Joining a rich operatic tradition | Nico Darmanin

Young tenor Nico Darmanin has just scored the opportunity to represent Malta at the prestigious BBC Cardiff Singer of the Year competition, elbowing his way through 350 applicants to make it to the final 20. He speaks to us ahead of a ‘warm up’ concert at the Manoel Theatre on May 18

Nico Darmanin:
Nico Darmanin: "My body is my instrument"

What would you say are some of the most crucial steps that led you to be chosen for this post?

Through out the past three years I have had many and many auditions for companies and young artist programmes. Not every audition was successful, of course, but they did help me to slowly create awareness that I am here and have many strong qualities to offer as an artist.

This in return led to some exciting engagements. I sang at the Royal Opera House twice last season – one of which was a jump in only a few days’ notice before the opening performance. I also had the wonderful opportunity to work with Hollywood actor Christoph Waltz at the Flemish Opera, which gave me a lot of exposure.

Through these, I had the opportunity to meet and work with some of the best opera coaches around Europe. With due diligence, time and dedication I developed my craft and when the time came, a coach from The Royal Opera Covent Garden recommended I apply for Cardiff Singer.

My application, together with the recommendation I was given, scored me the opportunity for a live audition last December amongst 350 others from around the world, and it was only in March that I received news that I would represent Malta in this prestigious competition in June.

How would you describe your journey from Malta to the UK? What would you say are some of the most important things you’ve learnt?

Along the way I realised what a life of music really means. Big highs and also lows, missing the ones you love while travelling from city to city on a regular basis, yet it is all worth it because you know you can’t live without the music... it is also beautiful because you meet others like yourself and you create strong friendships with people from all over the world.

Along my way I learnt that it is essential to take care of one’s physical and mental health... to eat healthy and also find time to rest amidst the high-paced life style. My body is my instrument.

There are three important factors an opera singer should always keep in mind, in my opinion: his vocal technique (breath included), his musicianship, and finally a healthy body and mind of which this is crucial for everything to gel together. Finally, travelling frequently, I’ve learnt that our planet is truly beautiful and there are extraordinary wonderful people wherever you go!

Could you tell us a bit about your repertoire? How did you fine-tune it over the years?

Like many artists, I went through a phase in search of my true qualities. Virtuosity was one of my benchmarks, and I must thank Gillian Zammit for remind me this through out my journey.

I then met Juliette Bisazza at a very crucial time in my development who helped me find something beyond, and till today these two ladies along side to Prof. Richard England are key reference points for me. I am also very lucky to have a close yet small set of coaches and mentors abroad whose advice is very precious to me. 

With their advice and my dedication, I embarked to take on this rather difficult task of singing some of the Rossini repertoire which many find rather difficult to even attempt – a repertoire which has taken me years to understand and I am on an ongoing journey to truly become a master in this field.

I had the opportunity to work with in masterclasses with two of the leading Rossini stars of the World – Juan Diego Florez and Joyce DiDonato – and both experiences were huge eye-openers. I also had the opportunity to work in the prestigious Rossini Opera Festival last summer and that has given me great knowledge on this unique virtuosic repertoire.

As a bonus, Rossini Operas have helped me solidify my technique and because of this I can slowly and only on rare occasions take on a slightly more lyric role, always within the Bel Canto parameters. I have grown to love Fenech composers recently but I will wait a little before I endeavour onto such repertoire. I am enjoying my bel canto very much!

Do you aim to be an ambassador for Malta during this competition, as well as a singer on your own steam?

I will try my best as an artist but I feel above all exhilarated to have this opportunity to show the world where I am from. Flying the Maltese flag brings great joy to my heart.

I feel so fortunate as I come form a place of great operatic legacy – from Joseph Satariano, Oreste Chircop, the great and recently late Paul Asciaq, Miriam Gauci, Antoinette Miggiani, Juliette Bisazza only to name a few from the ones that come to mind, and obviously one of the worlds greatest tenors of our time Joseph Calleja.

I will fly the Maltese flag with pride and great responsibility to carry on our great heritage. Our beautiful island has given birth to great quality opera singers, and it remains an island with a strong cultural background.

What advice would you give to aspiring Maltese musicians who want to make it abroad?

I would tell young musicians to always follow their heart and dreams. I truly believe that we each have an internal compass and when the dials swing North you should go for it and trust your journey. Lest one should know that things do not come easy to everybody, but this does not mean it is not possible. I can remember years ago that I lacked a very important virtue – ‘patience’.

Volition, true dedication and time are the components to aid you towards success. At the end of the day all you can do is try or you might live with a ‘what if’. I believe that it is good to be satisfied with what life brings us, but the inner spirit and curiously to learn and to achieve more are also good attitudes to have. Dream, act, have faith and let things unfold!

Nico Darmanin will be performing the repertoire for the competition at Manoel Theatre on May 18 at 20:00. He will be accompanied on piano by Charlene Farrugia. Bookings:, 2124 6389 or [email protected]