By THOM MARINER
In March 2012, a young soprano came to Cincinnati to portray Anne Trulove, the female lead in Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress” presented by the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and the Vocal Arts Ensemble. Yours Truly was fortunate to be cast in the small role of Anne’s father.
Over the course of 10 days, we witnessed the blossoming of an operatic superstar. Her technique and poise were far beyond her 23 years. Since that small production four years ago, soprano Nadine Sierra has taken the international opera world by storm.
Not exactly an “overnight sensation,” however, Sierra has been performing professionally for 13 of her 27 years. But it is the speed of her ascent to the major stages in Europe that has surprised even her.
Born to a Portuguese mother and an American father of Puerto Rican and Italian descent, Sierra was raised in Ft. Lauderdale. She became a Young Artist with the Palm Beach Opera when she was 14, performed on NPR’s “From the Top” at 15 and made her operatic debut in Palm Beach at 16. She is the youngest winner of both the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and the Marilyn Horne Foundation Vocal Competition.
Upon graduating from New York’s Mannes College of Music, Sierra entered the Adler Fellowship Program at San Francisco Opera, where she made her company debut in 2011.
In subsequent years, her engagements increased in frequency and importance, and in the current 2015-16 season she debuted with the Opéra National de Paris, Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala and Berlin Staatsoper.
At La Scala, in January, she and legendary baritone Leo Nucci were called back for a mid-performance encore in front of the curtain, a practice supposedly forbidden decades ago by Arturo Toscanini, and something that hadn’t happened there since 1988.
I spoke with Sierra by phone from Berlin, where she was preparing her company debut in “Orfeo ed Euridice” by Gluck. What follows are excerpts from that interview.
You have had some wonderful successes, especially the past couple of years. What do you like most about your life right now?
What I like most is I’m definitely checking off a lot of things from my bucket list. And I’m checking them off far sooner than I thought I would, singing in some of the most important opera houses in the world. I really never thought that could ever happen to me. I have surprised myself; I am far stronger than I thought I was.
To what do you attribute your strength? What has allowed you to manage all of this and respond well under pressure?
It definitely comes from years of performing, even when I was a little kid. I started taking voice lessons when I was 6 years old. I was always performing and always being exposed to having to perform and learn how to control my nerves. From all of that, I developed a sense of enjoyment from performing. When I go on stage now as an adult, I just think about how much I really do love doing it. I think I could say that I’ve fallen in love with it a little bit more than I had before.
So, on the flipside of that, what do you like least about your life right now?
I have to say being lonely, being alone. People warned me many times throughout the years that it’s a lonely life. And I always kind of shook my head, yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, okay. But it really is quite lonely. Thankfully, I have a very supportive family and a very supportive group of friends. My friends have actually traveled around the world with me to keep me company.
What’s most surprising to you at this point in your development?
I think what’s most surprising is just how fast everything has been going! I never expected to be doing some of the things I’m doing already. And things now are coming so easily, you know. Being scheduled and being cast in opera houses is now becoming far easier than it was before because I’ve been able to develop a sense of trust and reliability.
What would you consider your most memorable experience so far?
Oh, for sure, it was the La Scala debut that I had about a month and a half ago. It was just unbelievable. It was something I couldn’t have even daydreamed about. I came into the scene expecting certain things, knowing the audience to be famously brutal, and hoped that I wouldn’t get booed offstage or that I wouldn’t be terrible! (She laughs.) I just wasn’t expecting the audience to react the way they did, and for everything to be so effortless, in a way. Because so many other singers have been there before I was, and then to have the audience’s reaction, it was like a dream come true. I almost felt like we were back in time, in that era in opera, you know. It was really amazing. I’ll never forget it. (Search “Nadine Sierra” and “La Scala” on YouTube to see the encore.)
Do you think these experiences, especially the past few years, have changed you personally in any way?
I have learned about things I really need to work on. I realized it’s OK to be weaker in certain things, just as long as you’re working on them and trying to improve them.
Let’s talk a little bit about this program you’re doing for Matinee Musicale…
I’m still thinking about it because I have so many different concerts I’m doing. I was thinking I’d like to do mixed arias and art songs together in a way that kind of just introduces who I am, and how I’ve grown as an artist: starting from songs I have done most of my life, then arias I started with when I was really young, and arias that I sing now. I kind of want to show the trajectory of me, who I am, as a young aspiring opera singer.