Interview: Nadine Sierra Shines at Showcase for Upcoming Album

By Logan Martell

On August 24, 2018, soprano Nadine Sierra’s upcoming debut album “There’s a Place for Us,” will be released through Deutsche Grammophon and Universal Music Group, via their Decca Gold record label. More than just her debut album, the recording carries deep meaning for Nadine Sierra, as she uses her artistry to convey a message of love and inclusion for people from all paths of life. On August 14, 2018, Sierra showcased her album at the lounge of the Universal Music Group, sharing songs as well as stories about some of the experiences which have resulted in her being where she is today.

Lighting Up the Lounge

The first of her numbers for the evening was “No Word from Tom,” from Igor Stravisnky’s “The Rake’s Progress.” Within the intimate venue of UMG’s lounge, Sierra’s voice filled the air with ease as she balanced gentle ornamentations with powerful crescendos. When the mood of the song shifted into one of inner tumult, Sierra delivered the line “Oh God, please protect poor Tom,” with pleading affection. Sierra finished this number as if having conquered her own doubts, as heard with the rejoicing coloratura she displayed in the phrase “if love be love, it shall not alter.” Her second number was “Melodia Sentimental” from Hector Villa-Lobos’ “Floresta do Amazonas.” This slower piece gave Sierra the chance to display a bewitching lyricism that was punctuated by elegant vocal leaps throughout, until it was capped off with Sierra delivering the powerful, extended climax which diminuendoed into a firm but gentle purr.

Following this was “Somewhere” from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” Sierra’s interpretation soared through the upper range of her tessitura, with heights to match the lofty idealism of the lyrics. This made it all the more impactful when the her voice further built in dynamic heft in the second stanza with the lines “Someday a time for us, time together with time to spare, time to look, time to care, someday!” Bringing the showcase to a close was “O mio babbino caro,” from Puccini’s “Gianni Shicchi.” This last aria made for a prayer in desire of love and acceptance, Sierra’s voice carried hopeful glimmers as she sustained the “pieta” of the closing phrases.

Details from the Diva

The following day, Operawire had the pleasure of speaking with Nadine Sierra to learn more about the process behind the album, as well as some of her recent and upcoming appearances.

OperaWire: Tell us about your upcoming album, what was the inspiration for the selection of songs that you chose to record?

Nadine Sierra: The inspiration had been in the background since about two years ago. We were collaborating not only with Universal Media Group, but with Deutsche Grammophon about what we were going to do. There’s this trend of a young soprano making a debut album, choosing twelve of the most well-known arias in their repertoire, putting her picture on the front; this kind of thing… I was looking for something with more meaning than that. More important than having a debut album out, I wanted an album that would have a message about something that I’m very passionate about; something that I think people today can relate to.

With certain kinds of events that are happening in the world, especially in this country, it can feel like our society, in a humanitarian sense, is going backwards instead of forwards. I actually had a personal experience with that at a gym: I was working out and this woman kind of cuts across me when I was working out on a machine. I tried telling her that I was still using it and she calls me Consuela, in an insulting way. I really hadn’t had that experience before and I was so shocked by it; these kinds of people with these kinds of thoughts I feel were encouraged by the words and messages coming out through the press by certain individuals, and it was almost like it was okay. I was so amazed by this almost drastic change in the way people started to speak to each other and address one another. With me coming from a family of very mixed heritage; my mother is from Portugal, and my father’s family is from Italy and Puerto Rico. I thought to myself, “If it hadn’t been for my parents, for my upbringing, and for my own heritage and background, I really wouldn’t be where I am today or have the life that I have.” I thought about an album that would be inclusive not just for all people from every path of life, or even financial situation, but for people who might not even necessarily know anything about opera, and that’s sort of how I gathered this repertoire. I guess that’s where the title came from, “There’s a Place for Us,” meaning that no matter what’s going on in today’s society and in today world, and the issues that are being brought up—no matter what there will always be a place for everyone, and if I can use music to help deliver that message, then that’s the kind of tool I’d like to use because everyone can relate to music, and it’s enjoyed by millions, if not billions, of people. So that’s my kind of long-winded explanation of why I wanted to record the album, and I feel like with every project I do, I want it to have a much deeper meaning than what it’s about. I do appreciate what I’ve done as an artist but I don’t think that alone should be celebrated, even by myself. I do think that something far greater than myself can come from it.

OW: What was your experience of working with Deutsche Grammophon, going into the studio, and recording your album?

NS: Fabulous, and incredibly easy; I had the best time! I think we only had about nine to 10 days, maybe even less, of recording and it was just flying by so quickly because everyone was very easygoing about everything, and they were also very prepared, so when I did this album I had the best time. It was also a very therapeutic album to record because of these feeling I had been having for the last two years about what kind of needs to change in our society. I think I, in my own humanitarian way, kind of found peace through recording this album and working with all the other musicians.

OW: How does recording this album compare to your last recording, “Rigoletto,” with Dmitri Hvorotovsky?

NS: That was very different because we weren’t in a studio, we were in a concert recital hall and we standing in a line, all of us together, and we had this very close sense of community which was fantastic, and Dima was always standing next to me. He wasn’t just amazing as an artist, but even as a person; just very down-to-earth and funny, and he was very flippant about even his condition. At that time he already was having problems, and he would tell me that he could even feel the tumor inside of his brain causing him to have problems with balance and even that it was causing problems with the flexibility of his voice. Singing next to him, I couldn’t really hear anything wrong but when he would point it out, I could sort of hear that he would have to do certain things vocally, or even physically, to sort of get around what was going on with his body. It was really fascinating, it was like witnessing a miracle and I’m very honored to have been chosen for that. I felt that I was there not so much for myself, but to support and to encourage Dima, because I know that he wanted to make this recording before he passed away; he had said he always wanted to make a “Rigoletto” recording, and I felt honored to be a part of that.

OW: The last few weeks have been pretty eventful for you, can you tell us about your experience performing at the Ravinia Festival with Michael Fabiano?

NS: I had a lot of fun! Michael is a very dear friend, we’ve known each other for- I want to say a decade now. I was singing next to him, and we were doing the duet from “Lucia,” and I was looking at him while thinking “Wow. I am so proud to be next to this artist, and this man, whom I have had the privilege of witnessing their growth, and development, and career, just flourish and they really deserve it.” I just felt grateful being able to stand next to him, and I’ve shared quite a few firsts with Michael. One of which was performing my first Gilda in “Rigoletto” with Florida Grand Opera, and Michael was my first Duka and I’ll never forget that experience because Michael made me feel so comfortable and so at ease because he himself was so confidant, and he helped me. In Michael’s career there have been situations where I have helped him as well, so we’re constantly helping and guiding one another should we need it. Our working relationship is not just a working one, but one of admiration and also very close friendship.

OW: What are you looking forward to most about Tanglewood’s upcoming Bernstein Centennial Celebration?

NS: I’m so excited for this! First of all, because of the group of singers that are going to be at the event. A lot of them are not just colleagues, they’re also friends, so it will be nice to see everybody again, and we’re there to celebrate this man whom I’ve been so very inspired by, and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate his birthday. He definitely deserves it; he’s just the kind of artist, and this kind of legend and icon in music that deserves this celebration. I just think it’s the perfect thing for him, and it really puts the cherry on top of my summer, so I’m really looking forward to it.

OW: Can you describe the influence Leonard Bernstein has had in shaping your artistry?

NS: I would have loved to have met the man. I was recently speaking to the conductor who had conducted the “Songfest” that we did, either with Tanglewood or another musical organization, and this conductor was a protégé of Bernstein and kind of a friend, and went to Tanglewood many times to see him. He would say that Bernstein really was an incredibly passionate man who was also very encouraging of young conductors and singers. So he was a man who often stood up for what he was passionate about and used his musical genius to do so. I find it so inspiring when artists of that caliber, and with that sort of public profile, when they take a risk in voicing their personal feeling about happenings in society, and wanting change, knowing that it could cost them their career, but knowing that these risks are necessary for the betterment of human life. I’m really amazed by that, and he did that at a time where this country in particular was very sensitive racially, sensitive with nuclear weapons, and he was just a fighter for all of those issues, and really public about it, hence him blacklisted through his life. He would use all of that to be an artist not only for himself but to really help people. He used his power for good and I am just obsessed with that, it’s exactly what I want to do throughout my life as an artist at a higher level. I don’t want it to be about glorifying myself. He has been so inspiring, especially, when I get to learn about him and listen to stories from people who actually knew him.


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