Soprano Nicole Car is adding another feather to her bow this winter: having successfully performed Donna Anna (Don Giovanni), Pamina (The Magic Flute) and Valencienne (The Merry Widow) in the past year, this month she is making her role debut as Léïla in Bizet’s The Pearlfishers. It’s no exaggeration to say that this young singer has been climbing her way into the OA firmament.
Not that she has never entertained a doubt about the role. Léïla was offered to her at the beginning of the year, after Jessica Pratt had pulled out. “I was going to cover the role, but when Jessica let it be known that she was no longer available, Lyndon called me in and asked if I’d had a chance to look at the music, as he wanted me to sing it,” Car recalls when we meet for a chat a few days after the beginning of Pearlfishers rehearsals.
|Henry Choo as Nadir with Nicole|
Car as Léïla
Terracini was convinced that Car was ready for the role, but the soprano was apprehensive, as her impression of the role was that it sat very high and at times demanded a light rather than a dramatic voice. So she asked for time to look at the score with Anthony Legge before making a decision.
“ As it turned out, it was a very good fit for my voice. The end of the first act is very high, but Acts II and III are more dramatic and more suited to my voice. Singing Léïla is like singing Donna Anna in reverse: instead of warming to the coloratura part, you start with it.”
Legge, Car’s singing teacher, and her coaches all thought that the role would be a challenge, but a good challenge, and hopefully a rewarding one. “I’m really comfortable with it now; it’s at that stage where it’s cooked enough to go into production.”
This season’s Pearlfishers rehearsal period (three weeks) is very short. “Everyone’s really stretched at the moment,” Car says. “When rehearsals started in Sydney, The Merry Widow was still going on in Melbourne, and Midsummer Night’s Dream and Magic Flute in Brisbane. When you have a relatively small company with mainstage seasons in three cities, a lot of people are jumping back and forth.”
|Nicole Car as Léïla|
But it’s much better to be overly busy than not to be singing at all. Car vividly remembers having to pull out of Don Giovanni in Sydney last year. “We’d already started cover calls when I began to feel unwell,” she remembers. “It was getting to the end of winter and I thought it was probably just that.” But singing was feeling worse and worse, and she was constantly exhausted. “The first thing I thought was that I’d done something to my voice, which was very scary.” She pulled out of a week of rehearsals, thinking that she’d be back the following week, with plenty of time to get ready for opening night which was still a month away.
But a visit to the Ear Nose and Throat Specialist changed all that. “He told me that there was nothing wrong with my vocal chords, but that I should see a dentist as my wisdom teeth were struggling to come through.” The dentist confirmed that the singer’s bottom teeth had grown towards the front of her mouth and were so severely impacted and infected that she needed to get them out straight away.
“It was very painful, especially since I had them done in the dentist’s chair; I didn’t want to have to go under, as sometimes they can dislocate your jaw, which can have consequences for singers.”
|Nicole Car as Léïla with Henry|
Choo as Nadir
Car recovered quickly enough to be able to sing in the final two Don Giovanni performances in Melbourne. “Having had to pull out of the Sydney season, it was really good to be able to come back and sing the role, even if Donna Anna is a hard sing! You appreciate the career that you have so much more when you get a feel for how fragile it all is.”
After Léïla, Car will be performing High Priestess in Aida, and she’ll be Kate Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly this spring. “It’s a big year,” she says, with a laugh.
Next year’s big too…so watch this space.
The Pearlfishers is showing at Sydney Opera House until Saturday 4 August. Click here for details, videos, tickets and more.