of meditation – the very essence of Zen – he wants to be resolutely invisible: "I don't take offense at the posture", says the one who optimizes ("in optimizes, there is optimism") the slightest journey in train to focus on your breathing and the present moment. When last summer he was cut off from his family for two months for performances in Aix-en-Provence, Nicolas Certenais took the opportunity to go on a spiritual retreat: "Alone in my rental apartment, I decided to improve my wisdom and my patience. I emerged from such an experience. His strength, he also draws it from the other great teaching of Zen Buddhism: not to be attached to the result. He who knows how precarious the singer's career is – “you have to constantly audition” – does not allow himself to be devoured by ambition: “Things come and go. Sticking to it would be like swimming against the tide. Driven by this same philosophy, the artist gives without expecting anything in return. Two-thirds of his culinary preserves, which he concocts with love, he offers to his neighbours. “The important thing for me is to create, not to own. The real benefit of the gift is selflessness”. The good news ? It is often mutually beneficial. Nicolas Certenais remembers this wonderful cohabitation, via the PariSolidaire association, with an 86-year-old music lover suffering from Alzheimer's when he landed in the capital at the age of 25: "I prepared good meals for him, he cut me out items that might be of interest to me”. Without knowing it, the artist was already bathed in the "rôshin", this kindness specific to old grandmothers, of which Dôgen, master Soto of the XNUMXth century, praised in Japan in his book Instructions to the Zen cook

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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