Becoming Lucia

Malta Airport Foundation ambassador Nicola Said is currently in rehearsals for her performance in Fulham Opera’s production of Lucia Di Lammermoor. Her heart had been set on singing the role of Lucia for quite some time before she auditioned for it in May and got the part. Now that opening night is only weeks away, we asked Nicola to describe what her journey to the much-anticipated evening has been like.

The opera is about Lucia Ashton’s derangement after she murders Arturo – a man whom she was manipulated into marrying – on their wedding night. There are, of course, many more layers to Gaetano Donizetti’s opera, as well as some of the best bel canto solos.

Why is the role of Lucia so special to you?

Well, I first heard a part of the mad scene when my father discovered the Fifth Element soundtrack, and I absolutely loved it. A couple of years later I got to know where the original music came from, and by then I had just started learning more about opera. In my second year of studies in America, I took it to my teacher Shigemi Matsumoto who, rightly so, told me that it was too early for me to sing the aria. I did try out the first page, but I had to put the aria aside when I was told that it still wasn’t the right time for me to sing it.

Maria Callas, Anna Netrebko, and Dame Joan Sutherland all sang this role at some point of their careers. Will you be drawing inspiration from any one of them for your own performance?

I think it’s important to watch and listen to many artists perform a role, because this gives you a deeper understanding of the dynamics different singers employ and the different tempi, as well as the various breathing options that can be explored. Ultimately, it is either up to the singer to decide on what is best for them or to the conductor, depending on how opinionated the latter is on the matter. Personally, I love Renata Scotto’s rendition of Lucia; to me she is absolute perfection, especially the way she manages to portray Lucia as a young woman. Scotto is excellent in bringing across to audiences a real person with real emotions, whilst still maintaining beauty in her voice.

There’s blood, tragedy, and madness in Lucia Di Lammermoor. Does it take mental, as well as vocal preparation to transform into the tragic heroine and give a credible performance on the night?

Yes, studying a role like this takes a lot of preparation. I spent about nine months learning the role before auditioning for it last May, and even then I still had a lot of work to do. I was very lucky that I was able to study the role intensely with my teacher in Malta, Juliette Bisazza, who sang the role several times in Italy herself. The importance of learning such a role with someone who has lived and breathed it, is definitely not to be underestimated. Once the role was learnt, I put it aside, only revisiting it a few times. I then picked it up again, taking it to my vocal coach Michael Lloyd in London, where we worked on the vowels and clarity of text, and added another layer to it. I will now take it to my teacher in London Yvonne Kenny to ensure that I am singing with optimum resonance, line, and breath support. We will continue with the lessons throughout the process, which is extremely important, as very often we focus so intently on movement and character, that it becomes easy to forget the voice. The last weeks leading up to the performance will be all about putting the production together; learning to work with the whole cast as a team and getting the story the director wants to portray across. It really is a lot of hard work, but once the foundations are laid, rehearsals become a lot of fun, giving the performers an opportunity to delve deeply into their respective characters. The actual performance will, of course, be the cherry on the cake; the moment we would all have been working towards.

This opera was first performed in 1835, and it still draws spectators to opera houses today. What makes it relevant to modern audiences?

The story here, similar to other operas, is one of love and betrayal. Very typical of nineteenth-century opera, it also features a woman’s descent into madness. I hate using the word, as to me Lucia represents a young girl trapped in a society that pulls her in different directions; a pawn unable to follow her heart. I think that Lucia’s character brings together a combination of courage and naivete, for it takes a brave woman to make a pact with a man, who is not exactly in the family’s good books.

What are your days like in the run-up to the actual performance, and are you working on other projects besides this?

The very last days before the performance will consist of full-on rehearsals and seeing to the technical aspects of the production such as lighting. I specifically kept my diary free during this time as a role like this requires extreme focus. I sang in Fulham Opera’s Verdi Prize Competition on the 1st October, and am very excited to be singing Camilleri’s songs with a string quartet at the Saluting Battery in Valletta when the Malta Airport Foundation unveils the newly restored combined operations room within the underground war HQ.