|Nadine Sierra. Photo by Kenneth Edwards/The Uptempo Magazine|
Upon entering the room at the rear of the first floor of the Hotel Rex where San Francisco Performances holds its Salon series, I saw Axel and the Opera Tattler seated up front. I thought about joining them and decided to take a seat on the banquette in the middle of the room instead. I didn't want to get blown out.
I scanned the crowd. Some familiar faces, and a decent contingent of younger ones. A woman stood in front of the audience and began introducing the performers, soprano Nadine Sierra and her accompanist Tamara Sanikidze, both current Adler Fellows with San Francisco Opera, who stood in the doorway at the rear of the room. I glanced over and saw Sierra yawn just before walking into the room- a moment that struck me as funny but also caused a flash of apprehension to dart through my mind.
It proved needless- the twenty-three year old Sierra strode into the room looking quite glamorous and proceeded to charm the audience for the next hour and fifteen minutes with a selection of arias and show tunes showcasing her formidable talents. Sanikidze proved to be a charmer too, offering some humorous anecdotes and a sharp wit as well as providing solid accompaniment at the piano.
The format for these salons allow the performer to engage with the audience at an intimate level. Sierra introduced each song and explained how it came into her repertoire or what it meant to her personally. She covered a wide swath of material, beginning with "Juliette's Waltz" from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. Switching gears, the aria was followed by Gershwin's "Summertime" and Arlen's "A Sleeping Bee." I found the Arlen tune to be a better fit for her voice, which truly soared when she slowed down during the second verse of the "Vilja Song" from Lehar's Merry Widow.
She shifted to German with surprising ease for Grieg's "Ein Traum" and back again to English for Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer," which Stephanie Blythe also performed in her recital last month. Sierra then got a bit naughty for a song in Portuguese, "Engenho Novo"- which she delivered with impressive speed and a healthy dollop of flirtiness. It made me want to hear her take on some Rossini.
Puccini's "O mio babbino caro" was the final song, until Sanikidze pulled out Poulenc's "Les chemins de l'amour" for an encore requested by an audience member during a Q & A concluding the performance.
Sierra, whose turn in "Heart of a Soldier" was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal opera, seems an almost preternaturally gifted singer. This was the third time I've heard her and she's impressed me on each occasion. Add her engaging persona and good looks to the mix and it's a safe bet to say we are going to be hearing a lot more from her in the years ahead.