By Warwick Thompson
Nicole Cabell has the glamour of Shirley Bassey and Nefertiti combined, one critic panted. Throw in a voice like a shimmering rope of pearls, an exquisite legato and an instinctive understanding of French style, and you begin to approach the blistering talent of this Californian soprano.
Cabell, 28, shot to fame last year after a hands-down win at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, and made a hair- prickling debut at the Proms this year singing Britten's Les Illuminations. She's been offered a Decca recording contract.
Tonight at London's Barbican Hall, she sings the role of Princesse Eudoxie in a concert performance of Halevy's La Juive (The Jewess, 1835). The part marks her debut with the Royal Opera. I caught up with Cabell, who was looking chic and soignee, and not a little excited, in a dressing room in Covent Garden.
Thompson: First tell me a little about the role, Princesse Eudoxie. What happens to your character?
Cabell: It's a fantastic part. My husband falls in love with Rachel, a Jewess, and the church condemns them both to death. I have to beg Rachel to say that my husband was innocent, that he didn't seduce her, in order for his life to be saved. You get to see all Eudoxie's passion as she brings herself to this terrible act of desperation, begging a Jewess -- and her rival -- for a favor. But she'll do anything to save the man she loves.
Thompson: There's a famous aria, ``Je l'ai revu'' and quite a few duets. Is it a large role?
Lots of Passion
Cabell: It's a huge sing, really huge, with lots of coloratura and lots of passion -- and it's only a secondary part. I dread to think what's it's like for Rachel, the Jewess.
Thompson: Is it actually a coloratura role?
Cabell: If you give it to a coloratura soprano, it is. I'm a light lyric soprano, so it won't be so typically coloratura-ish, if that makes sense.
Thompson: You're looking absolutely terrific. Do you find there's any pressure to look great?
Cabell: Yes, there is. There are great singers who don't have conventional looks who aren't getting the parts they should. Thirty years ago, they might have had good careers. I should fight it, but actually I'm the one going to WeightWatchers, trying to stay trim.
Thompson: Would you be offended if I asked about your racial background?
Cabell: Not at all. Both my grandfathers are African- American, one grandmother is Korean, and one is white. I describe myself as multiracial.
Thompson: Does that have any impact on your career?
Cabell: No, I don't think so, at least not a negative one. Someone once said I'd be perfect for the role of Leila in The Pearl Fishers . I'd be happy if they cast me!
Thompson: You must be earning good fees now. What are you spending on?
Cabell: I'm saving up to buy some real estate, but it's tricky because I love shopping, clothes, haircuts, makeup. I'm a real spendaholic.
Warwick Thompson is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.