SF: 9 Questions With Operatic Soprano Sensation Nadine Sierra

Nadine Sierra
Nadine Sierra

Photo Credit: Merri Cyr

This fall, gifted soprano Nadine Sierra has dazzled on the San Francisco Opera stage in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor and as Pamina in The Magic Flute, whose run ends tonight, Nov. 20. If you missed her, don’t fret. Chances are this talented American beauty, hailed as one of the most promising emerging talents in the opera world today, will soon return to San Francisco, a city she knows intimately. A former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, this 27-year-old made her Company debut in 2011 creating the roles of Juliet and Maria in the world premiere of Heart of a Soldier and returned as Papagena in The Magic Flute (2012), Musetta in La Bohème (2014) and Countess Almaviva (Le Nozze di Figaro) in 2015. Praised for her vocal beauty, seamless technique and abundant musicality, Sierra is the youngest winner to date of both the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and the Marilyn Horne Foundation Vocal Competition. She’s performed with top opera companies and symphony orchestras around the world. During this 2015-2016 season, she debuts at the Opéra National de Paris, Metropolitan Opera, La Scala and Berlin Staatsoper. We caught up with the stylish south Florida native—her mother is Portuguese and American father is of Puerto Rican and Italian descent— to talk SF, opera and style before she jets off to New York.

You’ve spent a fair amount of time in SF, how excited were you to return this fall and why?
At first, I was most excited to return to SF Opera in the fall because it would be the second time I’d get to perform in their production of Magic Flute. The first time I was in that production I had been a young artist in their Adler Fellowship program; so many fond memories were born through that experience. However, my excitement increased by a million when I was asked to replace Diana Damrau in their new production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. I had been singing Zerlina in Don Giovanni with Opéra National de Paris and had to leave early in order to rehearse 10 days before the opening night of Lucia. Excitement doesn’t even begin to describe how I was feeling.

Tell me about your favorite haunts in San Francisco, or do you have time to enjoy the city when you’re performing?
My absolute favorite restaurant in SF is Gary Danko. I met Gary Danko and his incredible partner, Greg Lopez, at Festival del Sole in Napa Valley two summers ago. They are both incredibly kind men, and Gary is probably the most down to earth person I’ve ever met in his line of work. Even though I’m performing, I always try to make time for my personal life by going out with friends and hitting up the Westfield Mall at Union Square. My go-to places would have to be Bloomingdales for shopping and the Nordstrom Cafe for a healthy lunch alongside a beautiful city view.

This has been quite a year for you. You debuted at Paris Opera and next up is the Met. Talk about how heady these times are you and how do you stay grounded through all of the excitement?
My friends and family keep me grounded through all of it and their unending support drives me forward. Without them I’d feel very much alone on this journey and would probably buckle under the pressure. I just try to enjoy the experience and stay positive.

Where’s your favorite opera hall to perform in and why?
So far, my favorite place to sing in is the Arena di Verona. The Arena can seat as many as 30,000 people and I’ve never sung for such a large audience before or ever since. The energy coming from everyone there was truly the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced and to imagine the history of the Arena is pretty mind-boggling.

Do you have a favorite role and if so, who is it and why?
Currently my favorite role to sing is Gilda from Verdi’s Rigoletto. I debuted the role with Florida Grand Opera when I was 23 years old and haven’t looked back since. I was so engulfed in the music the first time I studied the part, that it only took me a week to learn. Not to mention the story is so perfectly heart-breaking, it’s impossible not to love it as a performer.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Learn how to say no. It’s hard as a young singer because when we’re first starting out it’s easy to want everything that’s offered to us. Our living and maturing as an artist depends on our seasons being scheduled efficiently. Without this it’s easy to start feeling hungry for work, so accepting every offer that comes our way can be very tempting. However, it’s important to take care of those delicate vocal folds and say “yes” to the right repertoire that allows us to stay at the top of our game, while creating an important career path.

What advice do you have for budding sopranos who envision themselves as the next Nadine Sierra?
I would say to always envision being the next YOU. I’ve always admired Mirella Freni, for instance, but could never have the same kind of experiences or career she had. I can only have what I receive in this moment and look forward to expanding my horizons when they eventually come my way. Focusing on being you is the most important thing one can do for themselves in this industry. If you can do that, you’re already ahead of the game.

Tell me about your personal fashion style and where do you get your fashion inspiration?
I adore high fashion and am far too fond of evening gowns. The best part about performing for me is sometimes simply dressing up and I have an insane weakness for elegant evening wear. I mostly feel inspired by various fashion magazines, but am also a big Instagramer. I try to follow people I think have great fashion sense to help me come up with ideas I might have for my next performance. I’m especially drawn to gowns by Marchesa and Elie Saab. And I can’t go without mentioning the incessant obsession I have with Christian Louboutin pumps! They can weigh heavily against my pocket, but are a great investment for a special occasion. That pop of red just speaks for itself!

What fashion item is on your wish list this fall?
My fashion wish list is a bit longer than I’d like to admit, but I’m dying for a luscious coat this winter! It’s important to protect my throat and voice during the grueling winter months, so a good coat is a must. I’ve been shopping around and have my eye on a SAM puffer jacket. Perhaps Santa will fulfill my wish since I’ve been extra good this year!

Photography by Merri Cyr