4 Unexpected Roles Nina Stemme Sang In Her Early Career

By Francisco Salazar

Everyone knows Nina Stemme for her dramatic skills,  particularly for her Wagner repertoire. As a matter of fact, she is the leading Brünhilde and Isolde of our time and she is in demand all over the world. But in fact, Stemme did not begin with this repertoire and before her breakout Isolde with Plácido Domingo, this singer did a number of unexpected roles.


Stemme is well known for her work in Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West” as it is incredibly intense and sung with so much passion. However, before that, she performed the very lyric role of Mimì in Puccini’s “La Bohème.” It didn’t last very long in her repertoire but Mimì’s arias were the ones she performed when she competed at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. And while there were glimpses of the dramatic, this voice had very lyric qualities that would later be seen in her Wagner interpretations. It would also lead her to sing “Madama Butterfly” and “Manon Lescaut” as well as “Turandot.”


It is not among her most popular roles and for most Stemme never had the Italianate sound for these roles. However, Stemme still took on Verdi’s iconic opera at the Zürich Opera, where she scored rave reviews and even saw the performance released on DVD. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it does showcase the tremendous acting that Stemme is capable of capturing.

The Marschallin

This is an opera that most lyric singers take on nowadays and while Stemme is a known Strauss interpreter, audiences know her more for work in “Ariadne Auf Naxos,” “Elektra” and “Salome.” However, before those two roles, she did the Marschallin in “Der Rosenkavalier,” bringing in some subtleties for Strauss’ sublime melodic lines.


At one point Stemme also sang Jenufa to great acclaim. Thanks to the Teatro Liceu, audiences can rewatch the classic interpretation alongside Eva Marton. Whereas one is used to seeing the mature women in all of Stemme’s characters, this performance brought out a number of youthful elements in Jenufa’s character.


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