Ahead of her eponymous tour, Nicole Car sat down with journalist Steve Dow to discuss operatic heroines, performing with the ACO and being compared to the great Dame Joan Sutherland.
"Mozart is more restrained than Beethoven, but we hear the internal angst in the music. Desperation comes out through not only the words but the music."
Nicole Car has a theory. The Melbourne-born soprano has portrayed female suffering in performances across Australia, Europe and North America. Consider Violetta, who perishes from tuberculosis in Verdi’s La traviata. Or Luisa Miller, the titular character who the same composer forces to make bad choices in love, then drink poison and die. Consider, too, faithful Desdemona, whose murder by her faithless partner is invoked in this program, when Car sings her aria “Ave Maria” from Verdi’s Otello in her debut concert with the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
“I think these composers were really early feminists, especially when you look at Verdi and the way he wrote,” she says. “I know it seems weird, because these women meet tragic ends, but they are the strong characters throughout the show, who never lose their faith in God or family or husband or partner.”
At 32, Car is a rising opera star internationally. Her most notable recent roles include the ill-fated Mimi in Richard Jones’s new production of Puccini’s La bohème at Covent Garden, which opened the Royal Opera House’s 2017–18 season.
Car resists, however, an often-quoted comparison between herself and Dame Joan Sutherland.
“I will never sing the same repertoire as her,” she says. “She really brought back a bel canto style. What I do is interpret, and I really like to delve into the pieces dramatically as well as musically. I’m so grateful to sing in these big houses that she and other big singers I idolise sang in. It’s a very flattering comparison, but probably unfair to her.”
In this intimate concert setting with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, her only orchestral performances for 2018, Car will inhabit female characters in arias written by Mozart, Verdi and Beethoven. The experience, Car expects, will be more personally exposing than in the usual opera format, because in concert form, without the stage artifice, she still insists on imagining herself in a role.
“So much of the way I sing, and the emotive nature of the voice, I need to have an attachment to the character in that five- or six-minute aria,” Car says. “You only have a limited time to communicate your character’s trajectory. It’s a much more vulnerable state than when you’re in an opera, because you’re not in a costume and a wig, but the audience sees me as me.”
There is more collaboration for a singer with the ACO – sharing the stage in this instance with concert director Richard Tognetti and principal violinist Satu Vänskä – than in an opera, where a conductor directs the tempi, dynamics and who does what when.
“I’ll be able to have a say,” Car says, “which will be a great privilege and a great pleasure for me.”
This piece is an excerpt from a full profile in the Nicole Car printed program. The program is provided for free at all concerts, or available to download on the event page.
Nicole Car tours nationally 8-24 April, stopping for performances in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Tickets available via the link below.