Back on February 2nd (aka Groundhog Day: when the cowardly little varmints ran back into their little holes) I had a choice. I could have gone to see the opening of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ballo in maschera, which purported to be a fascinating production and one of the better casts this season. I passed it up with great difficulty: because Opera in Concert offered their single performance of Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie. I knew I’d catch a later performance on my subscription: tonight in fact.
There’s one more performance left Saturday at 4:30. I will keep this simple.
Right now I think Adrianne Pieczonka is the most impressive Canadian singer in the world. Now of course i am horribly promiscuous (and was torn between Pieczonka & Jane Archibald when they shared the stage in Ariadne a few years ago), so perhaps i can’t be trusted. Even so, in a cast where the set offered no acoustical support to the singers–because they played in a big vacant space without reflective surfaces—competing with an orchestra unleashed –because Stephen Lord turned the COC orchestra loose, as he said he would—it was like the second coming of Birgit Nilsson. I am trying to strike a balance between rapturous excitement and something resembling a rational response. But my brain melted listening to this voice tonight, and it was a good thing.
The aria to begin Act II –Ecco l’orrido campo—is the first of several successive challenges for the soprano. At this point Pieczonka sang with restraint, her high notes laser accurate. I sit quite close to the stage, so, while unaccompanied voice can be big, when the orchestra is pounding, voices get covered by the musicians who are right in front of me. But not Pieczonka.
A couple of days ago, Charlie Handelman –recalling Leonie Rysanek—mused “let’s talk about the last great Sieglinde”. Perhaps I was being difficult when I responded “did you see Pieczonka”? Because of course she is the last greatest voice to sing the role. She’ll sing the Empress in Frau ohne Schatten in a few months. Her Ariadne is the most beautiful, most wonderful combination of power, vulnerability, sweetness and musicianship I’ve ever heard. One of these days –I hope—she’ll undertake Isolde & Brunnhilde.
But I think I have to stop being narrow-minded, thinking of her and Wagnerian roles, when there are other dramatic roles to be conquered. I was only okay with her Tosca, perhaps because I was less than thrilled with the chemistry she had with her tenor, and yes, I suppose I took it for granted that she could sing this role easily. Sorry, I guess I was a bit unreasonable,wanting to hear her sing Wagner & Strauss. But maybe Aida and Turandot are possible for this voice. And I never heard a really big glorious voice sing Amelia. The magic of a really good voice trumps every other consideration.
Tonight? I was very happy with the whole cast. Pieczonka pushed Dimitri Pittas to a higher level than what I’d seen from him as Rodolfo a few months ago. Roland Wood found his stride in the latter acts, an affable Renato who turns quite believably when betrayed. Simone Osborne made more of the odd role of Oscar than I’ve ever seen, in this wacky production. Elena Manistina as Ulrica seized the stage at every opportunity with her powerful presence and beautiful tone.
The run is almost over. Please let no one complain that it’s not like the usual Ballo. As I argued awhile ago, there’s no such thing. Enjoy it for what it’s doing. The relationships are vivid and powerful, the key moments as good as you can hope for even without the vocalism, the COC orchestra under Lord sounding magnificent.
If you can get there Saturday see it.