I first met Nadine Sierra when she performed on From the Top at the age of 15. At the time, she was a member of the Palm Beach Opera Company, and on the show she sang Puccini's "O, mio babbino caro." Her talent and maturity as a soprano was undeniable, and I knew we would see great things from her.
After completing high school, Sierra left her hometown of Delray Beach, Fla., for New York City to study voice at the Mannes School of Music. It was there that she met the great American mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, who became a close friend and mentor.
"I was asking for suggestions of how to sponsor myself so I could go to Europe to study Italian over the summer," Sierra says. Horne suggested Sierra compete in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, as winning would include a monetary reward.
"I remember thinking to myself, 'I can't win the Met. I'm too young,' " Sierra says. "But [Horne] kept persisting that I should give it a try."
Sierra took her mentor's advice and made it through the preliminaries to the final round.
"It's different now, because there will be a big orchestra and audience out there," she says she thought to herself, "but in that audience will be some of the most precious people to me in my life — my friends, my family, my teachers and everyone who has inspired me. I'm going to use this opportunity to go on stage and give back as much as they have given me, and share every ounce of joy with them.
And with that, Sierra had her five minutes on the Metropolitan stage. And then she won — the youngest soprano in the competition's history.
I had the chance to reconnect with Sierra when we brought her to Burlington, Vt., to perform as part of our 10th-anniversary celebration. She sang a beautiful rendition of "Ah, Je veux vivre!" from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, one of the two pieces she sang at her winning audition.
"I feel there's now an expectation of me to perform at the highest level each time I perform or compete," she says, "and that can be hard because I am only 21 years old, and I am still trying to experience and learn as best I can. The pressure is definitely there, but I try to approach it in the sanest way possible — to remind myself that I am only human, I will never be perfect, and I will always be learning, every day of my entire life."
It was a privilege to get to know Nadine Sierra before she won this award, and I look forward to following her career after such a huge accomplishment.