x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi ropes in the opera singer Nellie Petrova for regular performances

The Bulgarian opera singer Nellie Petrova is helping a new UAE five-star hotel go the extra octave to give guests a sophisticated experience.

The Bulgarian opera singer Nellie Petrova performs four times a week at the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal. Sarah Dea / The National
The Bulgarian opera singer Nellie Petrova performs four times a week at the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal. Sarah Dea / The National

Designer luggage and fussing bellhops were rarely part of the backdrop for the soprano Nellie Petrova.

Then the Bulgarian-born opera singer landed the unusual mission of helping a new UAE five-star hotel go the extra octave to give guests a sophisticated experience.

Now, four nights a week, Petrova’s voice greets guests at the spectacular lobby of the Venetian-inspired Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, as sunset illuminates the neighbouring Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Although it’s a contrast to the concert halls she is used to, Petrova is bewitched by the setting.

“This is an elegant venue to perform in,” she says, “an awesome venue, so beautiful, I feel like I am in a movie.”

And she should know; the soprano claims a brief appearance in Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Although Petrova admits that while she didn’t meet Tom Cruise, officially, she worked alongside him.

“You could see me in a bright red dress, on his left, as he leaves the bar in the Mumbai party scene.”

Petrova’s voice has won her more plaudits. “I started singing before I started talking because my mother used to sing a lot at home, while she was doing housework.

“Hearing singing was as natural as hearing talking and I was always singing nursery rhymes, performing, giving home shows at the age of 2. So I’ve been training for the job quite some time. My sister was the best audience.”

At 16, Petrova was “mesmerised” by the 1992 Summer Olympic theme Barcelona featuring Queen’s Freddie Mercury and the Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé.

She later undertook masterclasses with Caballé in Andorra, having studied for music degrees in Bulgaria and enjoyed a Fellowship in Voice Performance at London’s Trinity College of Music.

A career in operatic theatre, solo recitals, concert tours and festivals across Europe followed before Petrova moved to the UAE. Fourteen years ago, she performed at a fashion show and was hooked. Now performances include concerts, product launches and corporate events.

“There is something about this country once you come here...that’s it, you just stay,” she says.

Petrova has also voiced crossover projects, ranging from band collaborations to commercials for Emirates Airline and CNN, the latter promoting Dubai. And she provided operatic improvisation to house tracks for Dubai’s Café del Mar.

She auditioned for the Ritz-Carlton gig last summer.

“When I saw how grand it was... it felt magical and I knew I wanted to do it,” she says.

It was, however, quite a shift from concert-hall etiquette to hotel lobby bustle.

“It took me a while to get over, but I became comfortable with noises and could just focus on what I do. For me it is not important that everybody is silent. We are breaking the stereotype of a sit-down concert, so I choose music suitable for the venue and the view in front of me.”

That selection can range from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and La Bohème and Verdi’s La Traviata to Schubert or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.

Maintaining her voice in the UAE’s extreme heat, humidity and air conditioning brings it own challenges.

“I am well acclimatised now, but in the beginning I had to make quite a lot of changes: dietary, sleep, balance, everything that is good for you,” Petrova adds. “If one follows my routine they are going to find it really hard, but I love what I do.”

Petrova and the pianist Jonathan Milla perform at the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi from 7pm on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday

artslife@thenational.ae

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