Roméo et Juliette: From civil war to La Scala

They say singing is hard-wired into the Georgian soul, and when you hear a Tbilisi family break into perfect counterpoint in a "table song" – no matter how much alcohol they've drunk – you realise the truth of this. Factor in the intensity of Georgian musical training, and it's no surprise that this strife-torn land produces so many fine singers.

Georgia's latest operatic export appears in the comely form of soprano Nino Machaidze, about to make her Covent Garden debut as Juliette in Gounod's version of Shakespeare's play. Small and power-packed, she speaks with grand gestures: her perfect Italian is a reflection of the way, since settling in Milan after the Scala provided her big break, she's gone native there. "But in my heart I am always Georgian," she says, adding that the music of Zakhari Paliashvili – Georgia's answer to Glinka – will always take pride of place, no matter how great her love for Mozart and Verdi.

After an adolescence spent in monastic pursuit of her dream, her career has followed a soaring upward path. Now 27, she recalls with a shudder the days when civil war deprived people of food, electricity, and safety; she finds the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict too distressing to talk about.

All she wants to talk about is the joy of playing Donizetti's Adina and Lucia, and Gounod's Juliette. What does this latter role – which she has just done in Salzburg – feel like to sing? "Bellissima! Juliette is so full of fun, and so sincere. At the end I get very emotional."

'Roméo et Juliette' opens at the ROH on 26 October, www.roh.org.uk

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