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Homecoming: Palm Beach Opera Celebrates Its 60th Season

Palm Beach
The Breakers Hotel
02/07/2022 -  
Charles Gounod: Roméo et Juliette : “Je veux vivre”
Giuseppe Verdi: La traviata: “Sempre libera” – Rigoletto: “Caro nome”
Giacomo Puccini: La bohème: “Quando m’en vo”
Richard Rodgers: The Sound of Music: “The Hills Are Alive”
Frederick Loewe: My Fair Lady: “I Could Have Danced All Night”
Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story: “Somewhere”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492: “Deh vieni non tardar”
Gerónimo Giménez: El barbero de Sevilla: “Me llaman la primerosa”

Nadine Sierra (soprano), Bryan Wagorn (piano)

N. Sierra (© Merri Cyr)

Uniquely among North American opera companies, Palm Beach Opera’s annual season includes a splendid gala hosted at the beautiful art deco Breakers Hotel. A highlight of the island resort town’s glittering social season, each year the Opera Gala features a star singer of international accomplishment. Past stars have included Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming. This year’s choice – delayed a year by the Covid-19 pandemic – is the young soprano Nadine Sierra. Sierra, a native of South Florida, got her professional start as a member of the Palm Beach Opera’s chorus and performed small roles with the company as a teenager. Her career blossomed over the few years before the pandemic, balancing pleasantly between light soubrette roles and bel canto heroines.

Ably accompanied by the talented pianist Bryan Wagorn, Sierra’s recital program indulged her early career roles. “Caro nome,” Gilda’s aria from Verdi’s Rigoletto, is more than familiar to her, having performed it, as she told the audience, for ten years. Musetta’s “Quando m’en vo’” comes from La Bohème, which Sierra named as her favorite opera. Selections from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, Verdi’s La Traviata, and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro all tread familiar ground. It is fair to say that she triumphed in those roles, or at least built a reasonably successful career around them.

But something has changed. In her accomplished pre-pandemic years, Sierra brought an appealingly youthful quality to her signature roles. Her heroines were passionate but possessed of a certain naïveté that helped explain why they end in disaster and thus all the more tragic. Now they seem worldlier, more marked by experience, maybe even damaged and more cynical. This can happen in any singer’s repertoire, but the effect emerged in a darkening of the voice that suggested new trajectories. The coloratura runs sounded cooler. Upper range pitches wandered. The middle and lower registers, however, held firm. Could mezzo roles be on the horizon? Only time can tell, but coached by Marilyn Horne the influences may be there and ripe to emerge. Perhaps tellingly, Sierra chose as an encore Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer,” which Horne often sang.

As the recital continued, Sierra seemed more comfortable with songs from mid-twentieth century musicals, most of which were written for the middle range and resounded pleasingly in her voice, though her encore adaptation of Harold Arlen’s “Get Happy” as a duet with her sister (whose name was not announced) was unfortunate. In the other selections, her handling of the higher notes tended to yield power and precision to the purring lows. More Broadway could contribute to a transition to lower-register parts. “Somewhere” from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story stood out not only as the best of these pieces but also as a signal that Sierra’s idiom might be mobile. The aria “Me llaman la primerosa,” from Gerónimo Giménez’s zarzuela El barbero de Sevilla (related to but quite different from Rossini’s more familiar adaptation of Beaumarchais’s first Figaro play) gave her a lot of coloratura to explore in both ranges. Perhaps she will explore the mezzo repertoire further and leave behind the Gildas and Violettas, but the standing ovations she received from Palm Beach’s great and good marked another fine success for the company.

Paul du Quenoy



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