The Sass of Susanna

January 05th, 2018

Sensational young soprano Nadine Sierra, who recently won the 2017 Richard Tucker Award, is back on the Met stage this month as Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro. She recently spoke with the Met’s Jay Goodwin about making her role debut as Mozart’s clever, spunky maid.

Even though these performances mark your role debut as Susanna, I imagine you’ve been singing some of her music for years.

Absolutely. I mean, I started studying Susanna when I was like 11 years old—her aria, and some of the duets. And not just Susanna, but also Cherubino. I was using all of the Mozart arias for light sopranos and mezzos to help me build the foundation of my vocal technique. This also isn’t my debut in the opera because the first time I did Figaro, in 2015 with San Francisco Opera, I was actually singing the Countess.

So over that time and study, what have you learned about Susanna? 

I see her as how the Countess used to be, as Rosina [in Il Barbiere di Siviglia]. It’s sort of the same personality—really knowing what she wants, but not having much control or power over her own life. She has a job to do, and if she doesn’t obey, the consequences are severe. But she has a sassiness, and she knows a little bit about life. I like women like that, especially in opera, because it’s rare for me to be able to play a woman with a bit more knowledge, a bit more of a backbone. And she’s able to find some control over her destiny. It’s refreshing.

She’s the one pulling the strings in a lot of ways. She’s a lot smarter than her fiancé …

I know! Which is so fun. I feel like Mozart was very much ahead of his time in his thinking about relationships, about women, and about aristocracy and what that meant.

How do you keep up when you have to be laughing one moment and crying the next?

Well, I am a Latina, so I’m kind of used to that! [Laughs.] I also have a family that is very dramatic and always going back and forth from one emotion to another. As an actor, I try to take from my own life experience and put a lot of myself into the character.

What does the experience of having sung the Countess bring to your Susanna?

Mostly, I sympathize with the Countess better than I would have otherwise. I might have played Susanna as being more frustrated at having to be in the middle of the Count and his wife, you know? And it helps also that I know Ailyn Pérez [who sings the Countess] very well. That’s good because it’s important to show the audience that, although these women don’t have control over most things, they’re strong enough together to come out on top and eventually get exactly what they want—which they do.