Conductor Inaki Encina conducts us through a tour of post-Covid Paris and beyond

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Inaki Encina

As gay men, we often have to deal with divas.

But Inaki Encina has made a profession out of it.

The openly gay opera conductor has musically directed a plethora of prima donnas across continental Europe, from Susanna in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro to Gluck’s titular Iphigénie. Although quarantine screeched Inaki’s career to a temporary halt, this week France will be lifting its Covid restrictions, just in time for the famous Aix-de-Provence Opera Festival.

If music be the fruit of fruits, gay on!

In order to glean a global perspective of queer culture outside of the US during covid, we kiki’ed with Inaki about Paris, conducting opera across Europe, and defending his gold medal in wrestling at the next Gay Games.

Inaki vacationing at Terceira Island

I know you travel a lot for work. Are you in Paris right now?

I live in Paris, and I work a bit all over the world. Right now I’m in Aix-de-Provence in the south of France for an opera festival. We just started rehearsals.

Let’s start with Paris. How is it dealing with Covid at the moment?

Right now we still have a curfew, which is at 7 in the evening. This is for all of France, not just Paris. On Wednesday, it’ll be moved to 9 in the evening and terraces will be open. So Wednesday on, we can sit on a terrace and enjoy a drink. But restaurants, bars, museums, theaters, cinemas, everything has been closed seemingly forever. Since October at least.

Inaki in Portugal

Have you been vaccinated yet?

I have not. Since last week, vaccines are available for everybody. Before there was a protocol that only people of a certain age, people that work in a hospital, teachers, were eligible for vaccination. For my contract here, we need to be tested once a week. I was concerned, not of the vaccine, but having two, three days of symptoms and didn’t want to start rehearsals with a fever. My boyfriend had Covid, he had the symptoms, he lost his sense of smell. We live together, we sleep together, and I didn’t have anything. I don’t even have antibodies. I feel pretty safe. But if they tell me I have to get vaccinated for traveling, I’ll do it.

Over in America, it’s very divided. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of anti-vaxxers? Do you have anything like that in France?

French people tend to complain about anything. If there are no vaccines, they complain about it. If there are, they say, ‘I don’t want it.’ It’s a typical French thing. They are quite selfish, also. They don’t like anything that is compulsory. The state says you should do this, they are like, ‘No, I will do the opposite.’

Inaki visiting the pre-conflagrated Notre Dome

When it’s safe for Americans to travel again, what would you recommend for our gays going to Paris?

Paris is an amazing city. If it’s your first time, you have to do the “must” things. Everyone wants to go to the Eiffel Tower. Of course, Notre Dame burned so you cannot visit it, but there are certain things you do when it is your first time in Paris: Sacre Coeur, Champs-Élysées, those things. This is not what I recommend.

When people come to Paris, I want to show them my Paris. I want to show them cooler places. Like Canal Saint-Martin, which is a very nice canal with a lot of cafes. It’s very nice.

Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend anyone come to Paris for clubbing. Go to Brussels, go to Barcelona. If you come to Paris, you should enjoy the culture.

There are a couple of new museums. Like Collection Pinault, in a building which was, like, an ancient, how do you say, bourse?

Like stocks and all that?

Yeah. It has been abandoned forever, and now this building is going to be, like, a private collection. And they are about to reopen. It is in the center of Paris, and it’s going to have modern architecture.

So hopping off of culture, you are a conductor. Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment?

I do opera. Some conductors do a lot of symphony work, my specialty is opera and voice. Right now I’m in Aix-de-Provence, which has a very famous opera festival during the summer. We just started rehearsals, because the premiere is on the 30th of June. We are doing the Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. It’s very cool, a new production, and we have a great cast.

Then, I’m very excited because I’ll be conducting the National Opera in Paris in September, which is a very important step in my career.

Now, I first met you back in the Gay Games. Has any wrestling reopened in Paris?

No, any sport that implies body contact is forbidden. Basically, we started the season after the very first lockdown in the summer. We had three weeks of wrestling before we had another lockdown situation.

Are you planning on competing in the Gay Games if they have it in Shanghai in 2022?

I won the gold medal, so I want to defend it. But it depends on my schedule. I don’t have a job where I can decide when I can be on holiday. I have to see what my contracts are. But if I’m free I’m definitely interested.

Inaki celebrating his wrestling victory in Paris’ Le Marais gayborhood

Why do you think Gay Games is important for the community?

Because so many people when they are teenagers and dealing with their sexuality don’t keep doing the sport you like. Many of us stopped doing wrestling or volleyball or football because we are exposed to this macho homophobia. This provides us an LGBT field where we can come back and feel secure about it.

Inaki visiting Venice

Once travel restrictions are over, where’s the first place you want to visit?

Last April, I was supposed to play in Mexico. It was supposed to be my first time there, so I was very excited. It’s an amazing country with a very specific culture and food. Now I have a niece living in Mexico, and she’s pregnant, so I’ll have, I don’t know how you say it in English, I’ll be a grand-uncle?

We’d call it ‘grand-guncle.’ It’s what we call gay uncles now.

(Laughing)

Yeah, yeah. So, I want to the country, visit my niece, go to Cancun, enjoy the beaches, the top of my list.