A former participant in Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute in 2012, soprano Nadine Sierra returns to the festival as a principal artist in Haydn’s The Creation. “It feels fantastic, especially with Matthew Polenzani and Maestro [James] Levine involved,” she said. “We just did Idomeneo together at the Met.” The singers, along with bass John Relyea, are joining Levine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus for Haydn’s oratorio on Aug. 8.

Currents of Idomeneo run deep: Levine’s 1996 recording of Mozart’s opera featured Heidi Grant Murphy in the same role (Ilia) that Sierra performed last season at the Met; the same year that Sierra was at the Steans Music Institute, Heidi and her husband, Kevin Murphy, joined the faculty of the festival’s conservatory, with Kevin serving as director of the institute’s program for singers.

Sierra’s vocal models are exceptionally well chosen. Mirella Freni’s “beautiful and effortless” singing, she said, “inspires me, because in listening to her I grasped what it was to sing healthily.” Callas is another favorite, as “I wanted to learn about coloring the voice, so even if somebody didn’t understand Italian, they would know what the singer was trying to convey emotionally.”

As Sierra is now most comfortable in the bel canto repertory, she finds Italian soprano Mariella Devia “the absolute goddess” and often warms up to a recording of Devia’s singing, as it helps her align herself technically. “Maybe that’s just something I have convinced myself of, but I really do feel a difference,” she said. “There’s a method to this madness.”

Sierra’s preferred assignments at present are Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto and the tragic title character of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, but in her “15-year plan,” she hopes to eventually sing the role that first sparked her passion: Mimì in Puccini’s La bohème.

This is an excerpt of an article published in the Ravinia magazine; to read the complete version, click here.