Nadine Sierra’s childhood intuition – that she was born to sing opera – has proved correct in every way and is reflected in the title of her second solo album for Deutsche Grammophon. The dramatic presence, searing passion and technical brilliance for which the American lyric soprano regularly scores rave reviews are captured in Made for Opera, which trains the spotlight on three of the most demanding roles in the repertoire – Verdi’s Violetta, Donizetti’s Lucia and Gounod’s Juliette. Recorded with the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai and Capella Cracoviensis under Riccardo Frizza, the album not only reflects Nadine Sierra’s command of bel canto technique and rich range of vocal colours, but also documents her insights into the psychology of the ill-starred heroines of La traviata, Lucia di Lammermoor and Roméo et Juliette.
Violetta, Lucia and Juliette are destroyed by the social conventions of their day and the impossibility of choosing their own destiny. This has a personal resonance for Sierra, whose grandmother was a talented singer, but was prevented by her family from pursuing a professional career as an opera singer. Like most women of her background and generation, she was expected to be a respectable housewife and nothing more. The soprano gives credit to her mother for remembering the sacrifices her own mother had been forced to make and so giving her all the support she needed as she set out on her artistic journey.
“What was impossible for my grandmother was made possible for me. It’s a journey that’s allowed me to be seen, to be heard and to design my artistic aspirations for an even bigger goal than what I’ve already achieved – passing on the courage that I, as a modern-day woman, can give with the utmost strength to any young woman wanting to reach the highest star,” says Sierra. “I’d like to believe that sharing my family story will give some inspiration to others. And that it may help them to fulfil their destiny and realise that they too can be ‘made for’ anything.”
Her new album opens with the Parisian courtesan Violetta Valéry considering whether she should choose love for the romantic Alfredo Germont over her cherished freedom. The role grows in drama and texture as the opera unfolds, and Sierra captures every nuance of Verdi’s vocal writing. Her chosen sequence of arias ends with the dying Violetta’s heart-breaking “Addio, del passato bei sogni ridenti”, in which she bids farewell to her past dreams and laments Alfredo’s absence.
Sierra’s sensational representation of Lucia builds from the innocence of a young girl in love, if haunted by a past murder (“Ancor non giunse … Quando, rapito in estasi”), to the rapture, despair and confusion of the famous “mad scene” from the final act of Donizetti’s opera: “Oh, giusto cielo! … Il dolce suono”. The soprano’s recent performance of the role at Barcelona’s Liceu was hailed by the critics, Seen and Heard International summing it up as “an indisputable triumph”.
The album’s third heroine, Juliette, falls victim to the feud between her family and that of her lover, Roméo. Gounod’s five-act opera, based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, includes the waltz song “Je veux vivre”, one of the great showpiece arias for coloratura soprano, and the emotionally complex “Amour, ranime mon courage”. Again, Sierra brings her wide-ranging talent to this demanding role, with intricate vocal fireworks in the former, passion and drama in the latter.
“All three of these roles set big challenges for the voice”, she explains, “but those challenges are there to bring each woman to life. I think their stories touch listeners today just as much and perhaps even more today than they did when they were new to the stage over 150 years ago.”
The making of this album also owes a great deal to three real-life inspirational women: Teresa Stratas and Renata Scotto, the stars of the very first production she saw at the age of ten – Zeffirelli’s La Bohème – on a video her mother had borrowed from their local library, and Marilyn Horne, who became her mentor a few years later. “I learned from these exceptional women,” recalls Sierra, “that I needed to have all that it took – the dedication, hardship, sacrifice, perseverance, patience and pure devotion – to be ‘made for opera’.”
Nadine Sierra is set to perform Lucia in three productions of Lucia di Lammermoor this season. Her run in the role begins on 15 January 2022 with the first of six performances at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. She travels to the Bayerische Staatsoper in March for the latest revival of Barbara Wysocka’s critically acclaimed production, before heading to New York in April to star in the Metropolitan Opera’s new staging of Donizetti’s masterwork.