On 26 October rising star Nino Machaidze makes her debut at the Royal Opera House playing Juliette in Gounod’s Romo et Juliette. The Georgian-born sopranos road to the top has been a speedy one. She is just 27 and in the past three years alone has made her debuts at many of the world’s leading opera houses, performing alongside the likes of Rolando Villazón and Juan Diego Flórez.
The part that really propelled her to fame was that of Juliette. She first performed it at the Salzburg Festival in 2008, and still cannot quite believe the speed at which everything happened. While playing Lauretta in Gianni Schicci at La Scala she was spotted by the Salzburg Festivals artistic director who decided then and there that she should take the role. She subsequently learnt the part at breakneck speed and the rest, as they say, is history.
The current production of Romo et Juliette is the initial focus of our conversation as we meet in her dressing room at the Royal Opera House. Photographs had already alerted me to her physical attractiveness, but they had done little to suggest just how warm, vivacious and easy to talk to she is. She is about to be the star of this major production, and yet all of her praise is reserved for others. She describes Piotr Beczala (who plays Romo) as a wonderful singer and actor, and a very easy person to work with. He also played the part alongside her this year in Salzburg, and she feels that their personal friendship has enabled them to develop great rapport on stage. She also knows Darren Jeffery (playing Count Capulet) well, and explains how their own closeness has helped them to develop the father-daughter relationship on stage. While all productions show Juliette as loving towards Capulet at the start, here this element is sustained far further into the drama.
She has nothing but praise for conductor Daniel Oren who “really breathes every note with you”, and for revival director Stephen Barlow (the original production is by Nicolas Joel) for giving his performers the freedom and space to develop their own characters. Before the interview is out she has also expressed her admiration for Rolando Villazón, Anna Netrebko and Juan Diego Flrez, but there is absolutely nothing false in the way that she speaks. She has a naturally enthusiastic personality and exudes considerable humility.
This manifests itself in the way that she describes the role of Juliette, and the need to make her own being entirely subservient to that of the character. She tells me that her Salzburg performances in 2008 coincided with the Russia-Georgia war, and that her sorrow and longing to be with her family meant that she really had to force herself to keep going. Once on the stage, however, she was able to lose herself in the part as if nothing else on earth mattered. Machaidzes’ respect for Gounod’s creation is also tangible, and she speaks enthusiastically of the way in which his music fundamentally alters throughout the opera to reflect Juliette’s changing emotions.
Though Machaidze has lived and worked in Milan since 2005, the vast majority of her training was in her home country of Georgia. She recalls practising hard from a young age, and believes that the number of concerts she performed in was crucial to her development. She naturally understands the importance of study and formal training, but believes that ultimately “you grow up on the stage”. As a child she says she dreamt of performing at the Royal Opera House, La Scala, the New York Met and so on, and now one by one each of these dreams has come true (except the latter which will be conquered next January when she plays Gilda in Rigoletto).
In spite of all her accomplishments, her feet remain firmly on the ground. Yes, success brings happiness, but “Ive always been happy and smiling, so it doesn’t make sense to change”. I ask if she has any other interests and she readily proclaims shopping and films (she enjoys everything from Gladiator to comedies). When she tells me that this is her first time in London and she is keen to explore I suggest the Gauguin exhibition at Tate Modern and (perhaps undiplomatically, given the setting) the Coliseum on a night off. By now we might have strayed from the point of the interview, but the ease with which were laughing and swapping tips speaks volumes about her personality.
Clearly, however, Machaidze is a lady of hidden depths. She has the roles of Musetta, Marie, Adina (Lelisir damore) and Fiorilla (Il turco in Italia) to her name, and I can picture her pulling off such feisty characters superbly. When, however, I ask her about them, she proclaims that none of these parts move her in quite the same way as Juliette. She finds it difficult to like or respect Musetta, but Juliette on the other hand is sweet, tender, capable of loving and ultimately very deep. The answer seems entirely befitting of someone who wants to give so much as a performer, and I sense that Nino Machaidze is already well on the way to making the part of Juliette her own.
Romo et Juliette appears at the Royal Opera House, 26 October to 17 November 2010 (eight performances).