“Opera was the Hollywood of its day.
NIt’s very passionate and expressive. It’s vibrant. ” Nikoleta reflects on her dad’s ability to fit his voice lessons, rehearsals, and performances around his full-time
job as an internal medicine specialist in Burgaw.
“He’s Superman,” she says.
Nikoleta’s husband, concert pianist Aza Sydykov, chuckles as his wife and father-in-law laud each other.
“In this house we have one divo and a diva,” he says. “It’s a perfect combination.”
While the mutual admiration society is genuine, he suggests there’s a little more to the relationship.
“I can tell that, behind the scenes, Nikole and my father-in-law have a very charming competition with each
other,” he says. “Competition moves everything. It was always the engine of progress, right? So I think that little
lovely, charming competition makes them always get better and better. Each time Nikole brings new ideas and
technical innovation, Dad picks it up and gets better and better. I think that’s how it works.”
Compliments? Friendly competition that makes both better? Clearly, they’ve come a long way from the time
Nikoleta thought her doctor dad was so uncool for booming out arias at any given moment.
“I grew up hearing him sing around the house,” she says. “As a little kid, it’s annoying. It’s loud, and it’s your
dad. When he sings in the car you always want him to stop.”
Michael’s path to becoming an operatic dad was unconventional. He wasn’t much of a singer growing up
— “I had a solo line in my 6th-grade Christmas show. Which I messed up,” he says. He joined a concert choir
while an undergrad and enjoyed it, but it wasn’t until he was in medical school at George Washington University
that he became serious about it.
“From the beginning of my first year to the second semester, they tripled the tuition after saying they didn’t
anticipate an increase,” he says.
As consolation, the school allowed the students to take any elective for free.
“I said OK, and I started taking voice lessons on my lunch hour,” he says.
The voice studies were in opera and classical music. He had an aptitude and enjoyment for
it, and kept it up when he moved to Burgaw to open his medical practice. He began per-forming
locally while continuing to take lessons.
John Gilmore, a performer with the Metropolitan Opera, was one of his
coaches when he came to the University of North Carolina Wilmington as
a distinguished professor one semester.
“I was a baritone. He said, ‘we’re going to make you a tenor,’”
Michael says. “Placido Domingo did it, so it’s not unheard of.
Is it exceptionally difficult? Yeah. We were pushing so hard to
sing in the upper register. It’s not that I couldn’t hit a high
note. It was learning how to support and have the inten-sity,
and yet relax and not do anything harmful.”
The transition was worth it for the opportunity to
perform on stage.
“Opera was the Hollywood of its day,” he says.
“It’s very passionate and expressive. It’s vibrant.
It’s different than classical choral chamber
music, which is equally beautiful but a little
more sedate. And it was challenging. The
more you do, the more you have to be
able to use more languages. French,