My Professional Debut as Zerbinetta

Nicola Said as Zerbinetta (Ariadne auf Naxos) with Opera Project/West Green House Opera

I suppose I couldn’t have been luckier in that my first professional engagement was as my beloved Zerbinetta, a role I had been dreaming of performing since being introduced to the music over six years ago at the Opera Institute of the Bob Cole Academy in Long Beach, California. Music Director Dr. David Anglin, and director Stephanie Vlahos, bestowed me the gift of singing Zerbinetta in the Prologue. So I rapidly worked with my teacher at the time, the wonderful Shigemi Matsumoto, to rise to the challenge. 

At the time, it was by far the most difficult music I had ever sung, and to be honest, I had not heard it before. I was still very much at the stage of exploring what my voice could do, and still in the process of truly discovering the fabulously diverse and beautiful world of opera. I had only sung German lieder (songs) thus far, so it took me a while to get around all those fast words in German which are written in the role. It was challenging but I fell in love with Zerbinetta immediately. She is such a deep character, a heroine in the way she chooses to live her life, and in my opinion, somewhat of a feminist. I loved her so much that I started learning her big 12 minute aria but had to put it aside for a while as it was just too difficult for me to sing within my capabilities at that time.

Zerbinetta is one of the four key characters in Richard Strauss’ opera Ariadne auf Naxos- a rich Viennese patron has both commissioned a new opera and invited a light entertainment troupe with clowns led by Zerbinetta to perform on the same evening at his home but in the event he also unexpectedly orders fireworks to be let off outside at 9pm so the major domo orders both groups to perform together at the same time! Hence the comedy but the opera also explores profound themes about the nature of culture and entertainment, personal ambition, disappointment and of course there are love interests with Zerbinetta showing unexpected wisdom and sensitivity in her great aria and numerous interactions with the other characters.  

In my final year at Bob Cole, I was given the famous quartet which is the entertainment troupe’s first performance together before Zerbinetta’s big aria. This was huge fun…we performed it in cabaret style and I had to dance on stage (*shock*) which was a little bit unnerving the first time, but I got over the strangeness of it all and threw myself into it…
Then sure enough, in my first year at Guildhall, I was cast in the same scene, and then the quartet that comes after the aria on my second year Opera Course…. It was fate, Zerbinetta and I were bound to each other!

So when last March I auditioned for and was offered the full role, I was ecstatic! I was pretty much spoiled with a fantastic conductor and director in Jonathan Lyness and Richard Studer who are the kindest, nicest, most gentle human beings I can ever imagine working with. Both of them guided me through the process, providing encouragement and making sure that I could deliver my best sound while playing this cheeky showgirl with a heart of gold and a real understanding of life. The interpretation of the piece was very much as a comedy and so our Zerbinetta was a very light-hearted comedienne, which, considering the fact that I had just spent two months preparing and performing the part of a necrophiliac a couple of weeks before in a newly written piece, was a welcome shift to ‘normality’ (if any opera character can be called that!)

The cast was friendly and fun, the set gorgeous and the orchestra played beautifully. It was a really wonderful experience and I shall never forget my first Zerbinetta with the Opera Project at West Green House!