William Nadylam is a man of the world, a gentleman who cannot be neatly categorized. He is a charming, intelligent, gentle man who sees life from a unique global perspective. He is also an innately gifted, as well as highly accomplished, actor. He is also a director-his is a unique voice that sings a world beat tune on the theater stage and cinema screen. He is an original.
The son of a Cameroonian doctor and a gracious Indian woman from the Reunion Islands, Nadylam’s home base is Paris, France. However, the world is his habitat, a place of wonder where he wanders optimistically-from London to Sydney, Rome and New York, effortlessly switching from French to English to Italian.
The spring of 2010 found Nadylam in New York working in the theater milieu in Steve Scheib’s “Bellona, Destroyer of Cities.” During this same period, he was the much sought-after matinee idol at the premiere of Mama Keita’s “L’Absence” (Guinea, 2008) at the New York African Film Festival. Nadylam had the starring role in the feature film, shot in West Africa.
By the fall, he was working with the legendary Paris-based British film director Peter Brook on the opera, “A Magic Flute,” an adaptation of Mozart’s opera, “The Magic Flute,” which was presented July 5-10 as part of the 2011 Lincoln Center Festival.
Last month, when Nadylam called, we made plans to meet at Locks ‘N’ Chops Authority Corporation, a natural hair salon on 34th Street and Eighth Avenue, where he was scheduled to get his hair done, and from there have an early afternoon repas (meal) However, he ended up getting the entire works at the inviting, serene salon, where Folami Saunders and Sky worked their magic. By the time his locks were done, we had to skip dinner and make a mad rush for the subway because it was quicker than cabbing it at rush hour so he could get to the theater on time. Thank God he did!
We finally caught up on Sunday, the last day of the show, between the matinee and evening performances of “A Magic Flute.” During a quick meal with a soccer game blasting on TV as the incidental diversion, Nadylam, who depicts the Spirit Guides in the acclaimed opera, talked about “A Magic Flute,” Brook and his experience with the company.
On his overall experience with “A Magic Flute,” Nadylam said, “It’s been terrific. I enjoy New York. I think a New York audience is one of the toughest in the world, and New York is very, very blessed with many shows of every kind. Everybody comes to New York.”
He paused briefly to glance at the televised game and then continued, “Whether people want to admit it or not, everyone is impressed when someone says, ‘I’m going to perform in New York.’ We’ve been performing in different places, but what I see since we started touring in January-London, Athens, Bremen and Grenoble-there is something a bit more exciting about being in the Big Apple.”
Taking a sip of his drink, Nadylam continued, “It is a special excitement to be here. The guys that I am working with are performing here for the first time and it reminded me how important it is to test the show.”
He stopped suddenly. The American women’s soccer team (playing against their Japanese opponents) had scored a point. Nadylam took a moment to join in the excitement before picking up his conversation.
“Everybody was impressed. Everybody had a little stage fright and the response of the audience was very beautiful. We were blessed with a very good response. Yes, we had a very good welcome here that really was great and we are very proud to have performed here,” he said of the international cast, which included singers from Canada, Germany, Australia, China, Belgium, France and America.
Focusing on Brook’s method of casting singers from various countries, Nadylam shared: “The casting was done in a very special way. Peter [Brook], since this is opera-opera is very interesting in that the singers do not necessarily have to master the spoken language in which they sing. They only have to know how to pronounce the words well and to make it breathe, so opera singers are very comfortable with languages. Therefore, when they audition, they can be from anywhere.”
Nadylam pointed out that, in contrast, for theater or cinema actors, casting or film directors are more selective. “The accent, which is one of the issues I face when I audition for a part in English or Italian [his second languages],” he said. “I would have to work with the accent. If I work in England, I have to work on my accent.” He explained that because this is not the case with an opera, directors have more access to a range of singers.
“Peter started auditioning in Paris, of course, because he is based in Paris,” he said, referring to the master director’s world-renowned avant garde theatre, Bouffes du Nord. “Then in England. Then in New York.”
Nadylam shared that auditions were also conducted in the Czech Republic, Germany and Luxembourg, because the cast is always changing. “The singers can not sing all the time. Singers can only sing three nights in a row; if there is a fourth show then they need to be replaced. Because the notes they are reaching are very engrossing-not to the body, but the vocal cords-when they are tired, they can’t fake it. They just can’t hit the notes.”
Africa Sings! is honored to welcome the brilliant and gracious William Nadylam as our very special Africa Sings! cycle 7 host. We look forward to sharing our next installment of Nadylam’s discussion about his very unique experience working on “A Magic Flute” with Peter Brook, who has been called “one of the most influential stage directors alive.”