Dallas — Throughout my phone interview with soprano Nadine Sierra, I kept thinking how perfect she is for the role of Susanna in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Her huge success in the role at the Metropolitan Opera, just ending, became immediately apparent. In person, she is the very picture of one possible take on the character. She is bubbly without being cloying, practical yet adventurous, realistic but not afraid to dream and charming without even trying. She is the real thing—something precious (and somewhat scarce) in the world of opera singers.
She is the youngest winner to take home both the top prize from the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and the Marilyn Horne Foundation Vocal Competition, and the eyes of the opera world—not just in Texas, but globally—are upon her.
Ms. Sierra will be in Dallas to sing a recital at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 28 as part of the Robert E. and Jean Ann Titus Art Song Recital Series presented by The Dallas Opera. This annual recital will take place in Moody Performance Hall, and that is where we started the conversation.
“When I was 18, I did a lot of recitals around the country, especially for young musicians, but now…not so much,” she says. “Besides, it is nice to do one with [pianist] Bryan Wagorn. He and I went to school together at Mannes [School of Music in New York City], we work well together and I welcome the opportunity to reconnect.”
So, what will we hear? Sierra wouldn’t say.
“Because we are still working out the details. With Bryan, we always program what we love performing and we have done so much repertoire together that we have an accumulation of music, built out of our friendship and mutual love of music, over these past 11 years.”
With such a wealth of material, it’s must be hard to fit it in a single program.
“We have to hammer it down to our absolute favorites,” she says. “Some selections we didn’t have to discuss, they were a natural, but we like to add something new as well.”
After more cajoling, she was a little more forthcoming.
“We will probably perform some songs by Richard Strauss, Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann. In addition, Samuel Barber’s cycle Hermit Songs are on the list. For the second half, we will present some songs of Spanish and Portuguese origin. I am looking at some songs by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. That is [similar to] my heritage because my mother is Portuguese and my father is a combination of Italian and Puerto Rican.”
What about an opera aria?
“Well, this is a song recital and that should be the focus. Maybe, if I get an encore, something from opera would be more appropriate.”
I always ask singers if that have a “bucket-list role,” one that they want to perform and haven’t had the opportunity. She answered without a moment’s hesitation.
“That would be Mimi [in Puccini’s La bohème]. … I was 10 when my mother introduced me to opera. It was Zeffirelli’s glorious production of Bohème with Teresa Stratas. I was totally obsessed with it afterwards. I was already studying voice, I started at 6 years old, but I didn’t really know where I wanted to go with it. But seeing that Bohème, I said to myself, ‘This is it.’ I started to study opera very seriously. An interesting aside is that the first arias I learned were Cherubino’s [from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro].
Vocal recitals are rare these days. Before television dominated the entertainment world, recitals by touring opera singers were the only way that people outside of a handful of major cities could hear them. Artists would do these long whistle-stop tours from coast to coast and lots of dusty towns in-between. But that began to fade, and partly due to the attitude of the artists themselves. TV and other technology changed everything. These artists came right into our living room in opera roles. Now, any town with a multiplex can experience simulcasts of live productions at the Met and get semi-buttered popcorn to boot.
“Demand for recitals has changed,” Sierra adds.
In fact, demand for recitals has nearly evaporated. This is why the gift to TDO from the Titus Family has a value far beyond mere dollars. After all, a recital is an intimate encounter with a singer, allowing you to hear their take on a wide variety of music within a concentrated timeframe.
In an opera, singers do not portray themselves. And while they may be Susanna-like in real life, as is Nadine Sierra, they are only playing a role. A recital is a special opportunity for patrons to discover who they really are when the stage makeup comes off.
Don’t miss the chance to hear Sierra. And if you want to hear some opera, make sure she gets an encore.
Little doubt of that happening.