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Nicola Said - Soprano

Interview

1- You are currently studying with Yvonne Kenny on the Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. How is this progressing?

I have recently completed the Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, it was a wonderful and intensive two years receiving excellent training. I have been studying now with Yvonne for over four years and she is an absolute gem, and I am truly blessed to be learning from her. The Head of the Opera Course Dominic Wheeler was extremely supportive and encouraging throughout the course, as was our resident director Martin Lloyd-Evans. I really learned what is required from me as an individual artist and as a professional singer, and the tools to balancing the two. I sang the lead role of Rosaura in our first term opera Le Donne Curiose, Lucia in The Rape of Lucretia, and the title role of Ariane in our third term opera. Conductor Tim Redmond and director Rodula Gaitanou really helped me to grow as an artist and a singer, they were instrumental in creating a nurturing and highly inspirational environment to work in, it was a great way to end a fruitful two years.

2- Is your family musical?

At the age of 16 my paternal Grandma was invited to go and study singing in Milan, unfortunately during those times it was rather unheard of for a Maltese father (an amateur violinist himself) to allow his daughter to leave her home to follow a career in singing, so she stayed in Malta. To this day she still sings along to her favourite operas! Three of her four daughters studied piano, and one of them is a piano teacher. On my mother’s side, all the women in the family have high voices, and my mother sang in choir, but sadly she was not allowed to take up piano or singing, but was required to focus on “real” studies. Luckily, times have changed now, and I had opportunities that my gran and mother didn’t have.

3- Who was your first music / singing teacher?

My first music teacher was my piano teacher, Denise Sullivan, she brought out the musicality in me. She said I could have been a concert pianist if I studied hard enough, but my heart always wanted to sing…besides I hated studying piano, and I only liked studying pieces I could sing along to. It was always too frustrating playing because my voice wanted to continue to sing the tune, but my hands couldn’t keep up, always looking for the notes!!

4- You recently made your professional debut as Zerbinetta with Opera Project at West Greenhouse Opera. How were your feelings at the time?

I made my first professional debut in August 2015 singing Zerbinetta. It was the most wonderful experience singing one of my dream roles – I believe I was extremely lucky to land that role for a first debut, because it is a major role. I was ecstatic and excited to learn.

5- You studied with Shigemi Matsumoto at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music CSULB where you received your Bachelor of Music. How do you recall these times and how was it to be instructed by this master?

Sometimes I look back at my time in America, and for a moment, wonder if it really did happen! It really was like living in a movie sometimes! But happen it did, and it was wonderful studying with Shigemi Matsumoto. Not only did I learn how to sing, I learned about the business. Her husband Marty Stark, a former senior executive manager at Columbia Artist Management, taught me a lot about what is needed in the business, and together with Shigemi, he was instrumental in my development. I was also very lucky to form part of the Opera Institute there, where I worked with the musical director David Anglin and director Stephanie Vlahos. I sang the roles of Olympia, Barbarina and La Fee, they were absolutely perfect for me, and great first roles. Being in Dr. Talberg’s choir taught me how to become a better musician and how to work well in an ensemble.

6- You recently premiered works by composer Paul Carroll at Abbey Road Studios. Can you tell us more about this work and this composer please?

Paul Carroll is such a generous composer to work with, he writes absolutely gorgeous songs. What I love about Paul’s music is his ability to create some absolutely heart-wrenchingly beautiful melodies. Of course, working in the legendary Abbey Road Studios was an absolute privilege.

7- You were nominated by Maltese Tenor Joseph Calleja to attend the 2014 Mozarteum Summer in Salzburg where you won Second Prize in the Strauss Competition, and First Prize in the Guildhall English Song Competition. Can you tell us more about these high points please, which pieces did you sing?

I sang Amor, Morgen and Ständchen – Morgen is one of my all-time favourites, so singing it is always an absolute pleasure.

8- Can you share with us an abiding memory in connection with one of your performances or competitions?

For the Guildhall English Song competition, I started with Larsen’s Try Me Good King: Anne Boleyn, and half way through the piece, my contact lense popped out of my eye! I just kept going, and when I’d finished the first song, I looked down at my dress, and there it had landed! I turned round, picked it off, and put it on the edge of the piano. I turned around, and sang my next two pieces with one contact lense on! Before walking offstage I picked up the lense and walked off with it! I’m not sure anyone actually noticed!

9- How often do you practice?

It depends on what I have coming up and the kind of work I have to do for it. For all the work, practice starts with doing translations, transliterations, then learning notes, getting the music into your body, and making musical phrases with it. I physically sing every day, generally for one to two hours. If I have full recitals/operas coming up, I’ll sing for longer during rehearsals etc (5 hours or so, with intermissions).

10- Would you consider teaching music in the future?

I have already given singing lessons to people of various ages, and yes I think that at some point in my life, once I have had my own career, I would love to be able to pass on my experiences and knowledge.

11- How do you balance your study, performance and leisure times? What are the biggest sacrifices?

I think it is essential to find a healthy balance between study, performance and leisure times. I think it is easy to get carried away becoming engrossed in what we do, as artists we are so often obsessed to the point where we can’t think of anything else. Over the years I’ve learned to find a good mix, and I’ve also learned that there will be weeks where I have to be incubated while I learn/perform music, and some time in between to focus on reconnecting with people, with my family and closest friends. I imagine in the world of today where everyone leads such busy lives, we all learn to find the right balance that works for us.

The biggest sacrifice for me is definitely missing important family and friend’s gatherings and events in their lives…that really is just something that comes with the job, and we learn to live with it. Just recently I missed my cousin’s wedding to sing at St. James’ Palace. There come times however that one can really make up for lost time. I have been very fortunate to have a quiet few months where I’ve been spending some quality time with one of my oldest closest friends’ baby, and I feel so lucky to be able to have this opportunity to get to know the little man! I know that I won’t always have that luxury in life, so, I have just learned to treasure special moments even more.

To return to Nicola’s profile:

submission November 2016