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Volume 14 - Issue 7 - April 2009

Focus on OPERA:Adrianne

Focus on OPERA:Adrianne PieczonkaInterview by Pamela MarglesThere's an audio clip on Adrianne Pieczonka's website of her singingRichard Strauss' Morgen. It was recorded at a recital she gave atRoy Thomson Hall in 2001. After the applause, she tells theaudience, "I haven't lived in this country since 1988. I've lived inAustria, and I live now in the United Kingdom - and I still say, Tmgoing home,' and mean Canada. You just can't take the Canada outof the girl, I guess."At that time, she had no thought of moving back to Canada. Evenwhen she sang Sieglinde in Wagner's Die Walkilre with the CanadianOpera Company three years later, she was still happily living inLondon. But by the time she sang the role again as part of the RingCycle which opened the COC's new home in the Four SeasonsCentre in 2006, she had moved back to Toronto.She left Canada as a promising young soprano hoping to establisha career. Now, after almost two decades living in Europe, shereturned as a star in major operatic centres like Munich, Bayreuth,Dresden, Vienna, Salzburg, Zurich, Milan, New York, Los Angelesand San Francisco.Pieczonka sang Mimi in La Boheme with the COC in 1994, but itwasn't until her first recital in Roy Thomson Hall seven years laterthat Toronto audiences really became aware of her, responding to herdistinctive radiance and clarity. Along with Die Walkilre, a secondrecital at Roy Thomson Hall in 2006 and her recent performancesin Beethoven's Fidelio with the COC have made her a Torontoaudience favourite. I spoke with her at her home, a lovely Victorianin Toronto's Annex neighbourhood, on the day before the finalperformance of Fidelio.I settled down at a long table in Pieczonka's kitchen while shemade coffee. Her partner, Laura Tucker, came in and she introducedme. "Laura is a singer," she said, "a mezzo". "That's probably theonly way it would work," Tucker said, laughing. "Exactly,'' saysPieczonka, as Tucker went off to mind their three-year old daughterGrace, who was home sick from nursery school. "I can't think of anysame voice-type partnerships, although there probably are"Do you ever get a chance to sing together?We just did a concert in Hamilton together. It was a great program, so Ihope we can get more mileage out of it. It will be good to do in Toronto.With all the financial problems and cut-backs happening, have youhad anything cancelled?No, but I know a lot of people that have. If someone does cancel,you just have to accept it, even if you have a signed contract. Butsometimes I think if something got cancelled I would be happy tohave the time off. Tomorrow is my tenth performance of this Fidelio.Then next week I leave for Munich to do Otello. So if I got a callsaying something was cancelled, I'd say, "Great - we're on holiday!Let's go down to Florida." Sometimes my fantasy is that somethingwill get cancelled to allow me a bit of a break.Your schedule certainly is packed. Do you like being able to work inthe city where you 're living?Having a company like the COC here is a real bonus. It' s great toknow that I'll have at least two months at home each year. I've beenhome for quite a while, and it will be painful to get those suitcases out.Does your family travel with you?I love having Laura and Grace with me. Laura loves Europe andGrace is a great traveller. The kid has a pretty full passport already.After Munich, Laura and Grace will join me in Vienna - I'mdoing Arabella at the Vienna State Opera. Then we'll all be in SanFrancisco for May and June. I'll sing Tosca. Laura is from northernCalifornia so that's nice for her. But we don't want to pull Grace outof school all the time. Some singers home-school their kids, but I feela child needs stability and routine .Adrianne Pieczonka as Elizabeth de Valois, Nathalie Paulin asThibault (left), and the COC Chorus in the Canadian OperaCompany's production of Don Carlos, 2007.Did you know the new director of the COC before he came here?I didn't meet Alexander Neef until we started rehearsing Fidelio justafter Christmas. But we have talked about what I would sing here,and how to make it work. I'll miss out next season, but after that I'mhere for the next three seasons.Did doing the Ring Cycle here with Richard Bradshaw have anythingto do with you returning?Singing Die Walkilre here with Richard the first time in 2004 wasreally important for me. It was before I decided to move home,and it created some interest. I was pleased to sing at the openinggala concert of the Four Seasons Centre, before the Ring. But thenRichard died so suddenly .... He was supposed to conduct me in DonCarlos, so it was nice to be able to sing at his memorial.'Why did you move back?The decision to move to Toronto was definitely based on where toraise our child. It all happened very quickly, meeting Laura, thenhaving Grace. I was living in London at the time.'Why had you moved to London from Vienna?I had lived in Vienna for six years, but I was tired of the politics.I wanted to live in an English-speaking country and I just wanted achange. I was a member of the ensemble in Vienna, and I knew I hadto go freelance. I chose London because I had a Jot of friends thereand it is an exciting city - I love London.But it was weird that while I lived in London I didn't have muchwork there. I still worked mainly on the continent. When I movedthere I was with a London agent, and I had sung at Glyndebourne andCovent Garden. But then I switched agents, and the work in Londondried up. So I was leaving London to work . It didn't make muchsense. It so often happens to singers that for some reason they don'tsing where they live . I don't want that to happen to me herels there anything you miss, living here ?The weather does get me down. I forgot how brutal the Canadianwinters are. I am looking forward to going back to Europe, becauseI love those cultural centres like Vienna, Munich and London. Butreturning to Canada was the right choice, so I don't regret it at all.Canada has welcomed me.You were gone a long time.Eighteen years. I'm no spring chicken!Are you giving up anything living in Canada?I don't think I'm missing out on anything. I have an establishedcareer, so it certainly can't harm me professionally. My presence isstill strong in Europe, and I am still singing there a lot. I don't wantmy career to be just in North America. I want to keep my presenceup on both sides of the ocean.8 WWW. THEWHOLENOTE .COM APRIL 1 - MAY 7 2009

ls that tricky to pull off?It's interesting to try to think of singers who are equally known inEurope and North America. It is really hard to maintain a strongcareer in both places - except for megastars like Placido Domingo.You have worked with him a lot.I'm singing with him at the Met in a couple of months doing DieWalkilre, and next year we'll do Simon Boccanegra there. Thatis going to be very exciting because he will sing a baritone role.Domingo is in a class of his own. I turned on the radio on Saturdayand he was singing Adriana Lecouvreur from the Met. They said hehad first done that role 40 years ago. His voice sounds so fresh.I am a huge admirer of his, and not just for his singing. The wayhe runs Los Angeles Opera, he is passionate about that company,and has even taken a fee reduction. He is the sweetest man, themost generous colleague - he really is a gentleman. You meet a lotof people in this business, some are charming and some are lesscharming. But I find the really great talents are kind people. They'renot the ones having the diva fits and pulling huffs. That's for egosthat are not intactWhat's it like to work with Domingo?It's a real thrill. Some singers check out. They do their bit and thenwhen you're singing, they're not there - they're just thinking abouttheir own voice. But he's on, even when he's not singing.I've done quite a bit with him on stage. He conducted me inVienna in Carmen and Tales of Hoffman when I was a completeunknown and he was just getting into conducting. It was scary tohave this great star conducting me. But he was so encouraging. He'salways there for you.Speaking of tenors, had you worked with Richard Margison beforeFidelio?I had never sung with Richard. We had sung at the same gala, but nottogether. I'm really enjoying singing with him, and hanging out withhim. He helped us out when he stepped in to this production with justone day's rehearsal.You have a new recording of Lohengrin coming out - have youpeiformed it on stage with that cast?No, but I've worked with all the principals. The Lohengrin, JohanBotha will be my Otello in Munich in a couple of weeks. I got calledin on that recording at the l lth hour. The original soprano had had aproblem with the conductor. I had just finished my last Tosca in LosAngeles, so I flew to Cologne and jumped into Elsa's shoes. It wasgruelling because I was often singing to playback. But it came out well.You sang Lohengrin in Gatz Friedrich's production Munich ten yearsago. I see they 're doing a new production now with Jonas Kaufmannand Anja Harteros.This is a much more lyric casting of Wagner than when Peter Seifertand Waltraud Meier sang it with me. But we are going to do thisopera together again in the 2011 Munich Summer Festival. So it willbe us oldies coming back to do the new production.Have you managed to escape the heavy pressure young stars areexposed to unscathed?There are a lot of singers my age who are no longer in the business.They have taken things too fast and burned out. I'm still here. I feelthat I'm coming into my glory years. These are my years for thegreat Tosca's and other big roles that, with good technique and a lotof hard work, I will continue to keep doing.Are there too many unrealistic demands placed on singers today ?We are expected to look fantastic on stage and do glamorous photoshoots. All that tires me out. It's not me, anyways. I'm not into whatthey call in Germany the 'schickimicki' , the parties and champagnereceptions. I like to drink and go out with my friends . But I can't doall the public relations stuff. I do a little bit, but the amount thesemegastars are doing is daunting to me .What about a singer like Edita Guberova, who is still taking on newroles and singing so beautifully at sixty-two. I know you have workedwith her a lot.continues next page-------APRI L 1 - MAY 7 2009

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