Adrianne Pieczonka, soprano

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Julie Andrews was a huge inspiration to me early on. Classical music and opera were not played regularly in our house growing up but we did listen to musical theatre and popular musical fare. I adored Julie’s beautiful voice and pristine diction. I dreamed of a career on Broadway (I grew up in Canada) and I acted and sang in many amateur school and community productions – Fiddler on the Roof, My Fair Lady, Oliver! etc.

As I got older and started to study voice at university, my voice teacher, Canadian soprano Mary Morrison, had a huge impact on my musical training and career. Mary is going strong at 96 and still gives the odd voice lesson! Her dedication as a vocal pedagogue inspired me to become a voice teacher as well. I get so much pleasure from mentoring young singers.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Loneliness on the road. I left Canada in 1988 at the age of 25 to pursue my dream of becoming an opera singer. I was immediately engaged at the Vienna Volksoper and I moved to Vienna in 1989. I couldn’t speak the language fluently and really felt very far from home. There were sometimes tears after long days of rehearsal but something in me kept driving me forward. Once I became a freelance singer in 1995, I moved to London but most of my engagements were in Germany and Austria. I traveled constantly and at times found it challenging to cope with life on the road. One has the impression that opera singers lead very glamorous lives but, after the rehearsals are over for the day or after the performance is over, you sometimes feel very alone in your hotel room in a foreign country.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I recorded the role of Alice Ford in Verdi’s Falstaff in 2001 with Claudio Abbado conducting the Berlin Philharmonic for Deutsche Grammophone.

I made a recording in 2010 for the Orfeo Label “Puccini Arias” with the Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra with Dan Ettinger conducting. It won a Canadian Juno (like a Grammy) and I love the variety of arias I sang. It’s a recording that I don’t get tired of listening to. I normally never listen to myself on recordings.

Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?

Early in my career I’d say it was Mozart opera roles (I sang many Countesses in Le Nozze di Figaro and both Donna Elvira and Donna Anna in Don Giovanni) but later on I’d say it has been Strauss opera roles. The fact that I lived in Vienna for six years and continued to sing there for over three decades meant that I was exposed to the complete Strauss operatic repertoire. Had I stayed in North America, I may not have sung as many Strauss heroines.

Operas like Capriccio and Arabella were featured nearly every season at the Vienna State Opera. Salome, Elektra, Ariadne and Rosenkavalier were presented several times during any given season. Rarer operas like Daphne and Die Frau ohne Schatten were presented less often but were still very popular. There’s something about the way Strauss wrote for the soprano voice (his wife Pauline was a soprano) that fits my voice like a glove.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

My newest passion is pickleball! It may not be widely known in Europe but it is really taking off here in Canada. It’s a cross between tennis, badminton and table tennis, played on a smaller court than tennis. It’s very lively and fast and I am addicted to it! I try to keep as fit as I can and this sport really gets my heart rate going!

We have two cats and these animals offer me such comfort and delight. I never tire of watching them play and interact.

I am learning to play the trumpet! I love jazz trumpet and I got a trumpet as a Christmas gift. It’s interesting to compare how one breathes and supports while playing a brass instrument versus while singing. I enjoy experimenting with tone quality, trying to improve it as I go.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I turn 60 in a few weeks and I am transitioning from a full time performing career to a career focused more on teaching and mentoring young singers. In terms of repertoire, I no longer have the power to sing some of my big dramatic roles like Tosca or Chrysothemis. Recitals and concerts are best suited to me now, where I can curate programs with newer repertoire, more contemporary pieces etc.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

We have a beautiful world class concert hall in Toronto, Koerner Hall. It was finished in 2009 and is part of the Royal Conservatory building, an historic building in the heart of the city. The hall has just over 1000 seats, perfect for concerts and recitals alike. The space is gorgeous, with beautiful white oak interior and impeccable acoustics.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

Audiences want to see themselves represented on stage and this is why diversity and inclusion are so important. Classical music should be inclusive, not exclusive. For example, upon seeing a Black soloist perform with orchestra, I have heard certain audience members comment that they feel proud and inspired to see someone like themselves up on stage.

Initiatives targeting young audience members – children, teenagers and young adults are key. Young people are the future. Sadly, publicly funded music education is dwindling in many countries. Teaching music in schools offers many children the first opportunity for to be exposed to the power and beauty of classical and other genres of music.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

On New Years Eve 1999, I performed in “The Milennium Gala” at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. Richard Bradshaw conducted arias and ensembles sung by wonderful Canadian singers, including Ben Heppner, Michael Schade etc. There was such excitement in the air as we approached the Year 2000. I performed Vissi d’arte for the very first time and it was a thrilling experience.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I am constantly learning, discovering new aspects of my musicianship. I don’t think a true musician ever says “I’m done. I have nothing else to learn”. Curiosity and creativity inspire the finest musicians to keep evolving and excelling.

What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?

Trust your gut. Keep doing what you love with dedication and discipline. Never stop being curious or asking questions. You can play a piece one hundred times and each rendition will be different and equally valid.

What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?

Instead of pinpointing the one thing we aren’t talking about, I’d rather point out what we are now talking about – inclusivity and diversity, including gender diversity, in every aspect of the music business,

What’s next? Where would you like to be in 10 years?

I would not rule out being Artistic Director of an opera house or the Head of a training program for young professional opera singers.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Doing the New York Times crossword puzzle, sitting in our back garden with a cat nearby.

What is your present state of mind?

Grateful for so many things.

Adrianne Pieczonka sings songs by Clara Schumann on NACO’s forthcoming CD ‘Atmosphere and Mastery’, available on the Analekta label from 24 March

Internationally celebrated for her interpretations of Wagner, Strauss, Verdi and Puccini, Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka has brought to life such powerful women as Senta, Chrysothemis, Sieglinde, the Marschallin, the Kaiserin, Tosca, Elisabetta, and Amelia on leading opera and concert stages in Europe, North America and Asia.

Adrianne’s performances have taken her to New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Vienna Staatsoper, ROH Covent Garden, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Munich, Frankfurt, Los Angeles and La Scala, as well as at some of Europe’s finest summer festivals including Salzburg, Bayreuth, Glyndebourne and Aix-en-Provence under the direction of such conductors as James Levine, Riccardo Muti, Zubin Mehta, Sir Neville Marriner, Claudio Abbado, the late Richard Bradshaw, Lorin Maazel, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Anthony Pappano and the late Sir Georg Solti.

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