OPERA NEWS - Nadine Sierra: There’s a Place for Us
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Nadine Sierra: There’s a Place for Us 

CD Button Songs and arias by Bernstein, Villa-Lobos, Gordon, Theofanidis, Foster, Golijov and Stravinsky. Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Spano. Deutsche Grammophon B0028836-02

Recordings Nadine Sierra Cover 119
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THE YOUNG AMERICAN soprano Nadine Sierra’s debut recording is an eclectic collection of songs and arias in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Her shimmering, jewel-toned soprano is showcased beautifully in a variety of styles and moods. And while one may question a few of her choices of repertoire for this album, there’s no question as to her technical and interpretive skills or her commitment to text and drama.

Sierra’s voice is remarkably able to express tenderness, wonder and sometimes even a smoky sensuality; there’s also a genuine sense of childlike innocence in some of her singing on this album. There’s a Place for Us opens with a gloriously rich, moving version of Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” the last song in West Side Story, with a palpable sense of longing for peace and love. She produces an otherworldly sound on the line “peace and quiet and open air wait for us somewhere.”  

Also on the album are two songs by Ricky Ian Gordon—the meltingly beautiful “Stars,” setting  a poem by Langston Hughes, and “Will There Really Be a Morning?,” a setting of Emily Dickinson. To both, Sierra brings a dreamlike quality and delicate, sensitive phrasing that takes advantage of the poetic lyrics. More down-to-earth are two songs by Heitor Villa-Lobos that were first written for the 1959 film Green Mansions, set in the Amazon rainforest. Sierra is convincingly seductive and sensuous in both “Cancao de amor” and “Melodia Sentimental.” She returns to Bernstein for a dazzling rendition of “Glitter and Be Gay,” from Candide, with spectacular coloratura fireworks, and a quiet, moving rendition of “Take Care of This House,” from his ill-fated Broadway musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I admire Sierra’s championing of new works and modern composers, but the major misstep on this disc is “Maia’s Aria,” from American composer Christopher Theofanidis’s opera The Cows of Apollo. This aria starts very high in the range and stays there for its entire, excruciating length. Sierra attempts to put her high-flying soprano to good use here, but she’s defeated by the work’s shrillness and consistently loud volume. I also found Bernstein’s jazzy “A Julia de Burgos” musically quirky and annoying. 

Much more successful is Sierra’s choice of the lush, gorgeous “Lua Descolorida,” a 2002 song by the Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov. It’s mournful, contemplating death while watching the “colorless moon,” and Sierra’s soft singing caresses the rich imagery of the lyrics. Also breathtaking are Stephen Foster’s “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” filled with longing for departed love, and Stravinsky’s “No Word From Tom,” from The Rake’s Progress, in which a woman waits for her wayward beau; it ends with the moving phrase “Love cannot falter, cannot desert; time cannot alter an ever loving heart.” (The lyrics are by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman.) Sierra sings the woman’s fear and vacillation with expressive power. Robert Spano conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with style and verve throughout.

Sierra is a major talent, now sought after by the world’s greatest opera houses. You can see why from this excellent debut. —Henson Keys

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