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Review by David Richards
Toronto ON November 25th 2019
Adrianne Pieczonka lights up the room in a program of mostly German lieder
Adrianne Pieczonka as Tosca in the Canadian Opera Company's production
of Tosca, 2017; Photo credit: Michael Cooper
It was quite a Sunday for great music in Toronto. I was left wishing I could be in four places at once. I could have attended Uof T’s Opera School production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Moordale’s recital by Wallis Giunta, Koerner Hall’s presentation of pianist Yefim Bronfman, or as I ultimately and happily decided on, An Afternoon with Adrianne Pieczonka in the Royal Conservatory’s Mazzoleni Hall.
Pieczonka, the thirty-year veteran of the great stages of Europe and most recently the Met and COC, has taken on the position of Chair of Vocal Studies at the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School. In addition to her role of leading the team in voice and operatic studies, she is giving masterclasses and performances such as yesterday’s. Taking on individual students will have to wait until her hectic performing schedule allows.
Pieczonka is one of a very select group of Canadian sopranos who have taken the operatic world by storm in her long career. Her dramatic soprano voice has been suitable for Wagner, Strauss, Verdi and Puccini. I recall her 2017 performance in the title role of the COC’s production of Puccini’s Tosca. About it, I wrote that “she soared to the top B flat with clarity and passion. I can’t imagine a better Tosca either dramatically or vocally”.
To witness Pieczonka singing German lieder in the intimate atmosphere and wonderful acoustic of Mazzoleni Hall was very special. She not only sang with effortlessly delicious tone throughout her range and dynamic levels, but as the consummate artist, she became the music. She delivered each song with passion in her voice and on her face, communicating every nuance of the poetry. Her partnership with pianist Rachel Andrist made for an intuitively perfect balance.
Her program of art songs was a mostly German affair with selections from Schubert, Wagner and Strauss. Pieczonka lit up the room with her infectious joy of singing whether in her opening Schubert An Sylvia, Op. 106, no.4 D.891 by Schubert in which she is introducing the fair maiden from Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona or in Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder which Wagner wrote as studies for his opera Tristan und Isolde. I was particularly enamoured by the fifth of these, Träume, which became a love duet in the opera.
The only non-German set was Korngold’s Four Shakespeare Songs, Op. 31 from Othello, As You Like It, and King Lear which, once again, Pieczonka gave dramatically and vocally beautiful interpretations. I was not familiar with any of these songs but more familiar with the texts in choral settings. What attractive music when sung by such an artist.
As an encore, Pieczonka first sang When I Have Sung My Songs by Ernest Charles and then added White Christmas in which she invited the sold-out audience to sing along. There wasn’t anyone leaving the hall without a smile on their face and a melody singing in their mind’s ear. Hopefully, afternoons like yesterday will become a regular occurrence as Pieczonka’s role at the Glenn Gould School continues.
Photo credit: Bo Huang, courtesy of the Royal Conservatory of Music