There is no doubt that Nicole Car is one of the most outstanding young singers to emerge from Australia in recent years. She has sung all over the world, and last year made her debut at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
Now the native Victorian is back in Australia singing the anguished lead in Luisa Miller. We caught up with Nicole between performances to talk opera, Luisa Miller and upside down marble figures.
When did you first become interested in opera?
I was seventeen, almost eighteen, and still at high school and I went to see a production of Tosca. I was doing a show at the time and the Musical Director said that he thought my voice might really lend itself to opera and asked if I had ever seen one or was interested in that. And I hadn’t but I was, I’m interested in all forms of music, so I went with a friend to go and see it and I was just blown away by the theatricality of it. The intensity of the performances and the way everything gets pulled together. Opera has everything- the drama, music, singing, art… every single person involved is such a technician and brilliantly educated in whatever their role is and to see those things come together I was like “yeah, I really want to be a part of that”.
What is it like to be so successful as to land principal roles with a major company at so young an age?
I was really lucky. When I started in the young artist program I started doing major roles straight away and so as far as my professional career goes its kind of all I’ve ever known, which is a lot of pressure but a lot of reward. You have to work very hard because you’re only as good as your last performance. You also get to a point where you feel you have to really really carefully choose the roles that you do take on. Whether they’re beyond you at the time, whether you’re too young to do them, whether emotionally you don’t quite connect with the character. You can sing really well but unless an audience responds to the character you’re presenting as well as the singing you’re presenting then there’s not so much of a point.
Luisa Miller is such an… emotive young girl. Do you feel like you associate with her in any way?
I think we all of us have our own degrees of happiness and sadness and joy and depression, whether they’re to the same degree as the characters we end up playing… Probably not! We can relate to it in different ways and our own life experience. Luisa Miller has been a really fun character, well fun is probably the wrong word… interesting character to explore. I really love the drama of these pieces and sinking my teeth into the final act.
Were you worried during any point of those “marble” figures falling down on you?
Yes! The motor didn’t work for the first few days because we were getting the set in about a week before we opened. Because I lie in the tomb right at the start the first time they had it working fully and I could see it coming over. I just had visions of it falling and leaving me like the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz with just the feet at the end. Thankfully we have a really great team of mechs.
You’ve just returned to us from the US. Were there any major differences in the opera scene between here and there?
I think everyone is doing similar operas, for some reason there’s a lot of people doing Luisa Miller right now. I don’t know whether the companies all talk to each other! I think in America its different because the houses are so much bigger so you’re looking at three and a half to four thousand seat houses, so a voice type like mine that would do the big Verdi’s here in Australia and in Europe, would probably being doing more like Mozart opera or smaller lighter orchestrated Verdi operas in America. Just because of the sheer size of the houses. Essentially it’s a small world though, everyone knows each other. Once you’re working and travelling around a lot you get to know all of the other singers- its like a family wherever you are.
You’ve also recently released your first full-length album. Do you prefer the recording process or performing live? What are the main differences when you sing?
They both have their positives- I think you do have to sing differently in a recording situation. What we tried to do when we were recording was to make sure that we had everything right on a few takes and then one full take at the end to just be free even if mistakes were made. Sometimes that’s where you get the most exciting singing, which I think is what we get in the theatre because you only have one go to get things. But I loved the recording experience and it was really great to be placed in the middle of the orchestra so I could hear everything really well and working with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra on the recording was really special because you could talk about ideas and all of a sudden the orchestra is playing with the emotion you’re singing with.
How do you take care of yourself and your voice during a season?
It can be difficult and this season is a particularly busy one, and Luisa Miller is a very big sing. So I try and have quiet days and rest as much as I can. It’s hard because there’s always a lot of responsibilities that come in and around the show especially having the title role. But you get as much vocal rest as possible!
And what’s up next for you?
I’m really excited to do Luisa Miller in Melbourne, I haven’t been home for nearly two years so it will be great to catch up with family and friends and actually have a month there. The last time I was performing in Melbourne I was only there for maybe five days. Then I do Così fan tutte in winter and then I’m off to Europe for a while! Berlin, Paris, London. It’s fun! It’s nice to travel around.
And finally, is there a role that you’d love to perform? Regardless of voice type, gender…
There are heaps of roles I wish I could sing. I think Delilah the mezzo in Samson and Delilah gets the most beautiful music. And I will never perform her because she’s a mezzo but if we’re talking outside my voice type that would definitely be one. Something like Madame Butterfly down the track would be really really amazing.
Nicole will be performing in Luisa Miller at the Sydney Opera House until the 29th February before travelling to Melbourne on the 16th May. For more information visit www.opera.org.au
You can read the interviewers review of Luisa Miller here.
Photo credit (c) Prudence Upton