The jewel in Malta’s operatic crown | Nicola Said

As acclaimed soprano Nicola Said prepared to join Cliff Zammit Stevens on the stage of Pjazza Teatru Rjal for Sunday’s concert, she sat down with Iggy Fenech to discuss her career, her role within the Malta International Airport Foundation and what audiences can expect at Cliff Zammit Stevens in Concert 2016

I first met Nicola about two years ago, when she had just taken on the role of ambassador for the Malta International Airport Foundation. Bubbly, extremely happy and talented, she was one of those people that you could instantly tell would go places – in fact, it’s been an absolute joy seeing her going from strength-to-strength in her career. 

Now, ahead of her taking to the stage at Pjazza Teatru Rjal with fellow opera singer Cliff Zammit Stevens at his eighth, annual, solo concert tonight, Cliff Zammit Stevens in Concert, I sit down with her to recap her stellar rise to the top and her charitable work as part of her work for the Malta International Airport Foundation.

When did you first get into opera?

My love and need to sing opera were awakened by a performance of ‘Rigoletto’ at the Manoel Theatre. Then, when I was assigned my first aria, Una donna a quindici anni from Mozart’s Così fan tutte, I began to feel that what I had previously been singing – classical crossover – was not quite what I wanted to focus on, which led me to set my eyes on developing my opera voice. This development is an ongoing journey that sees one’s voice constantly growing and changing. During this journey, I’ve had some fantastic moments, such as studying at Edinburgh Napier University and a subsequent discovery of the world of recording through Naxos Records. In a nutshell, my passion was ignited by a longing to sing the music I fell in love with when I watched my first opera at the Manoel Theatre!

What would you consider the highlights of your career so far?

Performing one of my dream roles, namely Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, with Opera Project at West Green House Opera, is without any doubt my career’s highlight so far. I was extremely lucky to debut professionally on such a high note, as Zerbinetta is both a main and very fulfilling role that not many singers manage to land so early on. The supportive director, conductor and the rest of the cast helped make this experience even more exceptional.

You are the ambassador for the Malta International Airport Foundation. How would you describe your role in this Foundation?

When I was asked to take up this prestigious role I felt very honoured and realised that as an opera singer my role had been extended to something beyond performing. In fact, my role as the Malta Airport Foundation ambassador is to help promote the Foundation’s projects and initiatives, which are aimed at enhancing what Malta has to offer: its rich heritage, the environment, and local talent. I feel that my frequent travels put me in a great position to sing Malta’s praises all over the world.

You’ll soon be joining Cliff on stage at his eighth annual concert. How did you first come to meet Cliff?

Cliff and I go back quite a few years, although neither of us seems to remember how or where we first met! What I do know is that we worked together for the first time in The Little Sweep, which took place at the Manuel Theatre over a decade ago… We also have a lot in common, including a passion for singing, training with soprano Gillian Zammit, and studying with Juliette Bisazza when we are in Malta… all that helped cement our friendship, and I’m very excited to be joining him on stage tonight!

Can you tell us a bit about the pieces you’ll be performing together?

We’ll be performing a duet we’ve already performed together in London, Caro Elisir… from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore. Cliff’s charisma, beautiful voice, and acting skills make him a great Nemorino. On my part, I love Adina (Nemorino’s love interest) and it’s, in fact, one of my dream roles. The second duet is from La Fille du Regiment. We opted for it as it is cheeky in a fun way and audiences always respond well to a bit of lightheartedness amidst the slower numbers. 

What should people expect to experience during the concert?

I think they can just expect to enjoy it with a whole spectrum of emotions ranging from laughter to tears! I think that’s the real beauty of an honest and generous performance; you never know exactly what you’re in for, but you know you’re in for a great ride!

What’s next for Nicola?

After Cliff’s concert, I’ll be heading to London to perform in the Drake Calleja Trust Scholars’ Concert, a recital with international pianist James Baillieu for the Three Palaces Festival. I also have a Talent Unlimited Christmas Concert in London, and I’ll perform as a guest artist with the Austrian Youth Orchestra at the Manoel Theatre. Following that I have an Opera Gala with Barrandov Opera in Suffolk, and the New Year’s Eve Gala Concert with the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra at the Mediterranean Conference Centre… So, yes, I’ve got quite an exciting few months ahead but, for today, it’s Cliff concert that’s on my mind!

Cliff Zammit Stevens in Concert 2016 takes place tonight at 20:00 at Pjazza Teatru Rjal, Valletta. The concert, which is officially endorsed by Valletta2018, is supported by BOV, MTA, XFM,, Nescafe and The Wembley Store