Nadine Sierra is like a fresh breeze that reinvigorates the stagnant air of an industry in need of alternate flows of movement. At 29, Nadine Sierra is not just the new face of Opera, but the born leader of a new crop of talent from new demographics that promise to revitalize the stage for years to come.
Nadine uses her soprano voice, to share well-known stories with sentiments drawn from a family cry of opportunity denied. Nadine carries forward what was lost to women in society in the past and displays it on stage with dramatic intent reflecting a different world where women refuse to be held back.
Sierra tells us about her shared Hispanic heritages, her grandmother, the importance of passion and how she protects the voice which is her livelihood. This inner look at this young woman shows the depth of this artist who returns to the Metropolitan Opera in New York City to breathe life into Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro in late December and January of 2018.
Fooling the Audience into Thinking It’s Effortless
It’s New York City and in professional sports there is a correlation between a young pitcher with a rocket arm and the voice of an opera singer. Both are powerful and breathtaking when seen in action but at the same time they are both fragile. They are similar in that they are both supported by the thinnest of ropes.
Nadine uses technique and choice to guard against injury, something she personally put into play when she withdrew from Massanet’s Manon at the San Francisco Opera this past July. When you take into account that Le Nozze di Figaro is four hours long, the decision when to take on the task can determine the longevity of a career.
“You have to have a solid technique which takes years of training to get to that place. Fortunately I established a solid technique at a young age. Knowing when to say no as an opera singer and making sure everything you are singing is right for your voice,” Sierra said, “The cords are a thin combination of tissues and muscles. You have to be careful about what you sing, how much you sing, the spacing of each piece you sing, and whether the fluidity of each is healthy for your voice .” Sierra pointed out that the role in San Francisco was “simply too heavy at this point in my vocal development.”
The importance of this cannot be overstated when you consider Nadine has been singing for over twenty years now, since age six. Though she is seen as a newbie, she is in reality a polished veteran who recognizes that she is still developing vocally. To Sierra, opera singers are born, not made. Forget the singing aspects which are quite a mountain in themselves, or the necessity of learning different languages, and needing to be well-read. It’s a lifestyle that’s not for everyone. A place where you have to be your own cheerleader can be a game-changer for the faint of heart. Nadine is not a fainter.
“Learning to deal with the life behind the singing, it’s not an easy life. It’s stressful. Consider that you travel all the time, not being with your family, living out of a suitcase,” Sierra said, “You have to be sort of born able to deal with a stressful life while going on stage and singing in a way, fooling the audience into thinking it’s effortless.”
A Leader of this American Generation
Youth. It’s the word that surrounds her. After all, she started young and her looks bely a presence that opened a door which led to a small room occupied by a select few. The industry is already in transition because of the dedication of a young woman whose parents introduced her to a world she refused to let go of.
“For some reason some in the industry see me as the leader of this American generation, the new comers of this art form,” Sierra explained, “It’s changed so much. It’s become smaller, more selective, harder and demanding as far as physical attributes and also physically what you can do on stage while singing whereas before Opera was about just the singing.”
Le Nozze di Figaro
The character of Susanna; where her singing chops were first developed, was a childhood dream role. It’s fitting that as the “Face” of a new generation Sierra returns to the Met to make her debut with the same character surrounded by an equally youthful team in Le Nozze di Figaro.
“It’s a good cast, relatively young. We’ll find a lot of fresh innovative voices,” Sierra said “They are characteristic of each character because a lot of people in my cast are very funny, with great comedic timing. Figaro is for all ages, aimed at a younger generation.”
Abuelita (Little Big Grandma)
It’s in the genes. Sierra’s grandmother, was at an operatic level but was a victim of the times. Women were directed to home life first and away from personal ambitions so grandma’s talent withered on the vine. But a rose grew from that long-dead tree in the form of Nadine, who draws deeply from her memory of her grandmother. By extension Sierra sets a pattern for women today who will not be defined by their sex and some old-fashioned perception of what they should be.
“I think if there is anything women growing up are very passionate about, with that passion they can be very good at something, no matter what stands in your way, you should go for it,” Sierra said, “First and foremost my going into this career has always been really about continuing in the footsteps my grandmother was never able to take. It’s in her honor.”
Puerto Rican – Italian – Portuguese – American
Nadine is a Latina. She shares a multicultural heritage of Puerto Rican and Italian from her father and Portuguese from her mother. It surprises people who learn of it, including young Hispanic singers who weren’t aware and never envisioned themselves in this genre of music. They are inspired when they learn of it.
“I have been in touch with many Puerto Rican singers in the past decade, talking about what it’s like to study in America, who I’ve studied with. I’ve given many recommendations about who to study with,” Sierra reflected, “My teacher Cesar Ulloa, who has been a part of my life for fifteen years, is Cuban.”
The links are numerous and she carries them well. Though she looks at Opera from a European lens, Nadine sees a comfortable familiarity.
“To have that connection with his students from Mexico and Puerto Rico primarily. It feels like a family. In some way we also have a place in Opera,” Sierra said, “I actually find Latinos/as in general have organically beautiful voices. It always nice to encourage singers with these beautiful voices to keep going and really try to pursue as much as they can no matter where they are in the world.”
Education is the Key to All Doors in this World
From the beginning Nadine understood the importance of education and how it always serves as a true friend whenever it is called upon. Sierra saw how balancing the two helped one intellectually as she was training in a field that was multicultural and required a world class sophistication in life off the stage as well as on.
“Education is the key to all doors in this world. I am of the feeling that ignorance is not bliss,” Sierra said, “My education in school fed the way I disciplined myself in music. They go hand-in-hand. You need to know about history, culture, literature. Education makes you a more well-rounded individual, giving you the ability to bring some of that knowledge to what you do on stage.”
We all have bucket lists and Nadine has been fortunate to accomplish most of her childhood dream roles. Two specific roles that are still unclaimed are Mimi of La Boheme and Violetta of La Traviata. Violeta is a universally cherished role. Mimi is easy to point to as that was the opera she was first introduced to by her mother at age ten. But it goes deeper than that.
“I simply fell in love with the character of Mimi. I thought she was someone who spoke to me even when I was so young as a person, what I valued in life, even as a child,” Sierra reflected, “Finding very simplistic things to be very beautiful, and not giving into the grandiosity of things. I love that simplistic point of view. Every soprano wants to play Violeta at some point in their career. I would like to tackle it for personal reasons.”
The redirection of fear into a tangible asset that is exposed to the audience lyrically is a transition that is fueled by twin emotions of fear and elation. Nadine made it work for her at a crucial juncture when she debuted at both La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera.
“My family being more European, I was more prone to that side of Opera. I really wanted to grasp that first,” Sierra said, “Funny enough both of those debuts came one after the other so it was a few months of absolute bliss because of the way it happened. Those are two of the most memorable opera venues and the two I really wanted to sing at.”
Power Comes From Compassion
Sierra has a sweet disposition when you talk with her as I discovered as she was dressed in a deep V-neck cut summer dress and sweater, just as personable as a friendly librarian. But when she walks out on stage there is a metamorphosis. A wonder woman appears, who like the superhero uses her lasso of truth to bring confessions. Nadine uses her powerful voice in much the same way; using her presence to grab her audience and pierce their hearts.
“Power comes from compassion. Most of the characters I play are young, very fragile women because of society restricting and sort of oppressing them.” Sierra points out, “It’s something I can relate to as a young woman in the “working field” even though I Iive in 2017.
Power can come from anything even if it’s the most tender things. Compassion is the goal in the end which is wanting to relieve suffering and giving voice to that suffering, for the audience to see and to never want to experience or have anyone else experience suffering.”
Nadine Wants You to see a Latina on the Met Opera Stage
Nadine is still a work in progress. An artist who is still fulfilling her potential with an obsession not to put herself on any pedestals or accepting of any invitations to do so. Meanwhile she reaches out to those who have not experienced this art.
“I’m just a vocal vessel for masterpieces that have been given to us from hundred years ago, to keep the music alive for people who don’t know what opera is and want to be introduced,” Sierra said. “I want to be a leader not just for people my age who want to be opera singers, but for those who don’t know and willing to be introduced to it. I want to be that leader in the opera industry.”
Nadine Sierra performs in home territory when she takes a few steps from her apartment near Lincoln Center to the Metropolitan Opera to do five dates as Susanna in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro on December 29th and January 4th, 10th, 13th and 19th of 2018.