Judy Rust on Plaza de los Cangrejos in her adopted town of Nerja. / SUR

From Baez and Dylan to European opera, via Russia and India

Judy Rust is a retired professional opera singer who discovered Nerja when she and a colleague from the opera company she worked for in Belgium, travelled here around six years ago.

"A friend had already visited, we were looking for somewhere that was guaranteed to be warm and sunny, so we decided on Nerja. I fell in love with it," Judy admits.

She retired from her job at the Opera Ballet Vlaanderen (formerly Vlaamse Opera) in Antwerp, Belgium in 2016, sold her house there and moved to Nerja permanently.

She has since become a member of the local Arts Society and combining her passion for music with an interest in politics, she has soon found her niche in her adopted town, The pandemic didn't stop her either and she continued with Spanish classes, writing music, learning about the political landscape of Nerja and getting involved with the local food banks and organic vegetable selling collectives on the disputed Vega de Maro land.

Originally from Burlington, Vermont "where it snows six months of the year," Judy discovered music at an early age. She learned to play the guitar, piano and viola and would sing Bob Dylan and Joan Baez songs.

After graduating from university in 1973 with a degree in French, Russian and Psychology, she decided to put her Russian into practice and found work as an au pair in Moscow. There she kept up with her singing as well. "I met many fascinating people. This was the Soviet period. My Russian friends liked my singing and in particular my protest songs," recalls the singer.

Upon her return to the US - and now to Michigan - Judy started doing some gigs. She was also sharing a house with opera singers who encouraged her to sing opera professionally.

However, the period was short lived, as Judy met someone, married and "gave up singing." But the couple got involved in an Indian ashram and ended up going to India to live in 1982. Still fascinated by music, Judy started learning about and singing traditional Indian songs.

Having divorced and returned to the USA in the mid 1980s, Judy decided that singing was really what she wanted to do. She auditioned for a choir in Los Angeles, got the job and had the opportunity to work with well-known musicians, including British conductor Simon Rattle.

However, keen to get back to the opera that she had given up when she got married, Judy joined an opera company in California. Her first ever production, she recalls, was Macbeth.

Europe calling

Judy was then invited to audition for a new opera house which was starting in Antwerp and she was offered the job. In 1989 Judy found herself upping sticks again and this time heading for Europe and Belgium.

"I'd like to give a huge plug for Europe's support of the arts," Judy says. "It was a full-time, salaried job. That just didn't happen in America. There I'd be having to work two other jobs as well." She says of her almost 30 years with the Opera Ballet Vlaanderen, "One thing that kept me in the job for so long was that it was always changing. It's not always glorious, you have to wear body paint that you're allergic to, but on the other hand I worked with amazing people. It's like any job - some days are great, some days are not so great."

During her time in Belgium, Judy had the opportunity to go back to the Indian and Russian music that had influenced her early on, through choirs and "fortuitous meetings" with professional musicians.

Now in Nerja, Judy has gone right back to the days of singing Baez and Dylan accompanied by a guitar, which she is "reteaching" herself to play. Judy, along with other musicians can normally be found performing at Buskers at 8pm Sundays. "I love that it's so inclusive. It's not like that in the classical world," she says of her new found musical group.

With several languages already under her belt, including Russian, German, some Indian languages and Italian, the linguist is now studying Spanish. "I want to be able to integrate more here. I think it's a lot more fun if you can."

While she hopes to be able to start travelling again soon, Judy says that home will be Nerja from now on.