Thursday, January 2, 2014

Meet Our Singers: NADINE SIERRA, Gilda

The jester’s daughter in Rigoletto is sometimes considered a victim, or a silly dupe. But don’t suggest that to Nadine Sierra. This fiercely talented artist exudes wisdom, warmth and maturity that defy her 20-something years. Not surprisingly, she finds a certain kind of strength in the young woman she will portray on stage.

Although she’s making her Seattle Opera debut, Sierra is no stranger to the role of Gilda. When performing this same part at the Florida Grand Opera and Boston Lyric Opera, she’s been praised for her stunning features, onstage charisma, and most importantly, impressive vocal talent.

What’s new for Sierra, however, is the updated scenery, costumes and setting for Gilda. Rather than Rigoletto’s original setting in Renaissance Italy, Sierra explains her character will be preoccupied with cigarettes, chasing boys and painting her nails in this 1930s-era production.  

This is your Seattle Opera debut! Welcome.
I was excited when I got the email from my agent. Speight had reached out to me about another role a couple years ago that I felt I was too young for. I was worried that was going to be my last chance with Seattle Opera! They really take care of their artists here. I also appreciate that Speight will come into rehearsals. Not a lot of general directors do that.

I heard you are enjoying our city. What did you think of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker?
I fell in love with the 1986 film version of PNB’s Nutcracker. So when I went to see the show at McCaw Hall last week, I was like, ‘Why does this seem so familiar?’

You recently shared a first-place win at the international competition, Neue Stimmen. Tell me about singing in a competition versus a production.
There’s much less pressure when you’re singing in a production – well, actually it’s a different kind of pressure. You’re creating something with your colleagues rather than competing against them. I enjoy competitions because I get to travel and meet singers my own age. It’s not cut-throat; it’s usually always really enjoyable.

Nadine Sierra (Gilda) in rehearsal for Rigoletto
Alan Alabastro, photo
How do you feel about our updated version of Rigoletto set in Mussolini’s Italy?
It’s a pretty fantastic idea. In many ways, the part will be the same, except Gilda is more modern in her thinking. Also, her relationship with Giovanna, her maid, is different: Giovanna introduces Gilda to things like sex and relationships … Gilda wants to know more about that. She’s more courageous and less hesitant than in some productions.

How do you play a love-struck character like Gilda?
You have to go back to your past; to your innocent years—the first time you experienced love and being with someone.

Your mother is Portuguese and your father is Puerto Rican. How has this heritage influenced your singing career?
My [maternal] grandmother (from Lisbon in Portugal) loved to sing but wasn’t allowed to pursue it. It wasn’t considered respectable for a woman to have a career in the theater. Still, she would practice every day, playing the piano and singing, and she used to put on little performances for her family.
My grandmother didn’t speak English, and I don’t speak Portuguese, so music was how we understood one another. I got to hear my grandma sing when she was in her 80s. My mom asked her to. Even with her 80-year-old voice, she was beautiful.
Nadine Sierra (Gilda) in rehearsal for Rigoletto
Alan Alabastro, photo
What was your time like in San Francisco’s Merola Opera Program for young artists?
I found my West Coast family there. It was actually there that I met Riccardo Frizza [Seattle Opera Rigoletto conductor]; Marco Vratogna [Rigoletto] and Francesco Demuro [Duke of Mantua] for the first time. That experience really prepared me for the real world.

You have accomplished a lot in your career for someone under 30. Is it ever intimidating to perform with people who have many more years of experience than you?
I always feel like we’re equals. No matter how old you are, there’s always a part of you that’s not completely developed; we never stop growing and learning throughout our whole careers. Our bodies are our instruments and, as we grow older, things change. We have to switch roles, for example.

What are your goals with opera?
I want the opportunity to share what I love about music with the world. I want that chance.

One more question about your character, Gilda. Is she a victim, or does she bear some responsibility for her unfortunate fate?

She definitely has responsibility. Even though she’s kidnapped, I don’t think of her as a victim. At the end, her message is that you have to forgive people and move on. Revenge doesn’t work. She says to her father, ‘I’ll watch over you in heaven in hopes that you can calm down!’ In the end, it also shows parents how sometimes you have to sacrifice a child’s innocence in order to keep them safe. 

Nadine Sierra (Gilda) in rehearsal for Rigoletto
Alan Alabastro, photo


  1. Dear Seattle Opera, dear Speight!
    Thank you for discovering and sharing with us Seattle Operagoers this extraordinarily talented lyric soprano who can also conquer coloratura!!! The only other one to successfully do this that I know was Maria Callas!!
    MOST gratefully,
    Win Hutton
    Seattle and Schwerin, Germany

  2. really?? I think that Sierra is very good and will have a good career, but to use her in the same sentence as Callas as the ONLY lyric soprano to sing coloratura is kind of ridiculous

  3. Great blog and you are always provided with access to provide useful information like this to us.

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