UK soprano has 3 days to learn Die Tote Stadt

UK soprano has 3 days to learn Die Tote Stadt


norman lebrecht

May 18, 2022

The British soprano Rachael Nicholls is busy studying the fabulous dual role of Marie/Marietta in Korngold’s opera after the Israeli Noa Danon dropped out at short notice from Longborough Opera’s new production.

Rachael last appeared at Longborough as Brünnhilde in the acclaimed 2013 Ring cycle. Longborough music director Anthony Negus said: ‘I am proud to welcome Rachel back to Longborough. She is a wonderful collaborative colleague who will bring her unique artistry to finding the soul of the fascinating double role of Marie/Marietta in Korngold’s youthful masterpiece.’

The show runs from June 21 to 27, conducted by Justin Brown.



  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Rachel is very intelligent and has perfect pitch, so many of the difficulties encountered by others when learning this role shouldn’t affect her. She’ll be excellent in the role.

  • Una says:

    Rachel is a very fine musician, an instrumentalist, has perfect pitch, as Heather Harper had, and woth that background, she’ll do a great job as she always knows her stuff and with no big fuss either but with total dedication. Good luck, Rachel!

  • Anonymous says:

    The show opens June 21. She has more than three days to learn the opera. She will likely memorize scene by scene on her feet throughout the staging process.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    The abilities the great artists have for learning music always impress me. When I interviewed Midori for Fanfare she was still a teen and I was floored when she told me how few days it took her to completely memorize a major concerto for her lessons with Dorothy DeLay, or to add a piece to her repertoire. She had the essetials learned after a few hours.

    My problem, as my late violin teacher was so fond of pointing out — whilst smirking — is that I have a bad tendency to mis-learn by what he regarded as too much listening to recordings. When we worked on the Sarasate Carmen Fantasy, I was getting a key rhythm pattern wrong and he correctly analyzed that that is what I thought I was hearing from Ricci and others, rather than actually studying what the notes on the page instructed me to do. Similar problems with many movements from unaccompanied Bach — he’d say OK that’s what you think the music should look like based on how you think you hear it but now you’ve got the music in front of you and you still get it wrong.

    Or as my very first teacher put it, “play what’s written. Not what’s rotten.”

    I lead off with those stories because a long listening familiarity with something like Marietta’s Lied based on various soprano’s “greatest hits” recordings would not necessarily be a helpful head start for this task. Indeed it could be dangerously misleading to an artist having to learn the score in a hurry once they encounter Korngold’s score. Suddenly that great and famous solo aria is … a duet!?

    • Una Barry says:

      Anyone can sing Marietta’s Lied like One Fine Day from Butterfly, but the same couldn’t sing the role if they tried! On a recording, it’s all pieced together anyhow. In the theatre, a different ball game entirely.

  • Ragnar Danneskjoeld says:

    I’ve heard her two and a half times and I was always glad when it was over.

    • Maria says:

      Your remark has nothing to do with this fine musician taking over at relatively short notice and doing a good job as she will do. You may not like her singing, and being plain nasty about her singing really says more about you than about her. Some of us on here are sick to death with the many unkind remarks made on here, invariably about singers. In the end, you didn’t have to go two and half times, and it’s not compulsory to go this time.

      • guest says:

        Five weeks isn’t ‘relatively short notice’ in opera business by any stretch of imagination. I am not commenting on the rest of Ragnar’s post.

    • WK says:

      The queen’s throat!

  • Oliver says:

    Does it say anywhere that she has 3 days to learn it or that she never studied it before in her life? Facts please, not speculation.

    • Maria says:

      It’s hardly the only job that Rachel has at this time of festivals, and perhaps she just doesn’t have many days spare to learn the role when doing other roles at the same time. Yes, this is more speculation, and a bit more clarity might help from others!

      • guest says:

        What are her many jobs, pray enlighten us? I have looked up her schedule and it’s _very_ lean. If you have trustworthy information, please post – with source citation. If not, yours it’s just speculation for the sake of speculation. Oliver is asking NL for a source in his comment, and so did I in the post below his – and now I’m asking _you_ too for a source of _your_ speculation.

  • guest says:

    June 21 – May 18 = 3 days PLUS an entire month.

    Nicholls engagement book for 2022 was/is very lean. Two performances in March, two Siegfried performances in May, two Der Fliegende Hollaender performances scheduled for mid July 2022. The year 2021 wasn’t particularly busy either – just 9 performances between October and December. A 15 months break before October 2021.

    In view of the above, I second Anon and Oliver in asking what’s the source of the news? It looks like she had at least half a year to learn the role, not 3 days.

    The comments praising her ability to learn fast – there’s nothing so wonderful like confirmation bias 😉

  • Maria says:

    You make it sound as if she was the only singer not working in 2021. We were in a pandemic here in England, hardly allowed to travel within any part of England, or the UK with their differing legal rules, and certainly not even worth trying to go abroad. It is not about confirmation bias. Rachel is a very talented musician, could sight-read the role, but still has to memorise it if she doesn’t know it. But three days to learn it, I don’t know where that came from. It’s still all short notice, even if three weeks, when she’s learning other things at the same time and has her family too.

    • guest says:

      If your comment was in reply to mine, next time when you feel like replying please use the reply button instead of writing a standalone comment. No, I didn’t make it sound like she was the only singer not working in 2021, I made it sound – with facts – that she had a lot of time in 2022. I made it sound – with facts – that the 3 days for learning a new role isn’t supported by her schedule. Three days or 33 days isn’t the same thing. What’s your problem?

      No, 33 days isn’t 3 weeks, and no, 33 days isn’t short notice in opera business. Callas had to learn Bellini’s I Puritani in a few days in between singing her scheduled Wagner performances, and Rossini’s Armida in less than a week while singing no performances in the same period. That was short notice, not learning Marietta in 33 days, after a ‘busy’ schedule of six performances in half a year. I have nothing against Nicholls. If you have proof she has other things on her plate right now, please post with source. If not, spare us the drama.

  • IC225 says:

    NL posts good news story about a fine young artist. Within 24 hours the Slipped Disc comments section has transformed it into a battleground of mean-spirited insinuations, nitpicking and spite. You people really are a class act.

    • guest says:

      We must have read different posts. I see only comments praising Nicholls, and comments asking for a citation supporting the three days claim. The difference between 3 and 33 might be nitpicking for you; if so next time when you are owned 33 whatever, I propose you should get only 3. According to your logic, I doesn’t make any difference.

      By the way, your ‘fine _young_ artist’ is well over 40 and has sung a relatively leisured schedule for more than 20 years now. This is not the first, nor will it be the last role she has to learn in a very reasonable period of time. I guess you will think my correction mean-spirited and nitpicking too. Some people like to live in a bubble of their own making, others, not so so much.

  • Jack says:

    I think there are more than three days until June 21, right?